O’Rourke, who announced to his supporters Thursday morning he was tossing his hat in the ring for the Democratic nomination, was the star of a fawning, 8,600-word opus published by the prestigious magazine on Wednesday.
The wide-ranging interview is the cover story of the latest edition of the magazine, with the 46-year-old boldly declaring he was "just born to do this".
The Vanity Fair piece, written by Joe Hagan, seemed to echo the fawning tone of much of the media coverage that followed his failed bid to unseat Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz last fall.
Hagan, who previously penned a similarly photographed and written profile of another Democrat, former presidential candidate John Edwards, wrote in the new piece: "For O’Rourke, what followed was a near-mystical experience," referring to his entry into politics.
Some of the other parts of the profile include the writer speaking to some of O’Rourke’s ex-girlfriends, and one glowing piece of prose describing the Democrat as an “endurance-athlete campaigner.”
“Former girlfriends describe O’Rourke as curious, wry, bookish but adventurous. He usually carried a novel in his pocket, whether Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Sun Also Rises,” the profile reads.
“Maggie Asfahani, an El Paso native who dated O’Rourke while he was at prep school and college, said he was somewhat difficult to know. “That’s kind of the mystique of Beto, is that he seems to be accessible,” she says, “but there’s just this layer of protection. I don’t think it’s because he’s hiding anything. I think it’s because he’s keeping a part of it to himself.”
Reaction to the piece was divided, with some celebrating the detailed look at the Democratic darling, while others mocked it.
“Like all scrappy salt-of-the-earth, organic campaigns with their pulse on the base Beto's is launched with a Vanity Fair cover spread,” one reader tweeted.
“The Vanity Fair profile of Beto makes him sound like if he were born 40 years earlier he'd be barefoot on a beach surrounded by a group of hippie devotees looking like Chris Hemsworth in ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’,” another wrote.
“I mean I guess “Vanity Fair cover boy” is Beto’s unique lane but not sure the people are looking for that,” another reader said.
“My sense is that Beto O’Rourke doesn’t want to be president as much as he wants to be an indie movie about a guy running for president,” Chicago Tribune columnist Rex Huppke added.
O’Rourke announced his candidacy in a video Thursday morning, appearing alongside his wife, Amy.
"Amy and I are happy to share with you that I’m running to serve you as the next president of the United States of America," O'Rourke said. "This is a defining moment of truth for this country and for every single one of us. The challenges we face right now, the interconnected crises in our democracy and our climate, have never been greater.”
Republicans scoffed at his campaign launch, however, with RNC spokesman Michael Ahrens saying in a statement: “It’s telling that the Democrats’ biggest star is someone whose biggest accomplishment is losing. Beto O’Rourke failed to get anything done in Congress, and with extreme policies like government-run health care and tearing down border barriers, his 2020 bid won’t be successful either.”
The congressman from El Paso grabbed national attention last summer and autumn, as he challenged Republican Cruz in the 2018 midterm elections. O’Rourke raked in an eye-popping $80 million during his campaign, thanks in part to his uplifting message and his mastery of social media.
O’Rourke narrowly lost to Cruz -- by just more than 200,000 votes out of more than 8 million cast.
Fox News’ Gregg Re, Paul Steinhauser and Patrick Ward contributed to this report.