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O’Rourke returns to UH on ‘Hardball College Tour’

Rep. Beto O'Rourke met with talk show host Chris Matthews for a live taping of "Hardball College Tour." | Corbin Ayres/The Cougar

Rep. Beto O’Rourke met with talk show host Chris Matthews for a live taping of “Hardball College Tour” in UH’s Cullen Performance Hall on Tuesday. “If the early voter turnout is any indication, the people of Texas are standing up,” O’Rourke said to Matthews. More than 500,000 people have voted early in Harris County. | Corbin Ayres/The Cougar

A week before the midterm elections, Rep. Beto O’Rourke said President Donald Trump was trying to stir up American paranoia by saying he could end birthright citizenship as thousands of possible immigrants approach the United States.

“I think he is trying to play on the worst impulses of this country,” O’Rourke said. “I don’t know what he’s trying to do. I just know the task is left to us.”

The Senate hopeful met with “Hardball” host Chris Matthews at Cullen Performance Hall Tuesday night for a live interview and took questions from UH students. He distanced himself from the president’s unrestrained approach to politics and said the high early voting turnout is promising.

Matthews, a vocal critic of Trump on his show, repeatedly asked for O’Rourke’s opinion on previous comments made by the president. The talk show host asked how O’Rourke felt about Trump before calling Sen. Ted Cruz a maniac and Cruz calling the president a buffoon during the 2016 presidential primary elections.

“I’m staying focused on Texas,” O’Rourke said. “We decided in (the) beginning we weren’t running against anybody or anyone.”

Shasta, The Spirit of Houston and the UH Cheerleading Team amped up the rapturous crowd of more than 1,000 students during commercial breaks. The El Paso representative had crowds of students trying to take a selfie with him any chance they could get.

Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to Senate since 1988. So far, 637,543 people have voted early in Harris County, according to the Harris County Clerk’s office.

“If the early voter turnout is any indication, the people of Texas are standing up,” O’Rourke said.

O’Rourke took several student questions, touching on climate change and how Texas could tackle gun violence. He said Texas is a model for renewable energy and responsible gun ownership, and he reaffirmed his support of second amendment rights.

On climate change, record-breaking floods like Hurricane Harvey are only going to become more prevalent as the planet warms, O’Rourke said. Texas — the leader in creating renewable wind energy, according to CBS News — could look to Houston-based energy companies for solutions to lead the nation.

For gun violence, O’Rourke said expanding universal background checks has helped in the past, but the United States still loses too many to gun violence every year.

“I strongly support and want to protect the 2nd Amendment,” O’Rourke said “Tell me a state with a stronger history of responsible gun ownership.”

Media production student Andrew Johnson was a VIP attendee and was able to ask O’Rourke how he felt about celebrities encouraging others to vote, even if it was for different political parties.

“I liked that he mentioned he thinks that everyone deserves the right to democracy and that he didn’t care that much about what (the celebrities) say and cares more about the people,” Johnson said.

Mechanical engineering sophomore Patricia Running asked O’Rourke how he will ensure that women will continue to have control over their reproductive rights. O’Rourke said his plan of single-payer healthcare includes access to family planning clinics for Americans.

“I like the fact he said that all women had the ability to get into health centers no matter the financial background,” Running said.

Cruz was invited to the town hall but did not attend.

A spokesperson for MSNBC told the Houston Chronicle MSNBC had invited Cruz before and after the announcement of the event but received no response from the incumbent’s campaign.

A Quinnipiac University Poll released Monday found Cruz ahead of O’Rourke 51 to 46 percent among likely voters. The poll by Quinnipiac before this had Cruz ahead 54 to 45 percent. Two percent of those surveyed said they may change their mind before the election.

O’Rourke last visited the University in April for a town hall.  He initially skipped the University for his October college tour.

To O’Rourke, the 2018 midterm elections are a defining time in U.S. history.

“It’s on every single one of us to make a change,” O’Rourke said.

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