AMES, Iowa—The presidential run of Beto O’Rourke is a profoundly personality-driven exercise, his charisma and Kennedy-esque demeanor the topic of one profile after another, so it’s surprising to listen to his speeches on the stump in which he doesn’t talk a whole lot about himself. In Iowa recently, over several days in a rainy, foggy, uncertain stretch of spring, O’Rourke delivered a series of speeches and held question-and-answer sessions in which he spoke at length about unity, civility and inclusivity, and only rarely touched on his personal story. There was one notable exception: When he did offer up bits of his biography, he leaned most heavily on his run last year against Ted Cruz for a spot in the United States Senate.

He recounted for the crowds tales of the places he went and the people he met during his barnstorming, freewheeling, attention-getting campaign, coming back to two numbers: 254, the number of counties in gargantuan Texas, all of which he visited … and the percentage-point margin by which he was defeated.

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