- By Jonathan Tilove American-Statesman Staff
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke outraised Sen. Ted Cruz in the last quarter of 2017 $2.4 million to $1.9 million.
The Republican incumbent maintained a $7.3 million to $4.6 million cash advantage heading into 2018, though the third-term Democratic congressman from El Paso has closed some of the distance since the middle of 2017, from a $3.9 million deficit to a $2.7 million gap.
The fundraising reports for the last three months of 2017 are due Wednesday, but O’Rourke made the announcement of his campaign totals for the quarter on Sunday from the stage at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck in Houston. It was a “Bands for Beto” event held 15 hours into a 24-hour livestream of the campaign, culminating in a midnight rally at his Austin headquarters on Airport Boulevard, followed by a jampacked “UT Austin All-Nighter with Beto” at the 24-hour Kerbey Lane Cafe that began at 1:30 a.m. Monday and ended a little after 3.
Buoyed by his strong fundraising numbers, O’Rourke, who is not accepting any political action committee money, told the crowd at the Houston bar that, in the past, when Henry, the youngest of his three children, would ask him, “Are we winning?” he would explain, “It’s complicated.” Now he says he is telling Henry, “Hell yes, we’re crushing it.”
The O’Rourke campaign said it had received 55,000 donations in the last quarter, up from 33,000 the previous quarter.
Six hours later, O’Rourke told the crowd of more than 500 people at the all-night eatery on Guadalupe Street that they need to get over their lingering fear that Texas is always going to break Democrats’ hearts.
“We are absolutely going to ace this,” O’Rourke said.
At the midnight rally, O’Rourke noted that Texas had not elected a Democrat to the Senate since Lloyd Bentsen’s last election in 1988, before many of those in attendance were born. Austin folk singer Sara Hickman warmed up the crowd at the campaign headquarters playing songs redolent of a time when Democrats still got elected statewide in Texas: “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “Yellow Submarine” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.”
O’Rourke and his campaign are well aware of the long odds against success. Beyond Republican dominance in Texas, O’Rourke is running from El Paso, which is in a different time zone from the rest of Texas and has never elected one of its own to statewide office. On Monday, state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, joined O’Rourke’s campaign as its political director while remaining in the Legislature.
Though O’Rourke raised more money than Cruz in the last quarter of the year, Cruz built an enormous national fundraising operation in his 2016 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, which gave his campaign for a second Senate term a head start and which should enable him to outraise and outspend O’Rourke down the line. He will also be part of a well-funded Republican state ticket, starting with Gov. Greg Abbott, who has a record $43 million in the bank that can be used to mobilize Republican voters — and no big-name opponent of his own.
Both O’Rourke and Cruz face nominal opposition in the March 6 party primaries.
To compete with what they expect to be Cruz’s money advantage, O’Rourke is running a lean campaign, without pollsters or political consultants, and relying on countless town hall meetings and copious livestreaming
The purpose of the continuous 24-hour, Sunday-to-Monday livestream was twofold: attention and momentum.
O’Rourke is very natural on camera and wears well, and his Senate campaign already livestreams most of what he does on the trail. It is a way to make him totally accessible, answering any questions that come his way, but also to build a very loyal fan base that is sucked into his story and personality as well as his politics.
But Texas is big, and to succeed, they’ve got to scale up to a bigger and bigger audience. And like a telethon, they need to give people periodic reasons to pay special attention.
O’Rourke’s 24-hour livestream included town hall meetings in Houston and Sugar Land, a behind-the-counter visit to a doughnut shop and, with his wife, Amy, dishing up lunch at the Beacon, which serves homeless people in Houston.
Then, in the evening, O’Rourke announced the fundraising totals, giving the day an additional jolt of momentum to carry the event into the night in Austin. When the Cruz campaign followed suit a little while later, releasing its own figures, it only gave O’Rourke’s campaign a further boost by revealing something it had not known: O’Rourke had actually outpaced the incumbent in the last reporting period.