Texas Senate Race

They don’t have much spare cash, but still send $5, $10 to Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke

Joyce Lemaux is an 87-year-old Arlington widow who lives on a fixed income. She doesn’t have credit cards or a smart phone.

But when she can free up a few dollars, she sends it to someone she believes in — Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

“Right now, Sen. Cruz is up against an awful lot,” said Lemaux, who recently sent $10 to help with Cruz’s re-election bid. “I don’t know if he’ll make it or not, but I hope so.

“They say many small (donations) add up and help,” she said. “That’s what I’m counting on.”

Cruz is in a tough re-election campaign, facing Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso.

The two have raised about the same amount of money, around $23 million each, according to OpenSecrets.org, which reviewed campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission between Jan. 1, 2017, and July 31, 2018.

And they are raising more.

Candidates don’t have to report information on donors who give less than $200, but a Star-Telegram review of their FEC filings shows donations as small as $1 and $5 for the candidates.

These campaign donations are “a way for voters to actively support a candidate and become more deeply invested in their campaign and to signal to the candidate and others that they are a true supporter of the candidate,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

Now, less than seven weeks until the Nov. 6 midterm election, every dollar counts.

Aracely Venegas Chavez recently sent $5 to O’Rourke’s campaign.

And she might just do it again soon.

“I feel we are under attack, we as a Latina, a female, a progressive,” said Chavez, a 55-year-old executive director for the Fort Worth school district. “I just wanted to give something to him.

“I really do think that small donors will make a difference. I think those are the people who are going to get out and vote,” she said. “You’ve got to have money to run. And people are really excited about this race in particular.”

Dollar by dollar

The election battle between O’Rourke and Cruz has become one of the most costly U.S. Senate races this year.

As of June 30, O’Rourke had nearly $14 million in cash on hand. Cruz had around $10 million, reports show.

More than 40 percent of O’Rourke’s donations — and 27 percent of Cruz’s donations — have come from contributors who gave less than $200 each, OpenSecrets.org reports.

“Small dollar donations, if magnified by thousands of people, can add up to a significant war chest,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

More than that, he said, “small dollar donors are like renewable resources for campaigns. Most every person can find a small amount of money to donate, and campaigns can return to the source again and again.”

Small donors also tend to volunteer for campaigns, helping with block walking or calling voters.

And they usually head to the polls on Election Day.

“Small donors are excited and interested,” said Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, who heads the political science department at the University of North Texas. “They probably have not given to a campaign before, but are motivated to do so now. That’s a big deal.

“Plus ... I think that this does make it more likely that the person will vote, or at least intends to vote in the election and vote for the candidate to whom they donate.”

Giving what they can

Rebecca Steinsiek, a 53-year-old administrative assistant in Fort Worth, never donated to political candidates until after the 2016 election.

She started sending O’Rourke $5, then raised that amount to $25.

“At the start of Beto’s campaign, I felt like I couldn’t afford to give more,” she said. “But now I feel like I can’t afford to not give more because the GOP is slowly destabilizing public education, rolling back women’s rights and blurring the line between church and state.”

Steinsiek said she’ll vote — and keep giving what she can.

“For the first time in many years, I feel like my vote will count for something in Texas,” she said. “We can win this race.”

Olga Wilmes, an 80-year-old Frisco widow, plans to cast her vote in November for Cruz.

She lives on a fixed income, and owes more in bills than she has money in the bank, but she recently donated $5 to Cruz’s re-election campaign.

She said she felt she had to do something to help Cruz.

“I vote for conservative Republicans,” Wilmes said. “I don’t like those RINO (Republicans in Name Only) Republicans who don’t like our president.”

Now that she can’t afford to donate to Cruz again, she’s doing the other thing she can do: Pray for him.

“If God wants him in, he will be in,” she said. “Everybody said Hillary would win, and God did a miracle and put Trump in. God blesses them.”

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley
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