Telling the diners that this is his first visit to Iowa, O'Rourke told them that he wanted to hear what's on their minds.
In a Vanity Fair article that came out on Wednesday, O'Rourke said "You can probably tell that I want to run. I do".
O'Rourke joins a large and unsettled 2020 field in which his fundraising prowess, bipartisan optimism, southwestern Texas charm and anti-establishment attitude could quickly make him a political force.
While O'Rourke will have to prove his policy bona fides, his strengths - he's a tireless campaigner who won over younger voters - will serve as a test of whether the Democratic base and its legions of young voters are more interested in inspirational figures or candidates whose ideology matches theirs. He was a heavy underdog when he challenged Cruz, a Republican, in mostly conservative Texas, but he quickly demonstrated an ability to draw capacity crowds and raise money from voters nationwide.
O'Rourke, who is starting a three-day swing through eastern Iowa on Thursday, said he will hold a kick-off rally for his campaign in El Paso, Texas, on March 30.
President Trump Slams California Governor for Putting Pause on Executions
Though voters in 2016 narrowly approved a ballot measure to speed up the punishment, no condemned inmate faced imminent execution. California has not executed anyone in more than a decade because of legal challenges to the state's execution protocol.
O'Rourke past year lost that race in Texas, a bid to oust Republican Sen. "I said, 'Is he insane or is that just the way he acts?'" O'Rourke passed just three bills during his six years in Congress: two related to temporary health benefits and college tuition assistance to veterans and one renaming El Paso's federal courthouse.
On the down side, O'Rourke also has set himself up for criticism down the trail. "It's a big part of why I'm running", O'Rourke told KTSM in a text message.
With his presidential effort, O'Rourke is hoping to leverage the fame he gained with his Senate race. "And, of course, he's someone that comes, like I do, from the center of the country". No one person can meet them on their own. And I think that's a very legitimate basis upon which to make a decision.
"CBS This Morning" co-anchor Gayle King will speak with O'Rourke for his only national TV interview following his 2020 announcement, Friday on "CBS This Morning" with a preview airing on "CBS Evening News" Thursday night.