MUSCATINE — "Welcome to Iowa" greeted freshly announced 2020 presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke as he met Thursday with a crowd in Muscatine.

Locals, visitors and members of the press filled the home of Randy Naber Tuesday night for a meet and greet with the potential nominee who kicked off his campaign in Fort Madison. Naber, a retired teacher and Muscatine School Board member said the event came together in just two days and "was a lot bigger than it was supposed to be."

"I think it's exciting," he said. "It's very exciting."

Naber said he was pleased the candidate was recognizing southeast Iowa by choosing to come to Muscatine. The former Texas congressman from El Paso, Tex., also made a stop in Burlington before rounding out the day in Muscatine.

Muscatine resident Andrea Pustell said she likes O'Rourke because of his stance on environmental issues.

"He’s really cool," she said. "He has got a lot of energy and he appeals to a lot of people."

O'Rourke, 46, is one of 16 and counting Democrats vying for the presidential nomination, and one of several campaigns to have visited the state in recent months. Dubbed the "punk rock candidate" because he was a drummer in a band, O'Rourke took on incumbent Republican Ted Cruz in last year's U.S. Senate race, but lost by less than 3 percentage points.

"Given the challenges we face, we will not overcome them with only half the country," he said of unity and erasing partisanship in the country in order to move forward. "If we want to listen to and lift up rural communities by partnering with and those who understand the answers to the questions that are posed here in places like Muscatine, then we've got to be able to work together."

Naber said even though the event was hosted at his home, the night was about the candidate.

"It's not about me," he said. "People should be focusing on the candidate and where he stands."

One Muscatine woman and her adult daughter are already backing O'Rourke. They say it's not because he's a Democrat, but because of his views on immigration. The woman, originally from Brownsville, Tex., said she liked how O'Rourke dispelled notions of fear when he talked about immigration, and that O'Rourke understood what was happening at the border since he's a native of El Paso. 

"He's got to make it," she said.

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