Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke on Wednesday condemned racism in the highest positions of power in the United States and called for unity within his party to remove president Donald Trump from the White House.
The former Texas Representative traveled to northern Virginia to drum up support for elections for the state parliament in November, after leading Democrats from Virginia, including governor Ralph Northam, were recently implicated in racism scandals.
“We must call out hatred and racism where it exists, including in the highest positions of power,” O’Rourke said at a town hall meeting in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington DC.
"Let's make this commitment as well, whoever (the Democratic candidate is), we do everything we can to make sure they defeat Donald Trump," he added.
The former Texas state congressman is the first 2019 presidential candidate to campaign in Virginia, a state which is traditionally Republican but which in recent years has been won by Democrats, largely due to demographic changes pushed by the arrival of young families in northern towns around metropolitan Washington DC.
O'Rourke criticized some of Trump's statements during his time in office, including his reaction to a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 called "Unite the Right". To widespread criticism, the president refused to blame the far-right protesters, among whom he said were some "very fine people", for the violence that led to the death of one left-wing counter-demonstrator.
Trump also signed an executive order banning the entry of foreign nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries in 2017, a move that was widely seen as discriminatory.
O'Rourke said that the US is a country of immigrants and stressed that Mexican immigrants "are not racists and criminals. Muslims are not inherently dangerous".
"Klansmen and Nazis and white nationalists are not very fine people. The genius of this country was the way we incorporated people from every country, walk of life and faith," he said.
Born in the border city of El Paso, Texas, the 46-year-old is one of the rising stars within the Democratic Party after fighting last year for the federal seat in the Senate for Texas, a state considered a pillar of the Republicans.
Despite failing to win the seat, the Democrat pushed influential Senator Ted Cruz all the way, raising hopes among Democrats to challenge the 2020 presidential elections in Texas, the second most populous state in the United States.
Among those attending the rally was Lisette Vasquez, a former El Paso official who has lived in Virginia for more than seven years and who was enthusiastic about O'Rourke's "charisma" and "personality".
Nearly 20 Democratic candidates have said they will run for the 2020 presidential nomination, which will determine the primaries that will begin early next year.
Currently, polls place Senator Bernie Sanders in the lead, followed by former Vice President Joe Biden, who has not yet formally announced his candidacy. Following are Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Senator Kamala Harris, with O'Rourke in fifth place.