SIOUX CITY -- In his first Sioux City campaign stop as a Democratic presidential candidate, Beto O'Rourke on Thursday began with an impassioned discussion about the need to stem climate change through renewable energy, shifted to education funding and health care, and eventually fielded a prom invitation from a high school senior.
Speaking to about 300 people at the Olsen Student Center of Morningside College in Sioux City, O'Rourke said said the severe flooding that began in mid-March in Iowa and Nebraska was a result of climate change.
He said disaster relief from the federal government should include money to cover stored grain that was lost, because he said many farmers held grain rather than selling it, due to tariffs put in place by President Donald Trump. Those tariffs drove down farm commodity prices. O'Rourke said scientists say there are a maximum of 10 years before the effects of climate change may be irreversible.
He said in the last five years in Texas, three floods were so severe they fit in the 500-year-floods category, or having only a one in 500 chance of occurring in a given year. He said with climate change impacts, Iowa farmers may no longer be able to farm in proximity to rivers.
"We must convert totally to renewable energy," he said, citing wind and solar options.
O'Rourke, 46, is making a five-day swing through Iowa, after his first round of campaign stops in the caucus state in March. Those events drew a substantial group of media members, and this swing also drew national coverage.
He is a former Texas congressman who gained a national profile while unsuccessfully seeking the U.S. Senate seat in that state in 2018, as Republican Ted Cruz won re-election. Some thought O'Rourke had the chops for the presidency, and O'Rourke is now in a large field of Democratic candidates seeking to oust Trump.
O'Rourke spoke for one hour, with more than half that time devoted to answering 12 questions. He said the president has engaged in a coarse discourse in politics, speaking in support of white supremacists, enacting tax cuts that have driven up budget deficits and supporting a plan to build a Mexican border wall. O'Rourke called that idea misguided.
The biggest applause line of the event came on a question about gun violence in America.
O'Rourke said states with universal background check requirements to buy guns have shown a 50 percent decrease in gun violence. He said some weapons are made solely as military weapons to kill people efficiently, and in an era of mass shootings asserted, "We should no longer sell those styles of military weapons."
A few questions before that, Claire Campbell, a senior at Roosevelt High School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, blushed and asked O'Rourke if he would go to prom with her. She said she didn't expect an affirmative answer.
"First of all, as someone who did not go to prom because no one asked me, this means more than you know," O'Rourke said.
He said his team had seen her visual prom request on a poster, then unfurled a manila folder with a written response as well, saying, "We came up with a counter proposal -- 'Will you caucus for me?' "
In a statement, Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said that O'Rourke in his last Iowa trip "proved he’s not ready for prime time" when discussing issues.
Earlier Thursday, O'Rourke began his travels through Northwest Iowa with stops in Carroll and Denison. He'll start Friday with an 8:30 a.m. event in Storm Lake, then finish his swing with stops in eastern Iowa.
Other Democrats appeared in Northwest Iowa events last weekend including U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and former Congressman John Delaney. Bernie Sanders has planned events for the eastern half of the state into the upcoming weekend. Ryan, who represents Ohio's 13th Congressional District, formally announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination during an appearance Thursday on ABC TV's "The View."