U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s Senate campaign is leaving no stone unturned looking for votes this November, even if that means sending the occasional — or frequent, depending on your inbox or political affiliation — text messages gauging interest in his candidacy.
But many are wondering how he got their cellphone numbers.
The campaign uses the Texas Democratic Party’s online voter database that includes “voter registration information and vote history as far back as 1992, including primary and general elections” from every county in the state, according to the party’s website.
Using that data, campaign volunteers contact voters throughout the state.
“(T)his is Stephanie volunteering w/ Beto O’Rourke’s campaign for U.S. Senate,” reads one message from the campaign. “We’re texting Texas voters today about the upcoming November election. Will you be voting for Beto O’Rourke or Ted Cruz for Senate?”
Volunteers even texted O’Rourke’s opponent, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the Republican said Tuesday.
“They have texted my dad five times. They texted me three times,” Cruz said at a campaign stop in Arlington, according to The Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek. “I gotta say, the third time, I told them I was on the fence.”
The O’Rourke campaign gives the volunteers suggested responses to text replies, but volunteers are encouraged to have conversations with potential voters if they’re interested, an official with the campaign told the American-Statesman on Friday. Voters can opt out of future messages by telling volunteers they don’t want to receive more messages from the campaign, the official added.
Texting voters is nothing new for campaigns, but it’s still a surprise for many.
That soon could change, said Sherri Greenberg, a clinical professor at the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs.
“I’ve seen it in U.S. House races,” she said. “It is becoming much more common.”
Newer ways of reaching voters, whether it’s texting, raising money online or other forms of communication, are usually noticed first in campaigns for the highest offices, said Greenberg, a former Texas legislator. The New York Times recently noted that then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, the Democratic Party’s nominee for president in 2008, told supporters via text message that he selected then-U.S. Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware to be his running mate.
“These things tend to start at the top,” Greenberg said, adding that free sites such as YouTube also have become an “equalizer” for campaigns that don’t have a lot of money.
Mass texting is not the most effective way to land voters, but it’s a creative and relatively inexpensive approach in a state where a statewide candidate would have to spend millions to get TV ad time in Texas’ 20 media markets, said Paul Stekler, a public affairs and radio-television-film professor at UT.
O’Rourke has reached out to voters in a number of ways, including traveling to all the state’s 254 counties, where he’s drawn large crowds at town hall meetings and documented his travels through Facebook Live. On Thursday, he held a meeting at music venue Emo’s in Southeast Austin.
That approach is part of a generational shift, when it comes to campaigning, showing he’s “more at ease” with social media, Stekler said. Cruz, though, is running a more traditional campaign, he said.
“It’s a question of their backgrounds and what they’re used to,” Stekler said.