Election 2020

Texas GOP, Cruz Claim They’re Running Scared: Could O’Rourke Really Win?

Beto O'Rourke speaks during the general session at the Texas Democratic Convention on June 22, 2018, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez)

Texas Democrats would just as soon forget the last quarter century. It’s been that long since their party won a statewide election in the Lone Star State. But this year Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) has the bankroll to pull off a stunning upset and help shift the balance of power on Capitol Hill.

O’Rourke reported $6.7 million in campaign contributions in the first three months of 2018, more than any other Texan running for the U.S. Senate has ever raised.

“We’re very happy with the number and very grateful because it’s a lot of Texans deciding that this is a campaign worth supporting,” O’Rourke said at the time. “It’s a great sign for us given what we are trying to do.”

Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University, told the El Paso Times O’Rourke’s ability to collect small contributions from a large number of people meant he could go back to the same donors during the next three months of fundraising.

“There is incredibly strong and robust support for O’Rourke within the Democratic grassroots in Texas,” Jones said. “Not only are they giving him considerable amounts of money for a Democrat but, because there’s so many and they haven’t given the max, he’ll be able to go back and ask them to give again.”

Now, O’Rourke has done something no Texas Democratic Party candidate has done before. The Democrat raised more than $10.4 million in the second quarter to fund his race to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz (R) in November. The Washington Times reported Sen. Cruz was expected to report second-quarter contributions of $4 million.

O’Rourke said the average donation to his campaign was $33.

“In the last three months, all of us together, without PACs [political action committees] or corporations, or special interests, have raised more than $10.4 million,” O’Rourke said. “That comes from 215,714 individual contributors, most of them from Texas, giving 15, 25, 50 bucks at a time.”

Kyle Whatley, executive director of the state’s Republican Party, warned donors in a July fundraising email that the O’Rourke campaign was on its way to Hollywood to seek donations “from leftist progressives who will destroy our state.”

Republican Party of Texas Political Director Stephen Wong said in a note attached to Whatley’s email that a recent poll showed Cruz only led O’Rourke by 2 points. The survey conducted by Civiqs through July 4 showed Cruz with 48 percent support from likely voters. Forty-six percent of Texas voters said they’d cast a ballot for O’Rourke if the election were held the day they were surveyed.

Before any GOPer gets too apoplectic, the Real Clear Politics Average of polls May 19 through July 7 had Cruz in the lead by 8.4 points. The most recent of the polls RCP included in its Cruz-O’Rourke rundown was a Gravis Marketing survey that had Cruz leading O’Rourke by 9 points.

A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll released in late June showed Cruz in the lead by 5 points.

Daron Shaw, a University of Texas government professor, told Politifact the Civiqs poll might serve a fundraising purpose for the GOP, but Republican donors shouldn’t be worried. If the Texas Senate election was really as close as the Civiqs poll showed, Shaw said there’s no way all of the other polls would show Cruz ahead by such a wide margin.

“The chances of this happening if O’Rourke is actually winning is statistically infinitesimal,” Shaw said.

Still, Sen. Cruz told New York Magazine he was concerned.

“There is no doubt that the far left in Texas and across the country is energized right now,” Cruz said in April. “We are going to see very high Democratic turnout in November.”

However, Mark Jones, the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy’s fellow in political science, wrote in The Hill that Cruz has little to worry about in November thanks to the GOP’s strength in Texas and voters’ proclivity to vote straight ticket.

So, Cruz can always do a Nascar-style draft behind powerful Republican candidates, like Gov. Greg Abbott who, Jones wrote, is in “the most lopsided gubernatorial contest in modern Texas history.” At the same time, O’Rourke is the strongest candidate among a long ticket of Democratic losers.

And, no matter how many times O’Rourke flies to the Left Coast for checks from the elite of Hollywood, he still won’t be able to bank on much support from the Democratic Party.

“National Democrats and their allies can obtain a much bigger Senate bang for their buck outside of the Lone Star State than within it,” Jones said, since it costs as much to run five similar campaigns in Arizona, Nevada, Missouri, North Dakota and West Virginia as it does to finance O’Rourke’s campaign in Texas.

As a result, Jones wrote, no matter how many $33 checks Democratic voters send his way, O’Rourke “is thus something of a political Battlestar Galactica, forced to confront the entire Cylon Fleet on his own.”