HOUSTON (Nexstar) — One of the boldest statements from Thursday night’s debate was from former Congressman Beto O’Rourke about mandatory gun buybacks.
“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47 and we’re not going to allow it to be used against your fellow Americans anymore,” he said.
And O’Rourke believes people will be on his side with this plan, though polling by PBS Newshour, NPR and Marist shows Americans are divided on the issue.
“I just truly believe in the people of this country,” he said. “I’ve listened to enough owners with AR-15s and AK-47s in not the usual places for a Democrat to be but in southwestern Virginia or rural Texas who see this issue the way a majority of Americans see this issue now.”
Several candidates on stage with O’Rourke commended his handling of the aftermath from the mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso that left 22 people dead and two dozen hurt. Focusing on gun control has been at the forefront of O’Rourke’s campaign ever since.
“He did a great job,” former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro said. “A few weeks ago, a shooter drove 10 hours inspired by this president to kill people who look like me. People who look like my family.”
Racial divide and immigration
In addition to gun control, candidates also answered questions on how to address the racial divide in the U.S. O’Rourke and Castro drew from examples on how it’s impacted Texans.
“White supremacy is a growing threat to this country and we have to root it out,” Castro said. “I’m proud – I put forward a “Plan to Disarm Hate.” I’m also proud that I was the first to put forward a police reform plan because we are not going to have any more Eric Gardners or Michael Browns or Pamela Turners or Walter Scotts or Sandra Blands in Houston.”
Castro was the first to release an immigration plan, which strives to create a pathway to full and equal citizenship and nix immigration policies tied to unauthorized border crossings. Section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which became law in 1929, has been what the Trump administration looks to in justifying its family separation policy.
Disparities in healthcare and education must be tackled when addressing the divide, O’Rourke said.
“But we will also call out the fact that we have a white supremacist in the White House,” he added. “He is a mortal threat to people of color all across this country.”
O’Rourke says immigration laws must reflect the current makeup of America.
“How do we rewrite this country’s immigration laws in our own image, in the image of Houston, Texas – the most diverse city in the United States of America?” O’Rourke said. “in the image of El Paso, Texas – one of the safest cities in the United States of America?”
Both O’Rourke and Castro have struggled to stand out in polls and needed to use the third debate to make the case that they’re viable candidates who deserve a second look. A recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll had O’Rourke in third place among Texas Democratic voters and Castro tied for seventh.
Experts say these debates provide candidates a chance to capitalize on key moments from their speeches for their campaign.
“They’re less about the classic model of the public being able to evaluate a sustained debate on the merits of the cases between the candidates,” Jim Henson with Texas Politics Project, said. “It is more about what material gets generated that the candidates can use to propel themselves into the next stage.”