U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke will launch a campaign to challenge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 on Friday, according to a colleague with direct knowledge of the El Paso Democrat’s thinking
O’Rourke’s campaign team sent an email to supporters Wednesday morning revealing that “a big announcement” was coming Friday.
“Together, we can do something really big, and really powerful for the state of Texas — and for this country,” the campaign wrote. “Congressman Beto O’Rourke has a big announcement to make on Friday.”
O’Rourke has spent the past several weeks traveling the state and has said in recent weeks that he is likely to launch a bid for U.S. Senate. Multiple Democratic leadership sources on Capitol Hill have been operating under the assumption that an O’Rourke Senate campaign is inevitable.
“I think Ted Cruz has been taking on water since the day he announced for president,” said [Matt] Angle who, like many Democrats, accuses Cruz of tending more to his national conservative following than to Texas. “He’s barely a senator.”
Cruz’s bid for the White House, however, helped him build a formidable grass-roots and fundraising base that would be hard for O’Rourke or any other Texas Democrat to replicate.
Cruz ended 2016 with a $4.2 million war chest, more than 10 times the $398,700 that O’Rourke’s congressional campaign had in the bank.
Compounding O’Rourke’s fundraising challenge is his unfamiliarity to Texas voters outside his El Paso district.
O’Rourke has sought to overcome that deficit through a series of rallies and meetings around the state. His biggest assist, however, may come from Cruz himself.
As a self-styled conservative movement leader, Cruz has established himself as a favorite target for the left.
“I can see O’Rourke using that to raise money online” from small-dollar donors, said Geoffrey Skelley, an analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
Another bright spot for O’Rourke, Skelley said, was Hillary Clinton’s nine-point loss to Trump in Texas, the smallest statewide margin since the 1996 presidential election.
Still, Skelley predicted, “it’s going to be a tough haul for Democrats to actually win Texas. … You would need the president to be very unpopular to make it conceivably, really, truly competitive.”
With Democrats defending 25 senate seats next year – 10 of them in states Trump won – it will be hard for any Texas Democrat to attract big-dollar national contributors, whose resources may be needed elsewhere.
Some speculate O’Rourke could be playing the long game.
“What if he loses but puts in a good showing, gives Ted Cruz a run for his money?” Skelley said.
“Let’s say the demographics of the state keep shifting. Who’s to say a few years down the road, O’Rourke couldn’t run again and win?”
As it happens, Democrats around the country are doing exceedingly well with grassroots fundraising this year, so it’s entirely plausible that O’Rourke could catch some of that. He may not have a high profile now, but the combination of going after Ted Cruz and having a record in Congress that ought to be appealing to those who respond to Democratic grassroots fundraising appeals should help him. Today marks the end of the first quarter fundraising period, so O’Rourke won’t have to post a finance report as a Senate candidate until July, giving him three months to make a good first impression on that score. We’ll need to keep an eye on that.
The other big question, which both articles raise, is What Will Joaquin Do? Rep. Joaquin Castro, who of course has also expressed an interest in running for Senate, has said that O’Rourke’s decision will have no effect on his own. I don’t quite buy that, because O’Rourke will most likely have some momentum once he announces that Castro won’t have, and no one wants to run a race they don’t think they will win. Of course, O’Rourke may stumble out of the gate, which could push Castro towards a run. I still believe that Castro has more to lose by giving up his seat, and that one or the other may jump into this race but not both. I could be wrong, but right now my money is on Castro staying put. RG Ratcliffe and PDiddie have more.
UPDATE: And here’s Beto for Texas.