For many establishment Republicans, it’s a frightening election cycle to be sure. Democrats have picked up 34 seats during the past year, and many of these were located in areas that have traditionally voted for the GOP. And nothing upends traditional voting patterns more than a charismatic, engaged grassroots campaign that captures the imagination of voters everywhere.
Therefore, it’s not surprising that the latest poll from End Citizens United shows Beto O’Rourke closing in fast on Republican incumbent Ted Cruz. Although flipping Cruz’s seat isn’t likely to be one of the focal points of the 2018 election cycle, Democrats would certainly be buoyed by an unexpected win in Texas.
End Citizens United, a nationwide group dedicated to reducing the influence of money in politics that was founded on March 1, 2015, recently indicated that Cruz is leading by the narrow margin of 45 to 37 percent. At the beginning of the year, the Cruz campaign claimed that the incumbent Texas senator was leading polls by 18 percent. A survey conducted by Google around that same time gave Cruz a 14 percent lead. Either way, it appears that O’Rourke’s odds of winning have dramatically risen.
Other polls are also showing the same rapidly-closing margin. A poll out of the University of Texas released this June shows only a 5-point differential between Cruz and O’Rourke. But what exactly is leading to this decrease in Cruz’s lead? There are multiple factors at play here, the first of which is Ted Cruz himself.
Ted Cruz is in Danger of Losing to Himself
One of the most notable aspects of the recent poll by campaign finance reform advocacy group End Citizens United is the fact that Ted Cruz is getting in his own way. A whopping 61 percent of likely Texas voters apparently don’t know enough about O’Rourke or his political views to even offer an opinion on him as a candidate. That might not seem like a recipe for success, but in this particular case, it may continue to lead to increasing poll gains.
The primary reason O’Rourke is doing better than expected is that Cruz’s ratings show him in an unfavorable light. In fact, 49 percent of poll respondents have an unfavorable opinion of the Republican, and only 38 percent view him through a favorable lens.
Cruz has developed a reputation as a politician capable of putting his own interests before the needs of his constituents, such as when he was responsible for helping force a government shutdown that left thousands of government employees temporarily without work and pay. It’s possible that this reputation is partially responsible for his vanishing lead, despite having far greater name recognition among his own party than Beto O’Rourke.
Another factor leading to O’Rourke’s rise is what’s seen as his no-frills likability. He claims to use no political consultants or pollsters, relying instead on his own strategies and a hustle-first approach to campaigning. He’s also a charismatic speaker, capable of rousing crowds who are eager to see a come-from-behind longshot win away a Senate seat from a political establishment name like Cruz.
These are all factors that have led to the original poll from End Citizens United that showed the closing gap, but there are other machinations at play, too.
Environmental Group Gets Involved in the Election
Endorsements help raise a candidate’s profile, and they can also sway voters one way or the other. In December, O’Rourke received an endorsement from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) Action Fund. The same group is offering support to Veronica Escobar, who has joined a crowded group of Democrats vying for O’Rourke’s former House seat.
For years the Republican party has been able to put conservation and global climate change issues aside to focus on concerns that are more central to their voters. But as climate change becomes more of a central, de-politicized issue, the endorsement of conservation organizations and action groups has become more important for winning elections. Now that O’Rourke has scored his own high-profile conservationist endorsement, he’s sure to capture even more voters who are concerned about the health of the environment.
The League of Conservation Voters Action Fund has a stated mission of working to turn environmental issues into priorities at the local, state and national levels. They focus on creating environmentally-centric laws and policies and holding officials accountable for their actions and how they affect the environment. In the case of endorsements like their embrace of O’Rourke, they also work to help elect pro-environment politicians who will make climate protection and conservation a priority when elected.
The LCV’s approach mirrors that of O’Rourke, who has built his success on grassroots movements designed to build excitement and passion about various issues. The LCV takes the same approach, using a ground-up method of engaging individuals at the local level to eventually create change at the national level.
But as much as the LCV has love for O’Rourke, perhaps just as powerful is their dissatisfaction with Cruz, who has failed to make environmental issues a focus of his tenure in the Senate. As a result, it’s a safe bet that the LCV will do anything in their power to help his opponent win come election time.
Beto O’Rourke: The Traveling Candidate
Part of O’Rourke’s grassroots success has come as the result of his willingness to outhustle his opponent on the campaign trail. Despite the fact that Cruz carries significantly more name recognition, the End Citizens United-backed opponent has hard work on his side. He’s been traveling nonstop throughout Texas over the course of the campaign, and it’s paid off in the polls and in the hearts of voters.
In fact, O’Rourke has now visited each and every one of the 254 counties in the massive state of Texas. This includes a visit to areas like Cooke County, which hasn’t picked a Democrat for public office since the 80s.
The question is—can this old-school style of political campaigning lead to success when it comes time to vote? If Cruz’s rapidly narrowing lead is any indication, the answer may be ‘yes.’
Where O’Rourke Stands on the Issues
When it comes to the main areas of focus upon which O’Rourke has campaigned, his website highlights the primary areas of focus. His platform involves ensuring that Texans who are willing to work can find the jobs they want and the education they need to succeed at them.
He also has focused on ensuring that all Texans can receive the healthcare they need in order to get healthy and stay that way. This includes giving them increased access to providers and medications with affordable rates so that staying healthy doesn’t have to bankrupt individuals and families.
O’Rourke has also taken a firm stance on immigration, going out of his way to welcome immigrants and highlight the way that they’ve helped build up the state of Texas and the United States as a whole. He calls for an end to “walls and raids,” and an approach to immigration law that matches the country’s values.
Overall, O’Rourke claims to want an end to the divisive politics that have become the norm in modern America, and calls for Texans and Americans to come together in service of making the nation better.
But landing a Senate seat is about more than just appealing to local issues. Where does O’Rourke stand when it comes to the national and international issues that capture headlines all over the country?
O’Rourke on the National Stage
Beto O’Rourke seems to recognize that a Senate seat requires an active understanding of and interest in global issues. He’s recently made waves by speaking out on hotly contested topics on the national stage.
In June he spoke about the move to relocate the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, calling it “provocative” and a catalyst for “incentives and incitements to violence.”
This embassy move came after President Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, reversing years of carefully maintained US diplomacy on the topic.
O’Rourke also used his platform during the Texas Democratic Convention to speak on the heartbreaking stories of families separated at the Mexico border. Undocumented immigrants and border crossings are a hotly contest topic in Texas, which shares a large stretch of border with Mexico.
O’Rourke went so far to say that reuniting families separated at the border would be one of his first and highest priorities if elected in the fall.
Can O’Rourke’s Message Carry Him Across the Finish Line?
As previously mentioned, one of the major issues that Democrats face in the Cruz-O’Rourke race is that most Texas voters don’t know anything about O’Rourke. When likely voters were given more information about his platform, including his pledge to steer clear of all money from PACS, he was able to outrank Cruz by two points. In other words, getting his campaign platform in front of the masses is going to be critical if the Democrats want to exploit O’Rourke’s current polling gains.
The question that remains is whether Texas is, as Ted Cruz said to reporters after a recent campaign event, “reliably red.” Texas has long been known as a conservative stronghold, but as left-leaning voter turnout has been strong in local and state elections over the last few years, that may be soon to change. The groundswell of excitement surrounding O’Rourke is certainly a sign that the times may be changing. An even stronger sign? The narrow 8-point lead Cruz is grasping in the latest End Citizens United polling numbers, mirrored by an even slimmer 5-point lead from a June poll out of the University of Texas.
Cruz has pointed to O’Rourke’s rise as nothing more than a result of anti-Trump sentiment. But O’Rourke disagrees. “Come to any town hall meeting we’re having,” he said in a recent interview. “There’s almost no mention of Trump, or Cruz for that matter. It’s about the things we want to do.”
This focus on the issues, and a refusal to accept campaign money from PACs, has made O’Rourke something of a folk hero. But how is that approach affecting his funding during the campaign?
Avoiding PACs Brought in Big Donations for O’Rourke
During the last three months of 2017, O’Rourke was able to raise $2.4 million from supporters without getting involved with any PACs. Cruz, who is well-known to accept money from PACs, only raised $1.9 million during the same time frame. This wasn’t a fluke, either; O’Rourke also raised more than Cruz during the second quarter of 2017.
Despite these big results, Cruz’s willingness to work with PACs has enabled his campaign to put together more cash on hand. O’Rourke is estimated to have approximately $4.6 million right now, and Cruz has $7.3 million on his side.
This disparity is one of the things that End Citizens United fights against. The group’s president, Tiffany Muller, has helped showcase the power of grassroots advocacy work. By taking in an average of only $14 per donor, End Citizens United raised an impressive $25 million during the last election cycle. O’Rourke and other Democrats may be able to continuously achieve similar success by emulating this formula.
Who Are End Citizens United?
To understand who exactly End Citizens United actually are, you have to first know what Citizens United is in the first place.
In 2010, the Supreme Court essentially decided that “corporations are people,” and that billionaires and special interests groups with unlimited money can influence American elections however they wish. End Citizens United believes that this power and influence allows a select few to tip the balances of power in major and minor elections for their own interests, at the expense of thousands and millions of actual people who may not have the money to match their influence.
End Citizens United is funded entirely by grassroots donors, dedicated to reforming the campaign finance system and supporting candidates who refuse to accept donations from PACs and Super-PACs.
Their four-fold mission includes electing pro-reform candidates, keeping the conversation of money and its influence over politics on the national stage, passing pro-reform laws throughout the states, and using grassroots tactics to show political power against money in politics.
As a result of this mission, End Citizens United has thrown its support behind Beto O’Rourke as he has pledged to run a campaign independent of PAC donations and funding. So how does End Citizens United plan to make an impact exactly?
How End Citizens United Plans to Spend Its Money This Election Year
End Citizens United generally uses its funding to provide grassroots organizers the opportunity to support candidates and movements that will bring an end to money in politics. This means funding calling campaigns, including a recent campaign to attempt a block of President Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
Their endorsement alone can help garner a candidate attention and votes, particularly if they’re a candidate with less establishment recognition like O’Rourke. Their widespread trust and influence can help spread a politician’s message to otherwise unavailable audiences, helping propel their campaign and their message forward.
Does O’Rourke Have a Good Chance of Winning in Texas?
Most experts predicted that Cruz will win his reelection campaign, and it’s possible that the recently closing gap may not quite be enough to give O’Rourke the upset come election time. However, O’Rourke is taking a few pages from Cruz’s 2012 playbook, which may make the election much closer than anticipated.
Ted Cruz first came into the national spotlight as the leading voice in the Tea Party movement, ostensibly built around the idea of giving power back to underserved individuals tired of establishment politicians. However, the movement went on to receive backlash when many of its greatest proponents were shown to have received support from large organizations and donors. O’Rourke hopes to avoid this conflict of interest and its accompanying controversy by keeping his campaign entirely individually-funded.
Now, O’Rourke is the long-shot who is using grassroots techniques to reach voters. Social media is his main method, and he’s used Facebook Live multiple times to gain attention at all hours of the day and night. As mentioned above, he’s also put in the legwork in visiting every county in Texas along the way. This seemingly boundless energy helped him cruise to an easy victory during the primaries, but it remains to be seen if he can build enough support to take Cruz down in November. In the meantime, Cruz can keep himself afloat by simply avoiding any scandals in the meantime.
His time on the national stage as a presidential candidate showed that his failure to appear relatable can be his downfall, and that’s doubly true against a candidate like O’Rourke who prides himself on relatability and an everyman persona. If Cruz doesn’t want to find himself on the receiving end of a massive upset, he’ll need to avoid any controversies that could further damage his chances of staying in office.
Otherwise, he might find himself in a position of watching his home state grow beyond him and show it’s ready to elect a politician with progressive ideals and an eye toward the future.