Rep. Beto O'Rourke make a stop Thursday in Longview on the campaign trail as he seeks the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. 

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke makes a stop Thursday in Longview on the campaign trail as he seeks the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate.

A West Texas congressman who hopes to unseat the state’s junior Republican senator told a sizeable breakfast crowd Friday in Longview that he was all ears. “We need to be listening to one another,” U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, told some 130 attendees at the city’s Amtrak depot. “It’s the only way we’re going to get back on track. All of us, Republicans and Democrats, care about this country.” The candidate said he has been drawing crowds, in traditionally red counties, throughout his all-counties journey to oust Sen. Ted Cruz.

O’Rourke said he has visited 225 of the state’s 254 counties, including three stops in Longview. “I’m also encouraged that, at 7 a.m. under dark skies in falling rain, you had a lot of folks come out,” he told the should-to-shoulder crowd in the East Waiting Room of the Historic Depot on the Longview Multimodal Transportation Center campus. “And I’ve seen that in Pittsburg, Marshall.”

He might later have taken a swipe at the GOP colleague on whose turf he was holding the town hall, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, who does not hold town hall meetings. “A lot of people came out, I think, because this is a novel idea that you would want to listen to the people you serve,” he told the News-Journal editorial board.

O’Rourke, 45, said teens are emerging as the strongest voice in the long-running gun safety debate in the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a Florida high school. “These kids, when they get older they are going to ask us what we did in this critical moment,” he said. “I think it’s going to be the kids in this room, the kids in Florida and the kids across the country who are going to force us to do the right thing.”

Earlier, O’Rourke told a reporter he is ready to debate measures being floated in Washington — limiting magazine capacity, raising the age to buy assault rifles to 21, closing the gun show loophole and universal background checks.

Gun violence has been cut in half in states that check backgrounds for every gun purchase, he said. “We should be able to pass that,” he said. An email sent to Gohmert on Feb. 23 seeking his thoughts on those topics did not draw a reply.

“I think we need to have several conversations about whether someone should be able to buy an AR-15 at all,” O’Rourke said, after noting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is barred from studying gun violence as a health issue. “We’re not able to make the best policy, we don’t have the best facts.”

The O’Rourke campaign made a full-on East Texas swing this week, including Jefferson, Pittsburg, Marshall, Longview, Jacksonville, Nacogdoches and Huntsville. The stop in Marshall on Wednesday night drew 50 or 60 people.

Calling Texas “the defining border state,” O’Rourke said Texas should lead the nation’s immigration debate. The congressman said the “most chilling moment I’ve had” was while reading the memo by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, which criticized law enforcement’s handling of the Russian investigation.

“When you undermine the institutions that make our country strong ... we have a real possibility of losing our democracy,” he said. “This election could not be more important.” The Democrat was not afraid to advocate large spending, saying dollars invested in Medicaid would return manifold in the form of a healthier, more productive workforce and preventing working families from going broke when medical emergencies occur.

Another investment area he favored is legislation to help young people pay off $1.4 trillion in outstanding student loans. “Why do we make people take on hundreds of thousands of dollars (in debt) to get an education that’s going to benefit the public?” he asked. “Yes, it’s going to cost us a lot of money, but the long-term dividends are a lot greater.”

O’Rourke said Cruz recently announced a super PAC has $6 million for the Republican’s re-election campaign. He told the crowd he has refused to accept money from political action committees. He nevertheless out-raised Cruz the first six weeks of the year with $2.3 million to the incumbent’s $800,000.

“We in Texas could be re-writing the playbook for how we elect people,” he said, touting a volunteer army topping 10,000 knocking on doors. “I’m really impressed with the number of veterans coming to our town halls.” “It’s not the PACs, it’s not special interests,” he said. “It’s people. Folks are invested, and they know this campaign is not about me. It’s certainly not about party, it’s about country.”

O’Rourke is opposed in Tuesday’s Democratic primary by Edward Kimbrough of Houston and Sema Hernandez of Pasadena.