Before Beto O'Rourke arrived in Minnesota for his first visit on Wednesday, he called Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a competitor for the Democratic presidential nomination.
"I told her I'd be coming up here," O'Rourke, who represented Texas in the U.S. House, said in an interview with the Star Tribune. "She's extraordinary and I really like her a lot."
But his visit was an indication that he doesn't intend to cede the state to its homegrown candidate.
"I really believe that this state and the people within it count, and the only way to demonstrate that is to show up and to listen and learn from those whom I want to serve and whose votes I'm going to ask for," he said.
He'll be back, he added.
Candidates Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., and entrepreneur Andrew Yang also visited the state this month. Supporters of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., plan an organizational meeting Saturday in St. Paul.
O'Rourke, who soared into national prominence when he almost defeated Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, last year, said he was surprised by the turnout for his inaugural stop in the state.
At least 150 people came to Lakeville to meet him, and several hundred jammed the cafeteria at Edison High School in northeast Minneapolis.
He spoke about immigration, health care, the economy, climate change, gun violence and other issues, sprinkling his remarks with Spanish.
To defeat President Donald Trump and make progress, he said, "It's going to have to be all of us with all we've got."
O'Rourke began his remarks by name-checking Prince, the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, Bob Dylan and Lizzo.
He spoke of his admiration for Minnesota politicians, including the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, Gov. Tim Walz and U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar. He told the crowd at Edison that Omar is "staring down some really strong racist stuff" from Trump and others.
In the interview, O'Rourke called Walz "a hero" and said Wellstone "was extraordinary at making the case that what's good for our fellow Americans is good for all of us."
Ana Acosta, a Minneapolis immigration lawyer, said she's intrigued by O'Rourke's leadership on border policies. "He's really the only candidate who speaks to this issue coming from knowledge," she said.
Pete Steinhagen, a retiree from St. Paul, said he and his wife like O'Rourke's climate-change ideas. He has set a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.
"If we don't use this next decade to our fullest advantage, we will lose this place to the generations that follow us," O'Rourke said in the interview. "If we don't get this right, nothing else is possible."
A CNN Poll conducted April 25-28 found that O'Rourke had the backing of 6% of likely Democratic voters, down from 13% a month earlier. Klobuchar was at 2%.
"Nothing is a given and nothing can be taken for granted," O'Rourke said. "I don't know that there's a state any one of us can count on. ... We've got to go out and campaign and hustle and meet those who will make the decisions, so that's what I'm doing."