Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke has raised an astonishing $38.1 million in the past three months in his bid to unseat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz — more than triple what Cruz, at $12 million, hauled in. Unfortunately for O’Rourke, the polls don’t reflect quite that same enthusiasm.
So far O’Rourke, who seemed to tie up the race merely one month ago, now appears to be behind Cruz in the polls. The Real Clear Politics polling average shows that Cruz has a 7 percentage point advantage in the race.
At first, O’Rourke’s struggle was that he wasn’t as well known in the state as Cruz, but more recently he’s developed a likability problem. The Quinnipiac polls showed 45 percent of respondents viewed O’Rourke favorably whereas 47 percent saw him unfavorably. By comparison, 52 percent of Texans saw Cruz favorably, while 44 percent did not.
The reality in Texas is in stark contrast to O’Rourke’s success nationally. A third-term Congress member who represents El Paso, he has become a poster boy for the blue wave across the country. He’s drawn media attention from Stephen Colbert and Ellen DeGeneres and becoming the subject of President Donald Trump’s tweets.
A single-digit difference is still a huge feat for a Democrat in Texas, where Republicans have a stronghold on every facet of government. Cruz won the state in 2012 by 16 points. But if O’Rourke has any chance of winning the seat, he has a lot of work to do with less than a month until Election Day. How O’Rourke chooses to spend his massive war chest will be a major factor.
Cruz’s attacks on O’Rourke seem to be working in the state
People across the country are paying attention to the Democrat who could maybe, emphasis on maybe, turn Texas blue. O’Rourke’s campaign said the record-breaking fundraising push came via 802,836 individual contributions — making the average donation less than $50. So far Cruz and O’Rourke have essentially been spending the same on TV ads, the Dallas Morning News reported.
From the beginning, Cruz’s campaign line has been that O’Rourke is too far to the left for Texas. Cruz has made a point to call O’Rourke more radical than Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and more to the left than Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) — the two most progressive sitting senators. He’s repeatedly called O’Rourke “extreme” and “radical.”
We’re beginning to see the effects of those attacks in the polls, as O’Rourke’s popularity falls and Cruz again widens his lead. Back in June, only 42 percent of Republicans expressed an unfavorable opinion of him — a relatively low number compared to past Democrats who have run statewide.
This line of attack has long been expected of Cruz, according to James Henson, the director of the Texas Politics Project, told Vox in late September.
“The attack ads are not about driving O’Rourke’s positives down, but defining him for Republicans who don’t know much about him,” Henson said.
In other words, Cruz wants Republicans to be scared of O’Rourke and his calculation that defining him as a radical socialist will do that appears to be working.
There’s no question: Turning Texas blue remains a major uphill battle for Democrats, who will need unprecedented voter turnout in a conservative state with one of the lowest voter participation rates in the country.
But O’Rourke has a lot of money — and there’s a new energy among Democrats in Texas. Texas is expected to reach a record level of 15.7 million Republican and Democratic voters this midterm cycle. The Texas Senate race is already one of the most expensive in the country. And that alone is striking: In 2018, Republicans will have to spend a lot in Texas.