Beto O’Rourke held a raucous, uplifting rally in El Paso on Monday evening, reminding admirers why they were drawn to his message in a razor-close but ultimately losing Senate race. He had eschewed public events since his defeat. Now the question is: Can he recapture the energy and excitement he generated during his Senate race after other presidential candidates — who may be just as inspirational — have made a splash and begun their campaigns?

The former congressman’s “preseason” presidential campaign has been harshly criticized. He has been slammed by national media for his frivolous car trek, his absence from the tough fights of the day, his lack of response to serious policy questions and his nonchalant attitude toward politics. He said at one point that he might go teach instead of running for president.

Monday seemed to mark a change. O’Rourke once again was the star attraction. Using a border rally to respond to President Trump, he attacked the right’s false claims that El Paso was a crime-ridden disaster till a wall was built. In contrast with Trump’s vision of immigrants as disease-ridden criminals, O’Rourke spoke of our shared humanity.

He certainly spoke with passion, reminding fans of the power of his soaring rhetoric and his ability to elevate unifying American values above grubby partisan politics. “Walls do not save lives. They end lives,” he told the crowd. His staccato delivery seemed to energize the crowd.

He spoke both in English and Spanish, emphasizing the city’s sense of solidarity and community.

No question that he spoke with excitement and optimism, but should he decide to enter the presidential race, it’s not clear this will be enough. Sure, he drew a big crowd, though not nearly so big as the rollout in Oakland for Sen. Kamala Harris. Pulling together a crowd on short notice was no easy feat, but not nearly so impressive as getting supporters out in the blizzard conditions Sen. Amy Klobuchar endured during her announcement in Minnesota on Sunday. O’Rourke is inspirational, but Sen. Cory Booker also has been carrying the banner of love and unity. O’Rourke capably describes the chance to recover our deepest-held values and restore the goodness of our country, but Sen. Elizabeth Warren also promises “fundamental change” to recapture a good, decent America. O’Rourke praises the spirit of ordinary Americans, but Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who seems poised to jump into the race, connects with diverse crowds using the “dignity of work” theme.

So is there room and a distinct audience for O’Rourke? It certainly isn’t “too late” for him to enter the presidential campaign. The primaries are a year away, and he already has demonstrated impressive fundraising ability. His name ID is already as high as, if not higher than, some announced candidates. The challenge for him — now that there are so many other candidates, some much more experienced and several just as emotionally compelling — is to answer the Ted Kennedy question: Why does he want to be president? To be blunt, he has to explain what’s so special about Beto O’Rourke.

O’Rourke can pull thousands together on short notice, but he has to date been resistant to “scaling up” his operation and creating a campaign organization that can compete in multiple states. The impromptu feel of his rally, like his Senate campaign stops, can be electrifying, but one wonders whether he understands there is far more to winning the nomination than high-minded rhetoric.

Should he run for president, O’Rourke would need to show what makes an ex-congressman and defeated Senate candidate uniquely situated to oust Trump, unite a deeply divided country and then govern it. He sounds as though he’s climbing into the ring, so we may have a chance to find out.

Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion for The Washington Post.