At a noisy brewery on a Friday night in Manchester, N.H., a group of millennials huddled around a table as they sipped beer.
They’re there for one reason: to get former three-term Rep. Beto O’Rourke to run for president.
“We’re trying to build neighborhood-based organizations that Beto can tap into if he decides to run,” Will Herberich tells the group. He is one of the leaders of Draft Beto 2020, one of the two grassroots organizations launched following his narrow loss to Sen. Ted Cruz last year.
Despite his defeat, O’Rourke’s campaign was able to raise a near-record $78 million. His supporters hope that success continues its momentum into the Democratic primary season and ultimately, against President Donald Trump.
O’Rourke told Oprah yesterday he is still thinking about it and will be making a serious decision before the end of this month. In the meantime, the Draft Beto organization will continue to lay the groundwork for the Texas politician to join an already-crowded field of Democratic contenders.
Among the roughly dozen attendees at the Draft Beto event was enthusiastic O’Rourke supporter Ben Martel, who traveled over 100 miles from Providence, R.I. to take part in the meeting.
“He's really so radically accessible and egalitarian,” Martel said. “He preaches a message of hope and bringing people together. I think people on the left and the right are so polarized and sick of this polarization.”
Some in attendance said they are gunning for positions on O’Rourke’s potential campaign, like Martel, while others are there wholly because they think he is the Democratic Party’s best chance at defeating President Trump in 2020.
“I'm just trying to figure out how I can get involved. It's such an exciting moment,” Martel said.
Martel was sporting a “Beto 2020” t-shirt while the section of the bar the group was in was adorned with Beto posters and cans of “Beto Beer” — or Bud Light with printouts of O’Rourke’s face taped to them.
The former congressman has done little to formally prepare for a presidential run compared to his opponents, instead driving solo around the country and having conversations with strangers, without the media coverage or traditional early campaign fanfare typical at this point in the race.
If O’Rourke were to declare himself a presidential contender, he would have some quick catching up to do on the fundraising front, behind fellow party heavyweights like Sens. Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand, who have been plotting their runs for months.
That’s where Will Herberich is hoping his Draft Beto organization will come in.
The group has become like a second full-time job for him, along with his two co-chairs Lauren Pardi and Adam Webster, who conceived of the idea in a Massachusetts diner.
They only have raised a few thousand dollars, the trio told The Boston Globe, which mostly went to bumper stickers and plane tickets to Iowa.
“We’ve been building a grassroots effort all over the country from all 50 states, so far we’ve had thousands of volunteers sign up,” Herberich told Fox News. “30,000 on our email list.”
He said he’s planning to hand all of that over to the official Beto campaign, if there is one.
Looking at past primary cycles, said Southern New Hampshire University Civic Scholar Dean Spiliotes, these grassroots campaigns touring the state in lieu of the actual candidate are not uncommon.
“It’s typically for a candidate for whom there is a good bit of social media buzz,” Spiliotes said. ”Maybe somebody who has high visibility nationally, but has been kind of on the fence in terms of announcing whether or not they're actually to get in. It's kind of a way to let them know that the water is warm if they want to jump in.”
Democratic strategist Roger Fisk said Beto’s midterm momentum could serve him well.
“He really captured people's imagination. I think his optimism makes him very attractive,” Fisk said. “So you have this kind of renegade storming up the hill in Texas, making the Republicans sweat in Texas.”
Organizer Jay Surdukowski, who hosted a house party for Draft Beto last week, hopes the Democrat’s near miss in such a deep red state speaks to his appeal to middle America.
“He is not a New York or Massachusetts politician,” Surdukowski said. “He is from Middle America, in a red, red, red, state.”