Beto O’Rourke is giving Ted Cruz a run for his money in the Texas Senate contest.
The Democratic underdog from El Paso outraised the first-term Republican senator and former presidential candidate by $1.5 million – $2.3 million to $800,000 – from the beginning of 2018 through mid-February. That impressive fundraising haul comes after O’Rourke also outpaced Cruz in the closing quarter of 2017, $2.4 million to $1.8 million.
Cruz still holds a clear advantage in the race. When it comes to cash on hand, Cruz leads O’Rourke by a little more than $1 million.
The Republican also has recent Texas electoral history on his side. Democrats haven’t won a statewide election there since Bob Bullock’s re-election as lieutenant governor in 1994. The last Democrat elected to the US Senate from Texas? Lloyd Bentsen in 1988.
For Democrats to have a chance at taking control of the Senate, they may have to make states like Texas competitive. Democrats – or independents who caucus with them – are defending 25 seats this year, while Republicans are defending just eight. The GOP has a 51-49 advantage at the moment.
Recent Democratic statewide hopefuls have struggled, including Wendy Davis, hailed as a rising star in the Lone Star State, only to lose the 2014 gubernatorial election to Greg Abbott by 20 points.
O’Rourke is hoping to end the Democratic skid by running a different kind of campaign, embracing his punk rock roots. He’s been traveling from one event to another in a car with aides, listening to Spotify and sharing it all with the world via Facebook and Twitter. O’Rourke has already visited 223 of the state’s 254 counties, including some deep red turf.
Another factor that could benefit O’Rourke this year is the fact Texas has three competitive House races in play, including John Culberson’s Houston-area 7th District and Pete Sessions’$2 32nd District, which covers the northeastern Dallas suburbs.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that the increasingly diverse Texas is slowly becoming competitive. Hillary Clinton lost the state to Donald Trump in 2016 by 9 percentage points – a margin on par with her defeat in Iowa, and just a single point wider than Clinton’s loss in Ohio, a perennial presidential battleground state.
Texans gave the President low marks for his first year in office, with 54% saying they disapproved of his job performance while just 39% said they approved, according to Gallup. His approval there was lower than states such as Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all of which had closer margins than Texas in 2016.
While the odds remain stacked against Democrats winning statewide in Texas this year, O’Rourke could give the party a fighter’s chance – especially if he’s able to maintain his fundraising prowess.
For now, Texas moves from Solid Republican to Likely Republican in our updated Senate race ratings.