Beto O'Rourke takes the wheel, campaigning while driving

Democratic hopeful hit Iowa

By CNN'S ERIC BRADNER AND JASMINE WRIGHT CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT.
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Beto O'Rourke speaks during a rally before the March for Truth in protest of President Donald Trump's proposed border wall on Feb. 11, 2019, in El Paso, Texas.

Texting and driving is against the law in Iowa, but there is no such prohibition for campaigning while driving — a good thing for Beto O'Rourke, who is insisting on taking the wheel in the opening days of his bid for the White House.

"I like to drive," he told CNN, climbing into a grey rental mini-van after at least a 14-hour day on the road, where he logged nearly 200 miles on winding highways near the banks of the Mississippi River.

Yet he wasn't just driving, which no other presidential candidates regularly do. He was multi-tasking.

The day started with a 30-minute Radio Iowa interview, answering questions from a reporter in the passenger seat as he drove from Keokuk to Fort Madison. It ended with a Facebook live video, filmed by a staffer riding shotgun in the Dodge Grand Caravan.

"Hey everybody! Just leaving Muscatine, Iowa, after a great house party," said O'Rourke, who buckled in and delivered a rolling message to his admirers following along on social media.

By now, it's become clear that he talks with his hands — even while driving. His eyes are on the road, a viewing of the Facebook video shows, except for occasional quick glances at the camera.

Only a few times — and only for a moment — does he take both hands off the wheel, including when he declares: "Thank you for giving me the chance to do this!"

He spent the second day of his campaign at the wheel, too, driving to towns across eastern Iowa. He's set to wrap up a three-day visit to the state on Saturday before embarking on a national tour Sunday in Wisconsin that takes him to Ohio on Monday. Aides declined to say if he would drive the entire journey.

O'Rourke insisted to his advisers that he wanted to be himself as he runs for president. And driving appears to be one habit he has no plans of changing as he introduces himself to voters as a friendly face with a familiar, one-word name.

To his loyal followers, it's a familiar scene that played out again and again during his Texas Senate campaign.

He often sat behind the wheel of a moving car while live-streaming on Facebook or Instagram. As he did last year, he proceeds to ask his staffers inside the car to share their favorite part of the day.

"Longtime listener, first time passenger," O'Rourke said, introducing Norm Sterzenbach, who running his Iowa campaign, assigned to a backseat.

Driving while campaigning is hardly a federal offense, although safety advocates might be curious to learn a presidential candidate is driving just beyond the speed limit, passing cars and talking in animated detail about why he should be elected president.

It may come far closer to being a state offense, considering Iowa passed its law in 2017 that made texting and other related driving distractions a primary offense, which means a driver can receive a citation simply for that.

When the law took effect, Iowa State Patrol Trooper Alex Dinkla explained the ban like this to the Des Moines Register: "You cannot text. You cannot Facebook. You can still make a phone call, but you cannot be actually texting as you drive down the road."

In this case, O'Rourke wasn't typing on Facebook, but rather talking on it as he looked toward a staffer's phone.

At one point on his debut as a presidential candidate, O'Rourke interrupted his chat with supporters and looked down at his own phone to make sure he was on track.

"I want to make sure I'm on the right path here," O'Rourke said, leaning a little closer to the wheel, glancing at his GPS. "Yep, it says I am."

Texas is among the most lenient states for phone use while driving, according to driving-safety advocates, while Iowa is more restrictive.

On the debut of his presidential bid, the road trip became part of the show. His campaign posted a video of O'Rourke filling the Dodge Grand Caravan with $28.53 of gas. He asked supporters to do the same, saying: "Your donations are literally keeping us fueled up as we begin this campaign. Chip in $28.53 now to keep us on the road."

As he finished the first full day of his presidential candidacy and walked toward his car, a reporter asked why he doesn't have an aide drive as most candidates do, O'Rourke replied: "I never have."

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