Beto O'Rourke raised a whopping $6.1 million in his first 24 hours as a presidential candidate, while drawing big crowds -- and a herd of reporters -- as he campaigned across Iowa and Wisconsin after launching his 2020 bid.
But despite riding a wave of media fanfare, the former three-term congressman from Texas has stumbled out of the gate with a string of apologies and clarifications.
While the fundraising and large crowds show the charismatic contender is a force to be reckoned with in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, the series of missteps amount to signs that O’Rourke’s nascent campaign may need some fine-tuning -- and fast.
In one widely covered gaffe, O’Rourke apologized for joking at several events on Thursday and Friday that his wife Amy had been raising the couple’s three children "sometimes with my help."
Discussing the comments – amid concern they spotlighted gender stereotypes – O’Rourke promised, “not only will I not say that again, but I’ll be more thoughtful going forward in the way that I talk about our marriage.”
The initial joke was replaced with a more benign comment that “Amy and I are raising three amazing kids.”
O’Rourke also walked back much-derided comments he made in a Vanity Fair cover story -- which released hours before he launched his presidential campaign -- in which the former three-term congressman said he was “just born to be in it.”
“I saw the cover with that quote, ‘Born to run,’ or ‘Born to do this,’ and I was like, ‘Man, I hope I didn’t say that,’” O’Rourke said Sunday in Wisconsin. “I think the context of that, which makes sense, is the way that I feel, is that I’m born to serve, I’m born to try to help bring people together.”
“I don’t know that anyone is born for an office or a position, and I certainly am not. But I do think that I find my purpose and function in life in doing this kind of work,” O’Rourke explained.
Some of his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination pushed back against the Vanity Fair comments.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Sunday on NBC’s "Meet the Press" that “I wasn’t born to run. But I am running.”
“No, I wasn’t born to run for office, just because growing up in the ’70s, in the middle of the country, I don’t think many people thought a girl could be president,” she added.
And South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg said on "Fox News Sunday" that “I think I was born to make myself useful.”
O’Rourke also reacted to a flurry of criticism that he’s benefited from white male privilege over the years. Pointing to not suffering serious consequences after two arrests as a younger man, he said: “I think the criticism is right on.”
“I acknowledge the truth of the criticism that I have enjoyed white privilege,” he added.
The candidate, further, vowed to “keep it clean,” pledging to stop dropping the f-word on the campaign trail as he did during last year's Senate campaign when he nearly defeated Sen. Ted Cruz. Asked by a voter about his proclivity for profanity, O’Rourke said, “great point, and I don’t intend to use the f-word going forward. Point taken, and very strongly made.”
Perhaps most significant, O’Rourke expressed regret for his past affiliation with a group of infamous activist hackers, as well as past writings in connection with that group, following an explosive report by Reuters. Writing under the alias ‘Psychedelic Warlord,’ he even penned one short story that detailed the murder of two kids and another referring to some women as “sluts.”
O’Rourke said he was "mortified” and “incredibly embarrassed” about his earlier writings, adding that “whatever my intention was as a teenager doesn't matter."
O’Rourke also has been trying to mend fences with the media, after initially rubbing some in the press the wrong way. His campaign didn’t provide basic information about events to many media outlets and told some reporters that the events were closed to the press.
After complaints, O’Rourke highlighted that the media is “the best defense against tyranny.” And he told reporters that “I’m trying to do a better job of staying around to answer questions.”
While the missteps could be an early warning sign of trouble ahead, veteran Democratic strategist Zac Petkanas disagrees.
“Clearly the gaffes that political observers from Washington DC have identified are not having the impact those commenting on Twitter think they might. We’ll see if that stands the test of time but clearly what voters are seeing is someone who is authentic, speaks off the cuff, and is generally impressive,” argued Petkanas, who served as a senior aide on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and earlier as top communications aide for then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
He added that “the grassroots fundraising numbers and the crowds are really strong signs for Beto.”