Politics & Government

O’Rourke outraises Cruz in fourth quarter of 2017

Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke raised $2.44 million in the fourth quarter of 2017, about a half million dollars more than incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz raised in the same period.

But Cruz, R-Texas, edged O’Rourke for the 2017 calendar year, $7.1 million to $6.4 million.

Cruz raised $1.93 million in the fourth quarter of 2017, and reported about $7.29 million on hand for his re-election race.

O’Rourke, a three-term Congressman from El Paso is one of three Democrats attempting an uphill challenge to Cruz. O’Rourke reported $4.6 million on hand at the end of the year.

O’Rourke was in Houston Saturday raising campaign cash with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D, N.Y., a few days after Schumer led Senate Democrats in withholding critical votes on a government funding bill because it failed to address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The Senate’s inability to pass a spending bill shut down the government for three days.

Cruz raised nearly $150 million for his presidential bid in 2016 and retains a national donor base from that race. Cruz has not yet formally launched his re-election campaign.

O’Rourke joined the race in March, and outraised the incumbent in the second quarter of 2017, $2.1 million to Cruz’s $1.9 million. Cruz came in just ahead of O’Rourke in the third quarter.

Money raised at the Houston event Saturday will go not only toward O’Rourke’s campaign, but to help Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., who’s seeking a Senate seat in that state, and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who is seeking re-election.

National Republicans jumped on the opportunity to tie O’Rourke, who touts his ability to work with Republicans, to Schumer and Senate Democrats.

“O'Rourke's blind loyalty to Washington Democrats like Schumer, who has been stalling disaster aid to Houston, shows that he will always put partisanship ahead of doing what’s best for Texas,” said Katie Martin, communications director for the GOP’s Senate campaign committee.

Schumer mentioned disaster aide among a list of potential bargaining chips he might use to lure Republicans onto an immigration bill.

O’Rourke has spent the past 10 months aggressively traveling the state, seeking to prove he can make inroads with Republicans where other Texas Democrats have failed.

He blames Texas Democrats’ lack of attention to rural areas for a more than two-decade spell of losses, including Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis’s 20 percentage point loss to GOP Gov. Greg Abbott in 2014.

Describing a recent campaign event in Henderson, Texas, O’Rourke said three attendees drove nearly two hours from Rains, Texas, for an 8 a.m. gathering on a Saturday.

“Our candidates for governor in 2014 got zero votes from Rains County, zero,” said O’Rourke. “There just was not that level of energy and organization.” Davis received 440 votes in Rains County in 2014. Abbott received 1,976.

Cruz’s campaign released internal polling this month showing him leading O’Rourke 52-34 percent. Cruz was viewed favorably by 50 percent or respondents, and unfavorably by 42 percent. O’Rourke was barely known, and viewed favorably by 14 percent of respondents and unfavorably by 7 percent.

Texas Democrats are skeptical O’Rourke’s campaign would get much attention from national groups, even if it becomes a close race later this year.

Republicans control 51 of the Senate’s 100 seats. Democrats are defending 24 of the 34 seats up for re-election in 2018, including 10 seats in states President Donald Trump won in 2016. Two independents who caucus with Democrats are also up this year.

“Beto has already blown past the credibility threshold. In a smaller state, even with politics like Texas, Beto would likely already be a top ranked Democratic candidate,” said Texas Democratic strategist Matt Angle.

Angle wasn’t optimistic that outside groups would spend in “a giant, very expensive state like Texas, even if [O’Rourke] is within striking distance of Cruz.”

Despite the fundraiser with Schumer, O’Rourke has not been endorsed by Senate Democrats’ campaign committee. The primary is March 6.

A major environmental group, the League of Conservation Voters, backed him in December, and a political action committee aimed at enacting campaign finance reform, End Citizens United, has supported him since June.

End Citizens United says it plans to help O’Rourke’s campaign through its grassroots activists in Texas, and by bundling small-dollar donations, which so far has totaled about $30,000 from about 2,100 members.

LCV Action Fund says it’s raised about $12,700 for O’Rourke from its donor lists.

That’s pennies compared to the money outside groups shell out in major Senate races.

O’Rourke says that’s okay. He doesn’t want national groups involved, and he’s not accepting money from corporate political action committees.

As of Dec. 31, more than 70 percent of the money O’Rourke raised came from donors in the state.

One group in Texas that could have helped O’Rourke, the Texas AFL-CIO, declined to endorse him after he missed its annual convention in Austin this month. The AFL-CIO endorsed candidates for other statewide offices, including Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lupe Valdez.

O’Rourke said he’d spoken with the group’s leaders and urged them to reconsider.

Andrea Drusch: 202-383-6056, @AndreaDrusch