Sen. Cornyn evokes Beto’s name to energize Republicans

Democrat Beto O’Rourke has already said he’s not running for the U.S. Senate in 2020.

But U.S. Sen. John Cornyn says he’s still a threat.

Cornyn, a Republican and senior senator in Texas, last month sent a letter to supporters saying there was a good chance that O’Rourke would launch “another well-funded, high stakes challenge” in 2020.

This week, he sent out another email, calling on Texans to contribute to the STOP BETO FUND.

“As speculation grows around Beto O’Rourke’s political future, I want to set one thing straight: ‘Beto’s Texas’ would be unsafe, it’d be unsuccessful, and it’d be downright dangerous,” wrote Cornyn, who is up for election next year. “So, to make sure his extreme liberal plans never see the light of day in Texas, we set up the STOP BETO FUND.

“It’s critical that you do what you can, as soon as possible, to stop him. We can’t waste any time.”

O’Rourke, the former El Paso congressman who lost to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz last year, recently announced he would not run for the Senate next year.

Cornyn, nonetheless, is evoking O’Rourke’s name to energize Republicans into giving money, perhaps to build up his campaign war chest for any other Democrat who may announce a bid against him.

That could include former state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who last ran for office in 2014, losing the governor’s race to Republican Greg Abbott, who drew nearly 1 million more votes than she did. Or perhaps MJ Hegar of Round Rock, who lost a congressional bid last year, or Kim Olson, who lost a bid for Texas Agriculture Commissioner last year.

But O’Rourke may be the strongest name Cornyn can throw out, since he is the candidate who came closest to besting a Republican in a state where Democrats haven’t won a statewide race since 1994.

Last year, Cruz won re-election by a much smaller margin than many expected, with just over 200,000 more votes than O’Rourke. In Tarrant County, O’Rourke won by 3,869 votes.

O’Rourke has indicated that he is “leaning toward” jumping into the 2020 presidential race.

“Amy and I have made a decision about how we can best serve our country,” O’Rourke said recently. “We are excited to share it with everyone soon.”

Cornyn recently told reporters in Fort Worth that O’Rourke’s Senate bid against Cruz was “closer than many people would have thought.”

And a recent Quinnipiac University Poll showed that O’Rourke would be neck-and-neck with Trump in Texas, if the election was held today.

Trump has a small lead over some potential Democratic challengers, but right now he would be in a statistical tie with O’Rourke, at 47-46 percent. He also would be in a virtual tie with former Vice President Joe Biden, 47-46 percent, and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, 47-45 percent, the poll shows.

Cornyn, who has served in the U.S. Senate since 2002, criticized O’Rourke for his position on issues ranging from border security to immigration.

The title of his email: “Beto’s Texas.”

“The GOP BETO FUND is our best shot of shutting down a wave from the left before it officially begins,” he wrote to supporters. “I need you to come through when it counts.”

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Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.