Beto O'Rourke offset
Washington CNN  — 

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke on Thursday knocked his highest polling competitor for the Democratic presidential nomination, former Vice President Joe Biden, saying the frontrunner would be a return to the past.

“You cannot go back to the end of the Obama administration and think that that’s good enough,” O’Rourke said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “As much of a horror show as Trump has been – his racism, the disaster of his foreign policy, his punishment of farmers and workers here in this country – we had real problems before Donald Trump became President.”

O’Rourke’s criticism of Biden was emphatic.

“We cannot return to the past,” O’Rourke said. “We cannot simply be about defeating Donald Trump.”

O’Rourke took Biden to task on deportation and racial wealth inequality under the Obama administration – amounting to an outright argument against Biden’s candidacy from O’Rourke, who has sought to recharge his own campaign ahead of the debates this summer.

O’Rourke’s comments were a sharp divergence from what he said earlier in the campaign. In March, he said Democrats “would be very lucky to have Vice President Biden in this race. I think he has a lot of perspective and experience to bring to bear on these problems.”

Asked specifically if Biden was a “return to the past,” O’Rourke replied affirmatively: “He is.”

“And that cannot be who we are going forward,” O’Rourke said. “We’ve got to be bigger. We’ve got to be bolder. We have to set a much higher mark and be relentless in pursuing that.”

O’Rourke launched his bid earlier this year and attracted significant attention, but he has since seen a drop in polls as Biden leads the wide Democratic presidential nomination field. Some have called for O’Rourke to instead run against Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn, who is up for reelection next year. O’Rourke again declined in an interview on Wednesday.

A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 60% of Texas Democrats say that O’Rourke should challenge Cornyn rather than continue his presidential run.

In Thursday’s interview, O’Rourke looked at Biden’s record, noting his recent reversal on the Hyde amendment, which blocks federal funds from going to abortion services with some exceptions and his vote in support of the Iraq War. Biden in 2005 said his vote to authorize the war in Iraq was “a mistake.”

“I’m not exactly sure what he believes or what he should apologize for,” O’Rourke said. “I only know that this country should be able to do far better.”

O’Rourke instead pitched his own policy offerings, including a recently unveiled plan on LGBTQ protections that would undo Trump administration policies.

As his frontrunner status has persisted in the opening stages of the 2020 primary, Biden has continued to face criticism over his record and challenges that he is not progressive enough.

Biden defended himself at a recent campaign event, rejecting a similar line of criticism to the one O’Rourke leveled on Thursday.

“I’m not talking about going back to the past,” Biden said. “I’m talking about avoiding a terrible future if we do not figure out how to make this work.”

CNN’s Alison Main and Eric Bradner contributed to this report.