Image copyright REUTERS Image caption Beto O’Rourke is one of the most prominent Democratic politicians in Texas
Dallas Rep. Beto O’Rourke has announced his bid for Texas governor, in a move that could give his party a boost in November midterm elections.
Mr O’Rourke’s announcement follows the long-shot challenge of Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who polls have shown has a comfortable lead ahead of the general election.
Mr O’Rourke has drawn big crowds while making stops across the state.
But many polls have shown Mr Cruz well ahead of his rival, although some say his lead is narrowing.
“I’ve thought about it for a long time, and I didn’t feel comfortable with any other options,” Mr O’Rourke told the US broadcaster NBC.
“We felt, together, like this is the right way to go.”
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Trump has called Beto O’Rourke ‘a total lightweight’
Mr O’Rourke, who is 48, faces a May 2019 deadline to announce plans for the state’s presidential primary, although he faces serious obstacles in the contest to take on Senator Cruz.
A former guitarist in a punk band, Mr O’Rourke made his political debut when he was elected to Congress in 2012 – making him the first openly gay member of Congress from Texas.
He led most polls over Mr Cruz until a dip in the candidate’s favour recently.
Beto O’Rourke is the leftwing Democrat who can beat Ted Cruz https://t.co/YW7amhVyxr pic.twitter.com/55czLT49aD — New York Magazine (@NYMag) August 13, 2018
This year, he became the first Democrat to represent Texas’ new west side in 16 years.
His campaign has caught the imagination of a key Democratic constituency – millennial voters.
Mr O’Rourke, whose youthful looks have been credited as a factor in his surge, could galvanise those groups on his bid for governor.
After his announcement on Tuesday, he travelled with his wife and children to military bases in southern Texas to connect with voters.
Mr O’Rourke made many promises during his announcement speech to increase pay for teachers and boost pay for emergency responders – and to crack down on gun violence.
He has been cited for an impassioned speech to Congress about the US legislative gridlock.
But Mr O’Rourke often emphasises a softer, kinder side in his campaigns, comparing himself to former President Barack Obama as a “fearless populist” who has inspired millions of people through his words.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Beto O’Rourke met with the families of two women who were killed in a church shooting in a televised interview
He also speaks about his faith – and has recently found himself among people of other faiths, having met with the families of two women who were killed in a church shooting.
President Donald Trump has called Beto O’Rourke “a total lightweight” in comparison to Mr Cruz, a Cuban-American.
Mr O’Rourke’s candidacy is a setback for Mr Cruz, who has spent years gearing up for a run for re-election.
He is from a wealthy family and spent much of his time in college in New York and Washington.
But he retained a working-class image while serving in the Texas House, where he cut a small-business-friendly style with support from a coalition of social conservatives and evangelicals.
Image copyright AP Image caption Ted Cruz with Beto O’Rourke’s wife, Amy.
His wife and five children live in Washington, D.C., where they own a business that makes flightsuits.
In 2015, a leaked audio tape included quotes in which he told a group of students his wife was pregnant with their sixth child and he told the group not to vote for his party’s candidates in that year’s congressional elections.
In the 2015 speech, Mr Cruz was criticized for an attempt to frighten his young audience into the bygone era of Republican politics.
During his announcement on Tuesday, he said he had been “forced to make a decision I never wanted to make”, but he added that he was “in this for the long haul”.