Beto-Cruz Se­nate race most ex­pen­sive ever

San Antonio Express-News - - FRONT PAGE - By Jeremy Wal­lace

The bat­tle be­tween Repub­li­can in­cum­bent Ted Cruz and Demo­crat Beto O’Rourke is now the most ex­pen­sive U.S. Se­nate race in his­tory and the costli­est gen­eral election bat­tle Texas has seen for any of­fice.

That was as­sured Fri­day when O’Rourke an­nounced he raised $38 mil­lion in just three months from the start of July to the end of Septem­ber. It is the big­gest-ever cam­paign fundrais­ing quar­ter for a U.S. Se­nate race, crush­ing an 18-year record.

“We are do­ing some­thing ab­so­lutely his­toric,” O’Rourke told his sup­port­ers in an­nounc­ing the haul on so­cial me­dia.

It also means O’Rourke re­mains well ahead of Cruz in cam­paign cash. Last week, Cruz told re­porters he raised about $12 mil­lion over the same stretch. That money does not in­clude out­side po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees that are spend­ing mil­lions more to de­fend Cruz, whose re-election is con­sid­ered cru­cial to re­tain the Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity in the U.S. Se­nate.

Com­bined, Cruz and O’Rourke will have at least $96 mil­lion go­ing into the fi­nal weeks with still a month of fundrais­ing to add to that to­tal.

But more than just set­ting records, the fund­ing is ab­so­lutely a must for O’Rourke, who trails Cruz by six to nine per­cent­age

points, ac­cord­ing to re­cent polls, and who needs voter turnout like Texas has never seen in a midterm election in or­der to win, po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts say.

“He’s go­ing need ev­ery bit of that $38 mil­lion,” said Jay Ku­mar Aiyer, an as­sis­tant po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Texas South­ern Univer­sity. “He needs a his­toric get out the vote ef­fort to pull off what would be a mon­u­men­tal up­set.”

For 20 years, Texas turnout in midterm elec­tions has not topped 40 per­cent. Aiyer said O’Rourke needs a much wider Demo­cratic base to vote in the Nov. 6 election. In pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, the av­er­age turnout is 55 to 58 per­cent in Texas. Democrats would need to vote in those num­bers if O’Rourke is to win, Aiyer said. While there are signs of that kind of en­ergy around his cam­paign, there is no guar­an­tee it will get them to the polls.

The turnout math ex­plains why O’Rourke is spend­ing con­sid­er­able en­ergy and money woo­ing tra­di­tion­ally poor midterm vot­ers, like col­lege stu­dents, blacks and Lati­nos. Those vot­ers have a big­ger drop off in midterm elec­tions com­pared to the elec­torate at large. Over the last two weeks, O’Rourke has jumped from one col­lege cam­pus to the next push­ing stu­dents to get reg­is­tered and make a plan to get out to vote on the first day of early vot­ing, Oct. 22.

O’Rourke also has the money to sat­u­rate tele­vi­sion mar­kets if he wants. It gen­er­ally costs about $1 mil­lion to do a statewide tele­vi­sion buy in Texas. But O’Rourke has prided his cam­paign partly on re­ject­ing tra­di­tional po­lit­i­cal think­ing and work­ing off his own in­stincts. That has re­sulted in him putting more money into build­ing field op­er­a­tions and sup­port­ing vol­un­teers on the ground, of­ten in places Democrats have strug­gled to win in the last 20 years.

O’Rourke did not of­fer specifics on how he’ll spend his money down the stretch, but in­stead spoke gen­er­ally to sup­port­ers about what is to come.

“It’s go­ing to give us the re­sources we need to fin­ish this cam­paign as strong as we pos­si­bly can,” O’Rourke said.

O’Rourke’s fundrais­ing is a big rea­son the con­test is con­sid­ered one of the na­tion’s most com­pet­i­tive races. When the El Paso con­gress­man an­nounced his can­di­dacy in March 2017, most po­lit­i­cal ex­perts con­sid­ered Cruz, a for­mer pres­i­den­tial con­tender, a heavy fa­vorite to win a sec­ond 6-year term in the Se­nate.

But O’Rourke has set one fundrais­ing record af­ter an­other and done so while re­fus­ing to take po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee money.

The Texas race is now con­sid­ered a toss-up by na­tional po­lit­i­cal watch­ers like the Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port in Wash­ing­ton D.C., along with races in more tra­di­tional swing states such as Florida and Ne­vada, which also have toss-up Se­nate races.

Cruz has re­peat­edly warned his sup­port­ers that they face a real race be­cause of O’Rourke’s fundrais­ing and an “an­gry” Demo­cratic base that wants to im­peach Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Nev­er­the­less, Cruz still has been con­fi­dent on the trail say­ing “we are go­ing to win this Se­nate race” dur­ing cam­paign stops through Texas this month.

For Cruz and Repub­li­cans, the fo­cus has also been on en­er­giz­ing the base for Novem­ber.

For most of the year, Democrats have had a de­cided en­thu­si­asm edge that is a big rea­son why some po­lit­i­cal ex­perts have pre­dicted a blue wave. But in the last few weeks, pub­lic polls and in­ter­nal polls by can­di­dates have shown that GOP core vot­ers are get­ting more en­gaged down the stretch.

It’s a base that hasn’t let the GOP down in Texas since 1994.

A Gallup poll re­leased in late Septem­ber shows how Repub­li­cans have caught back up with Democrats when it comes to en­thu­si­asm. That poll of about 1,500 peo­ple na­tion­wide showed 72 per­cent of Democrats were cer­tain to vote in the midterm elec­tions; for Repub­li­cans, it was 70 per­cent.

More prob­lem­atic for a can­di­date like O’Rourke is that just 45 per­cent of non­white vot­ers — a group that fa­vors O’Rourke — say they are “ab­so­lutely cer­tain” to vote ver­sus 65 per­cent of white, non-His­panic vot­ers, a group that fa­vors Cruz.

But no Demo­crat in Texas has ever had so much money to reach out to those vot­ers, ei­ther.

The $38 mil­lion O’Rourke raised in three months beats the pre­vi­ous one-quar­ter fundrais­ing record set in 2000 dur­ing the U.S. Se­nate race in New York be­tween Hil­lary Clin­ton and Repub­li­can Rick Lazio. In that race, Lazio raised $22 mil­lion head­ing into the fi­nal weeks of that cam­paign in los­ing to Clin­ton.

The most ex­pen­sive bat­tle in Texas his­tory had been the 2002 gov­er­nors race. That year the bat­tle be­tween then-Gov. Rick Perry and Demo­crat Tony Sanchez cost about $95 mil­lion.

The fundrais­ing num­bers for Cruz and O’Rourke are un­of­fi­cial. Of­fi­cial cam­paign fi­nance re­ports de­tail­ing their fundrais­ing will be re­leased pub­licly next week.

Loren El­liott / Getty Im­ages

Repub­li­can U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz ad­dresses sup­port­ers dur­ing a cam­paign rally on Oct. 3 in Con­roe.

Tom Reel / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

Demo­cratic Con­gress­man Beto O'Rourke holds a rally at the Carver Com­mu­nity Cul­tural Cen­ter in Au­gust.

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