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Beto O’Rourke Says He’ll Start Airing TV Ads With Money Raised off Ted Cruz’s attack ads

Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, is set to start airing TV ads in his race against Republican incumbent Ted Cruz.

O’Rourke’s campaign told supporters Monday that it has placed a “$1.27 million media buy” and voters will start seeing “positive TV ads” in 20 Texas markets this week. The dollar amount represents how much O’Rourke, an El Paso congressman, raised two weekends ago in response to Cruz’s first round of TV ads, three of which targeted the challenger.

“Texans in all 254 counties of our state are proving that together, we will be the big, bold, confident answer to the small, petty, negative attacks that are coming our way,” O’Rourke said in a statement.

Whether O’Rourke would air TV ads in the race — and if so, how extensively — has been something of an open question for months. He has expressed ambivalence about the effectiveness of TV ads nowadays and talked about investing heavily in a field operation instead.

In July, O’Rourke released his first ad, a minute-long montage of his travels across the state as livestreamed on Facebook. The spot has been appearing only online.

O’Rourke’s campaign did not immediately say what the content of the TV ads would be other than that they would be positive.

Cruz’s first TV ads came out Aug. 3. O’Rourke’s campaign sought to counter them with a $1 million fundraising drive over the following weekend and ended up exceeding the target by that Sunday night, raking in $1,274,528.

Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Ted Cruz Proposes 5 Debates with Beto O’Rourke in U.S. Senate Race

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has challenged Democratic opponent Beto O’Rourketo five topical debates before Election Day, about three months after O’Rourke challenged Cruz to six.

Cruz strategist Jeff Roe sent a letter Wednesday to O’Rourke, an El Paso congressman, proposing the following debate schedule:

  • Aug. 31 in Dallas on “Jobs/Taxes/Federal Regulations/National Economy”
  • Sept. 14 in McAllen on “Immigration/Border Security/Criminal Justice/Supreme Court”
  • Sept. 21 in San Antonio on “Foreign Policy/National Security”
  • Oct. 5 in Houston on “Energy/Trade/Texas Economy”
  • Oct. 12 in Lubbock on “Healthcare/Obamacare”

Roe said the debates would all take place on Friday evenings “because the Senate is expected to be in session during that time.” The debates would each be an hour long and vary in format — some would be town hall-style, while others would feature the two candidates seated or standing at podiums.

“As Senator Cruz has long believed, our democratic process is best served by presenting a clear and substantive contrast of competing policy ideas, and these five debates will be an excellent way for both you and the Senator to share your respective visions with Texas voters in the weeks leading up to the November election,” Roe wrote to O’Rourke.

O’Rourke responded in a statement to reporters: “I am encouraged that Sen. Cruz has decided that he’s ready to debate the issues. Our campaign looks forward to working with his campaign to finalize mutually agreed upon details.”

The five debates would be the most ever conducted in a U.S. Senate race in Texas, according to the Cruz campaign. A spokesperson described the proposal as “all inclusive and final,” saying the Cruz campaign is not open to negotiating the dates, locations or topics. Cruz’s team, however, is willing to work with O’Rourke’s on other details such as moderators, sponsorships and media partners, the spokesperson said.

Cruz has long expressed openness to debating O’Rourke, but his campaign has resisted making commitments until now. O’Rourke’s campaign first reached outto Cruz’s in April to start coordinating a debate schedule. The letter to senior Cruz staffers proposed six debates, including two in Spanish, and asked for a response by May 10. Though Cruz’s team did not respond directly to O’Rourke’s, Cruz told reporters at the time that his Spanish wasn’t good enough for him to debate in it.

After about two months passed without a formal reply, O’Rourke’s campaign sent another letter to Cruz’s senior staffers, nudging them on the initial proposal and offering to replace the two Spanish debates with two more English debates. Cruz’s team responded with a letter that reiterated he was looking forward to debating O’Rourke.

“However, your arbitrary timeline for coordinating between the campaigns remains irrelevant to our decision-making process,” senior Cruz adviser Bryan English wrote. “We will let you know when we are ready to discuss the details of joint appearances.”

Author: PATRICK SVITEK –  The Texas Tribune

O’Rourke Says He’s “Very, very Proud of my Mom” After Ted Cruz Brings up Her Tax Fraud Case

The U.S. Senate race between U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke took a personal turn Wednesday when Cruz’s campaign accused his Democratic opponent of ignoring his “mom’s tax fraud” while encouraging changes in tax laws to require businesses to charge sales tax on more online purchases.

Charlotte’s Furniture, owned by Melissa O’Rourke, was found guilty in 2010 of breaking tax laws five years earlier by accepting cash to avoid reporting payments to tax authorities.

Beto O’Rourke has a stake worth between $1 and $5 million in the shopping center where the El Paso store was located, according to congressional records, which Cruz argued ties the congressman from El Paso to the tax fraud.

The store was fined $500,000 and ultimately agreed to pay $250,000, the El Paso Times reported. Melissa O’Rourke closed the store in 2017, shortly before her son launched his campaign for U.S. Senate. She told the El Paso Times at the time that the store’s closure was unrelated to her son’s decision to run.

Beto O’Rourke told the El Paso Times on Wednesday that the “store made a mistake and the issue was resolved” and that he did not want to engage with Cruz’s personal attacks.

“The bottom line is that I’m very, very proud of my mom,” he added, talking to the Times. “I love her more than I can say and I’m very grateful for everything that she does, including for her entire life running that store, which her mom started in 1951.”

An O’Rourke campaign spokesman referred The Texas Tribune to the Times’ story when asked for comment.

Texas Democratic Party Deputy Executive Director Manny Garcia condemned Cruz’s statement in a news release, calling the senator “the epitome of the sick politician that will say and do anything to cling to power.”

“Ted’s cheap shots smell of desperation. His shameless tactics are exhibit A on why people turn away from politics,” Garcia continued in the statement. “But what else can we expect from the man that cowered and endorsed Trump after vile attacks on his wife and father.”

Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump suggested during the 2016 presidential election that he had “dirt” on Cruz’s wife and that Cruz’s father was connected to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Cruz condemned Trump’s statements at the time as “classless,” calling him a “coward.”

The Cruz campaign’s latest attack follows a Dallas Morning News story in which O’Rourke said he supported having businesses collect sales tax for revenues across state lines, a measure Cruz fiercely opposes. O’Rourke said in the interview that doing so could halt increasing property taxes and protect local businesses. Cruz said taxing across state lines would hinder online-focused mom-and-pop businesses from flourishing.

“His recent statements advocating that local businesses become tax collection agents for every state in the nation stand in stark contrast to his mother’s history of tax evasion,” Cruz’s campaign said in its news release.

Currently, online retailers only need to collect sales taxes in the states where they have a physical presence. The two candidates spoke as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to rule on a case related to the issue.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Melissa O’Rourke pleaded guilty to a tax violation. Her store was charged as a corporate entity.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author: MATTHEW CHOI – The Texas Tribune

Marijuana Legalization, War on Drugs Emerge as Issues in Race Between O’Rourke, Cruz

The U.S. Senate race between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke is trending into new territory: the war on drugs.

It is a familiar topic for O’Rourke, a Democratic congressman who has earned a national reputation as an advocate for marijuana legalization since his days on the El Paso City Council. Yet it hadn’t become an issue in the Senate contest until now, as Cruz, the Republican incumbent, ramps up his general election crusade to paint O’Rourke as too liberal for Texas.

Cruz opened the new front Tuesday as he seized on a story published by the Daily Caller, a conservative news site, that claimed O’Rourke “once advocated for the legalization of all narcotics.” The story cited an episode on the El Paso City Council in 2009 where O’Rourke successfully — and controversially — amended a resolution about the war on drugs to urge for an “honest, open national debate on ending the prohibition on narcotics.”

“Reasonable minds, perhaps, can differ on whether marijuana should be illegal, but what Congressman O’Rourke introduced was a resolution for the City Council to take up legalizing all narcotics, legalizing everything, legalizing heroin, legalizing deadly opioids,” Cruz told reporters after a campaign event in San Antonio as his Twitter account sent out a similar line of attack. “As this country is facing a crisis — an opioid crisis … and in light of that growing tragedy, Congressman O’Rourke’s radical proposal to legalize all narcotics is a suggestion that might be very popular up at Berkeley. It might be popular in far-left circles, but it doesn’t reflect the values of Texans. Texans don’t want to see heroin and deadly opioids legalized and our kids able to just walk in to the corner store and buy them.”

Despite Cruz’s telling, the resolution did not explicitly call for legalizing all drugs but rather for a conversation about it. O’Rourke said as much at a Jan. 6, 2009, council meeting, video of which accompanied the Daily Caller story.

“I’m not saying that we need to do that – to end the prohibition,” O’Rourke said. “I think we need to have a serious discussion about doing that, and that may, in the end, be the right course of action.”

The resolution was ultimately vetoed by the mayor, John Cook, after he received pressure from elected officials worried that it could cause El Paso to lose out on federal resources. Among them was U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, who lobbied the council to vote against a subsequent effort to override Cook’s veto. Reyes, whom O’Rourke would unseat a few years later, got his way: The veto override effort was unsuccessful, though O’Rourke still voted for it.

O’Rourke would later concede that the language in the controversial amendment could have been handled better.

“It was an artless and even inaccurate amendment to the larger resolution (I only learned later that marijuana is not a narcotic, even though it was precisely that drug that I felt people would be most open to debating), but it got the point across,” O’Rourke wrote in his 2011 book, “Dealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the U.S. and Mexico,” which made the case for ending the federal prohibition on marijuana.

The attack is not new to O’Rourke, who faced it as he battled Reyes in 2012, ultimately dislodging the eight-term incumbent in a bitter primary. Reyes ran an ad that showed a group of young children shouting “no” and expressing disbelief as text on the screen claimed O’Rourke “wants to legalize drugs.” The fact-checking site PolitiFact rated that claim “Half True” at the time.

O’Rourke has not made marijuana legalization a major part of his U.S. Senate campaign. But at town halls and other campaign events, he does not shy away from the topic when the discussion turns toward it or when he is directly asked about it.

Such was the case Saturday morning as O’Rourke made a campaign stop in Sonora, a small city on the western edge of the Hill Country. Soon after he slid into a booth with patrons at a donut shop, he was fielding questions for several minutes about marijuana legalization.

“I’m on a bill that would end the federal prohibition on marijuana once and for all,” O’Rourke told them, later lamenting that the United States is “spending on that war on drugs right now when we could put it into the classroom, into teacher pay, into treating an opioid epidemic, a methamphetamine epidemic that I’m seeing through lots of West Texas right now.”

Cruz, for his part, has long maintained marijuana legalization should be left up to the states, though he personally opposes it. He reiterated that position while speaking with reporters Tuesday in San Antonio.

“I don’t support drug legalization,” Cruz said. “I think drug legalization ends up harming people. I think it particularly hurts young people. It traps them in addiction.”

On marijuana, Cruz added: “I’ve always said that should be a question for the states. I think different states can resolve it differently. So in Texas — if we were voting on it in Texas — I would vote against legalizing it. But I think it’s the prerogative of Texans to make that decision, and I think another state like Colorado can make a very different decision.”

While O’Rourke did not directly respond Tuesday to Cruz’s criticism over the council resolution, the El Paso congressman — coincidentally, apparently — got the endorsement on the same day of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. The group, which supported O’Rourke when he first ran for Congress, hailed him as a “true champion for abolishing our disastrous prohibition on marijuana since the very beginning of his political career as a city council member in El Paso.”

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Beto O’Rourke Wants to Debate Ted Cruz 6 Times, Including Twice in Spanish

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, has invited U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to participate in six debates with O’Rourke across Texas, two of them in Spanish, during their U.S. Senate race.

O’Rourke campaign manager Jody Casey made the proposal in a letter last week to Cruz’s senior staff, adding that the debates should have “media reach to all twenty markets in the state.”

“I would like to begin direct coordination of the debates with your campaign team between now and May 10th,” Casey wrote to Cruz advisers Bryan English and Eric Hollander in the April 24 letter. “Please advise my best point of contact on the Cruz campaign team.”

Cruz previously suggested he is open to debating O’Rourke. Cruz’s campaign said in response to the letter that it was exploring its options.

“Sen. Cruz has said he’s looking forward to debates,” Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said in a statement. “We are considering all possibilities in front of us and will be working with potential hosts and the O’Rourke campaign to determine the best platforms available so that Texans from all corners of the state can hear from the candidates directly about their views for Texas’ future.”

Regardless of what the campaigns ultimately agree to, debates in Spanish between the candidates seem unlikely. While O’Rourke is fluent in the language, Cruz is not known as a proficient speaker.

After a campaign event Tuesday afternoon in San Antonio, Cruz admitted to reporters that his Spanish “remains lousy” before offering a sentence in the language: “I understand almost everything, but I can’t speak like I want to.” Cruz, whose father came to America from Cuba, chalked up his shoddy Spanish skills to “the curse of the second-generation immigrant,” adding that he suspects many in the Hispanic community can relate.

“A debate in Spanish would not be very good because my Spanish isn’t good enough, but I look forward to debating Congressman O’Rourke,” Cruz said.

Still, Cruz has professed little resistance to sparring with O’Rourke so far. Asked in March if he would debate O’Rourke, Cruz told reporters he is “sure we’ll see a debate in this race.” Cruz noted that he debated U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., multiple times on national TV last year before adding, “I am not remotely afraid to debate left-wing liberal socialists.”

During a conference call with supporters Thursday, O’Rourke alluded to the letter while fielding a question about whether there will be a debate between him and Cruz.

“We certainly want a debate,” O’Rourke said, adding that his campaign is working to “make sure that we give every voter in Texas the opportunity to know the difference between the two candidates, their track record of service, what they hope to achieve for the state of Texas and the way in which they are campaigning.”

O’Rourke suggested he was undeterred by Cruz’s past as a college debate champion and a lawyer who has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court nine times.

“While I know that Cruz is a master debater, a very skilled politician, a very shrewd person … I would love the opportunity to talk about what all of us have been doing together over the course of the campaign and what we want to achieve for Texas,” O’Rourke told supporters. “I’m very much looking forward to it.”

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author:  PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

New Poll finds Race Between Ted Cruz, Beto O’Rourke “Too Close to Call”

WASHINGTON — A new poll released Wednesday suggests the U.S. Senate race between U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke is far more competitive than many political observers have initially thought.

The poll from Quinnipiac University shows the two men in a dead heat: 47 percent of registered voters in Texas support Cruz, the Republican incumbent, while 43 percent back O’Rourke, an El Paso Democrat.

That number falls within the poll’s 3.6 percent margin of error.

The poll had another ominous warning for the GOP: President Donald Trump was underwater in Texas, with 52 percent of respondents disapproving of him and 43 percent approving of his job performance.

Cruz’s favorability rating showed a polarized response: 46 percent of Texans have a favorable view of the senator while 44 percent have an unfavorable view.

O’Rourke had a positive favorability rating – 30 percent of those who responded viewed him positively while 16 percent had a negative view. This indicates a large swath of Texans do not know who he is and leaves much room for both Republicans and Democrats to define him in the coming months.

Gov. Greg Abbott had far better standing among Texans than either Cruz or Trump. Fifty-four percent of Texans approve of the job he is doing, while 33 percent do not approve.

The pollsters also surveyed Texas voters about both of the Democrats vying to face Abbott in November. Abbott leads former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez 49 percent to 41 percent. Similarly, he leads Democrat Andrew White 48 percent to 41 percent. A May 22 Democratic primary runoff will determine whether Valdez or White is the party’s nominee.

To be sure, no one poll should be taken as gospel on the state of any race. Various factors can produce an outlier result, and the sample included registered voters, which is a less-narrow field of respondents compared to likely voters.

Even so, Quinnipiac is one of the most highly regarded polling outfits in politics, in part due to its use of live interviews over cell phones and landlines.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Beto O’Rourke: Ted Cruz and Donald Trump “Want you to be afraid of Mexicans”

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, lit into U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and President Donald Trump during an interview in Waco on Tuesday, suggesting the two Republicans were inciting fear in Texas voters.

“Let me tell you what the president and our junior senator are doing right now,” he said at an event hosted by The Texas Tribune. O’Rourke was being interviewed by the Tribune’s CEO, Evan Smith. “They want you to be afraid of Mexicans. When they call them rapists and criminals, and say only a wall will keep them out.”

O’Rourke is challenging Cruz in the November election. During the interview, he often referred to Cruz as “our junior senator,” rather than by name. And he criticized Cruz and Trump on their positions regarding LGBT people.

“And that … is bullshit, and we’ve got to be bigger and stronger and more courageous than that,” he added. “And I know that we are. I know that we are.”

Cruz responded on Twitter later Tuesday: “Liberal Dems — like Hillary and @BetoORourke — say anyone who wants to secure the border and end sanctuary cities must be a bigot and ‘hate Mexicans.’ That’s a nasty insult directed at millions of Texans who welcome legal immigrants (like my Dad), but also respect rule of law.”

The remarks come the same day O’Rourke’s campaign said it raised $6.7 millionin the first quarter of 2018. He said 70 percent of that money was raised within the state. Cruz has yet to release his fundraising haul for the same time period.

At the same time, O’Rourke addressed criticism that he failed to consolidate Democratic support on the March 6 primary, when he lost more than a handful of counties to underfunded challengers.

“We finished 38 points ahead of the closest finisher,” he said. “Many in Texas, perhaps most, still did not at that point — maybe still do not today — know who I am, and that’s on me to do.”

He then stressed that he spent a great deal of time away from the state’s Democratic strongholds, courting votes in conservative and rural bastions.

“The strategy leading up to the March 6 primary was really a much longer strategy leading up to the November 6 general election,” he added. “You will see me far more often in the border than you have seen me so far.”

On the issue of guns, O’Rourke said he does not own firearms, but does not “want to take anyone’s guns” or repeal the Second Amendment.

“In the five-and-a-half years I’ve been in Congress, we’ve had precisely zero debates on gun safety as tens of thousands of our fellow Americans are killed every year in gun violence,” he said.

“We still don’t have universal background checks, so millions of gun sales are going through without any background check whatsoever right now — even though we know that, in those states that have adopted them, we see a 50 percent reduction in gun violence against an intimate partner.”

As for the tax rate, O’Rourke said that the country is in need of infrastructure investments, particularly in broadband internet to rural regions, and that tax hikes might be needed.

“I think for some, the very wealthiest among us, for corporations, taxes are too low,” he said. “I don’t think they need to be raised back to where they were necessarily.”

Read related Tribune coverage:


Beto O’Rourke Says he Raised Staggering $6.7M in First Quarter of 2018

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, raised over $6.7 million for his U.S. Senate bid in the first quarter of 2018, according to his campaign, a staggering number that poses a new category of threat to Republican incumbent Ted Cruz.

The haul is easily O’Rourke’s biggest fundraising quarter yet, more than double his next-closest total for a three-month period. It also is more than any Democratic Senate candidate nationwide took in last quarter, O’Rourke’s campaign said.

Cruz has not released his first-quarter fundraising numbers yet, but O’Rourke’s $6.7 million total is on a different level than his previous hauls, which ranged from $1.7 million to $2.4 million. Those alone were good enough to outraise Cruz for three of the last four reporting periods.

Furthermore, the $6.7 million total came from more than 141,000 contributions — another record-busting number for O’Rourke.

“Campaigning in a grassroots fashion while raising more than $6.7 million from 141,000 contributions, we are the story of a campaign powered by people who are standing up to special interests, proving that we are more than a match and making it clear that Texans are willing to do exactly what our state and country need of us at this critical time,” O’Rourke said in a statement.

O’Rourke’s campaign released the fundraising statistics Tuesday morning ahead of the April 15 deadline to report it to the Federal Election Commission. Cruz has not offered any numbers for the full quarter, though he disclosed raising $803,000 through the first 45 days of the year — a fraction of O’Rourke’s $2.3 million for the same timeframe.

On Tuesday morning, O’Rourke’s team did not volunteer its cash-on-hand figure, but the $6.7 million raised is likely to go a long way toward closing his deficit with Cruz in money to spend. As of mid-February, O’Rourke had $4.9 million in the bank to Cruz’s $6 million.

O’Rourke unveiled the $6.7 million figure on the second day of a three-day, 12-city trip by Cruz to mark the official start of his re-election campaign. O’Rourke is also hitting the road — he plans to hold town halls in 15 cities over the next six days.

Author:  PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Read related Tribune coverage:

In Money Race, Cruz and O’Rourke Taking Different Paths

WASHINGTON — A weird and wild U.S. Senate race could be shaping up in the state of Texas next year.

Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a conservative stalwart who came in second in last year’s raucous fight for the Republican presidential nomination, is poised to face off against Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a former punk rocker from El Paso.

But it’s the two men’s worlds-apart approaches to campaign finance that could be what sets their race apart nationally and play a role in whether key national Republican and Democratic organizations choose to invest in the race next year.

U.S. Senate races are typically expensive beasts that fit into a complicated, multi-state strategy run out of Washington. Typically, a candidate in a competitive Senate race is expected to raise at least a million dollars a quarter. Earlier this month, both O’Rourke and Cruz reported raising nearly identical amounts, about $1.7 million apiece, with Cruz raising an additional approximate $300,000 through a joint committee and a leadership PAC.

In the context of one of the most expensive media markets in the country, that’s small change. Yet that O’Rourke can keep up with the incumbent shows an early enthusiasm for him that Democrats hope to see snowball in the coming months.

Aside from a candidate’s direct fundraising, U.S. Senate candidates usually hope to draw support from three other groups. First, there’s the Senate’s campaign arms, known as the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which may book millions in television advertising behind candidate if they view such efforts as worth the investment.

Then there’s political action committees and, added to the mix in recent years, an entire network of Super PACs that have no limit on donations and are often bankrolled by one or a few super-rich donors.

O’Rourke has made campaign finance reform a central part of his platform. He has vowed to not take any money from PACs, prompting derision from some campaign veterans who argue he’s giving up any serious chance of defeating Cruz, who proved in his 2016 presidential run to be a fundraising juggernaut.

But in an interview with The Texas Tribune, O’Rourke took his hard-line approach to campaign finance reform a step further, insisting that he hopes no millionaires or billionaires form an unaffiliated super PAC to sway the race for him.

“I’ll say that right now to anyone watching or listening: I don’t want super PACs involved.” he said. “I don’t want their help.”

“No candidates can coordinate [with super PACs], but they can raise money, but I will make a commitment to you right now that I won’t be a part of supporting, helping, fundraising, or a tacit endorsement of super PACs or people who try to work in an unaccountable way outside of the political process.”

That’s likely to set a sharp contrast from Cruz, who rose to power, in part, with support of super PACs and is expected to draw strong support from such groups next year. Groups like the Club for Growth Action super PAC spent big on his long-shot 2012 race for a U.S. Senate seat that catapulted him onto the national stage.

During his 2016 presidential run, a highly organized super PAC apparatus backed him, raising nearly $54 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

While it’s not clear national Democrats or other groups will bolster O’Rourke’s bid, Cruz is framing the race to supporters as if such involvement is inevitable.

“The Democrats want to win this seat so they can make Chuck Schumer majority leader,” Cruz said at Republican conference Friday in Dallas, referring to the Democrats’ leader in the Senate.

Speaking with the Tribune after the speech, Cruz pointed to the recent fundraising success of some Democratic candidates in Texas.

“The hard left is angry, and they’re energized,” Cruz said. “I think that underscores the need for Republicans to take seriously the electoral challenges.”

Is this a race?

Despite the enthusiasm around O’Rourke’s bid, a Texas Democrat hasn’t won statewide since 1994 and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and many like-minded national groups remain unlikely to invest in it. So is this even a race?

“A year out from an election, there is no need to declare an election over,” said Nathan Gonzales, the nonpartisan analyst with Inside Elections.

“2016 has taught us to leave our mind open to possibilities, but just looking at the map, there are arguably better and cheaper Democratic opportunities than Texas.”

Gonzales currently classifies Texas as “solid Republican” – his strongest rating in favor of the GOP.

Most outside observers agree this is not a competitive race. Plenty of national Democratic operatives and strategists say as much. Most Republicans underscore that “no” with emphasis: Heading into 2018, GOP operatives say they may be facing political problems in multiple states, but Texas ain’t one of them.

But some Democrats are watching O’Rourke and wondering: What if it is a race?

It’s fair to say former state Sen. Wendy Davis knows the usual Texas donors, going back to her 2014 race against now-Gov. Greg Abbott. She recently saw signs at an Austin fundraiser that O’Rourke’s campaign could fare better than her 20-point loss.

“I didn’t recognize a lot of people in there,” she said. “To me, that was a really good sign that people are stepping up.”

Yet even if O’Rourke can hold his own against Cruz in terms of fundraising, Democrats have not fielded a serious candidate for governor, and Abbott has tens of millions of dollars to support his re-election bid.

And Cruz is a former presidential candidate who raised more than $90 million in $2,700 or smaller increments. While he surely stumbled among his party’s base last year when he refused to endorse Donald Trump for president at the Republican National Convention, he’s made strides since then to consolidate support. In a change of pace from past campaigns, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a fellow Texan and the second-ranking Republican in the chamber, endorsed Cruz for re-election last month.

For now, Cruz only has a handful of mostly unknown Republicans either running or threatening to challenge him, including North Richland Hills-based Christian television executive Bruce Jacobson.

Chris Wilson, a Cruz operative who specializes in data analytics, argued against a major source of so much Democratic optimism – Trump’s win in Texas by a slimmer-than-historically-normal nine points.

“The difference between 2016 and 2018 is that there was not a statewide Republican campaign effort made in 2016 by Donald Trump or anyone else.”

A former Trump White House official, Steve Bannon, has promised to back a primary challenge against every Republican in the Senate except for Cruz. That’s created a volatile atmosphere in Washington. Democrats say they see strong indications that the GOP’s civil war and anti-Trump sentiment could put normally safe red states into play.

That could, actually, hurt any chance of O’Rourke earning unsolicited outside help.

This is the hardest map for Senate Democrats in recent memory. Florida, in particular, is expected to develop into an obscenely expensive battle to protect Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

Democrats are already telegraphing that if they invest money in trying to flip Republican Senate seats, their key targets will be in Arizona and Nevada – far less expensive states than Texas.

O’Rourke, for his part, shrugs off the possibility of institutional Democratic support from Washington.

“I don’t know that there’s anything the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee can bring to this that the people of Texas can’t bring to this,” he said.

Gonzales, the political analyst, is watching the Texas race, but skeptically. What would it take for him to soften that “solid Republican” rating?

“An abundance of survey data that Democrats have a real opportunity,” Gonzalez said. “The senator can’t take the race for granted. O’Rourke’s going to run a credible campaign, but that doesn’t mean he’s on the cusp of victory.”

Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Last week, Cruz and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders faced off in a debate on CNN over how to fix the U.S. tax code. [Full story]
  • O’Rourke has been letting f-bombs fly on the campaign trail. We made a video compilation. [Full story]
  • To beat Ted Cruz, Beto O’Rourke plans to throw out the Democratic playbook [Full story]

Author: ABBY LIVINGSTON – The Texas Tribune

Beto O’Rourke Posts $2 Million in Fundraising in bid Against Ted Cruz

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, raised “more than $2 million dollars” in his first quarter as a U.S. Senate candidate, according to a statement he released on Facebook Thursday morning.

That sum is quite large for a challenger to a sitting Senator – it surpasses the fundraising of some U.S. Senate Democratic incumbents in other states who are the subject of major party pushes to hold their seats in 2018.

Texas, in comparison, is far less of a priority for the national party because of its size, conservative makeup and the high cost of advertising in the state.

“We raised more than $2 million over the last three months, from more than 45,000 unique donations, most of them from Texas, every one of them that wanted to take back our state, take back the senate and take back this country,” O’Rourke said.

He added that none of that money came from “PACs or special interests or corporate donors.”

O’Rourke is the underdog in a race against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who has yet to announce his quarterly haul. The junior senator from Texas had a fierce fundraising machine during his unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, and acquired a massive conservative following.

O’Rourke has deftly built an online following in recent months and standing-room only crowds have shown up at his events across the state. But he is still mostly unknown and on his own in this race.

The challenger will need every dime he can raise to build up his name identification. And for now, it is unlikely the national party will help him in this effort as they focus resources on other states.

National Democrats say they will prioritize supporting the ten Senate incumbents who represent states President Donald Trump carried in 2018.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • No Texas Democrat has won a U.S. Senate seat in nearly 30 years or any statewide office since 1994.  But U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke is optimistic he can break the streak, in part by eschewing consultants, pollsters and PAC money. [link]
  • To many familiar with U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the 2012 Democratic primary for the 16th Congressional District is not exactly a blueprint for his 2018 effort to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz — but it’s certainly instructive. [link]
  • In February, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz reported having $4.2 million cash on hand as he prepared for a re-election race in 2018. [link]

Author:  ABBY LIVINGSTON – The Texas Tribune

O’Rourke: President Trump’s Withdrawal from Paris Agreement ‘One of the Worst Executive Actions to Date”

On Thursday, President Donald Trump announced that the US would be withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change; below is a statement posted to Facebook by El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke, regarding his feelings on the President’s decision.

Today, President Trump announced that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change—one of his worst executive actions to date. In 2015, the U.S. agreed to modestly curb greenhouse gas emissions and provide funding to help developing countries adopt renewable energy at a faster rate.

The U.S. pulling out of the agreement signals to the rest of the world that we don’t intend to reach our emissions targets and that we will not be making those contributions.

The practical effects of leaving the agreement are dire. The primary goal of the Paris Agreement is to keep worldwide average temperatures from rising more than 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit above the pre-industrial era. Right now, we’re already almost halfway there and we’ve seen storms that have destroyed billions worth of property, shrinking ice caps, and droughts that have resulted in political instability and even wars.

Most importantly for El Paso and the state of Texas, it’s estimated that by 2050, the number of extremely hot days in Texas (temperatures exceeding 95 degrees) will double, resulting in an estimated 4,500 additional heat-related deaths. Additionally, it’s estimated that there will be a $650 million per year increase in storm-related losses along the Texas coast.

By taking the U.S. out of this agreement, all of these problems stand an increased chance of getting worse.

Just as important, President Trump is sending a signal to the rest of the world that the U.S. is no longer interested in being a world leader. Any progress we make economically, diplomatically, and militarily all depends on our credibility as a nation. By pulling out of the agreement, we are signaling to traditional and potential partners that they cannot depend on Americans to stick with them during difficult times.

Leaving the agreement also means we’re going to let others lead on what the world’s renewable energy future will be. Doing so puts our domestic wind turbine and solar panel manufacturers and other renewable energy providers at a disadvantage relative to countries that are participating in the Paris Agreement. This is a mistake at a time when our state is home to nearly a quarter of the country’s wind power jobs. Texas is a leader in renewable energy production, and El Paso is poised to play an important role. Diminishing the U.S. role will have direct effects on our local economy.

Removing the U.S. from the Paris Agreement makes us one of only three countries, along with Syria and Nicaragua, to not join—even North Korea is part of the agreement. Historically, the U.S. has put more carbon into the atmosphere than any other country, so we must be a leader in curbing worldwide emissions.

I’m hopeful that the rest of the world continues to make progress on this front, and that we can revisit and rejoin the effort once we have a Congress and a President willing to lead because we have much to gain, and even more to lose.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke, In Long-Shot bid for Senate, Is No Stranger to “Calculated Risks”

To many familiar with U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the 2012 Democratic primary for the 16th Congressional District is not exactly a blueprint for his 2018 effort to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz — but it’s certainly instructive.

Half a decade ago, Beto O’Rourke stood at Tabla, a Spanish restaurant in El Paso’s entertainment district, and drew from his business experience as he laid out the improbable case for a congressional campaign.

“Probably most importantly, I learned the lesson of taking a calculated risk when I saw an opportunity to grow that business,” said O’Rourke, who had returned to his native El Paso a few years after college graduation to create a software company.

“Sometimes it paid off, sometimes it didn’t,” O’Rourke added, according to archived audio of the announcement, “but if I didn’t take those risks — calculated risks — we wouldn’t have been able to grow.”

Eight and half months later, the biggest calculated risk of O’Rourke’s political career until that point paid off. He defeated U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, an eight-term incumbent, in a Democratic primary upset that reverberated across the country.

It was not the first time O’Rourke beat the odds in El Paso politics. Seven years earlier, he had won a seat on the City Council after knocking off a two-term Democratic incumbent, Anthony Cobos. The victory made O’Rourke one of the youngest members the council had ever seen.

Now O’Rourke, 44, is turning his attention to what would be his biggest upset yet in a political career built on exceeding expectations. In announcing Friday his challenge to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, O’Rourke threw himself into a long-shot race that he has vowed to approach much like his El Paso campaigns: without much regard for the established political order, the pricey trappings of modern campaigns or what the political prognosticators think.

The question to many now — especially those watching from his hometown — is whether the devil-may-care politics that made him a star in El Paso are convertible to the massive undertaking that is a statewide campaign in Texas.

“Something that is very doable on a local level over time — can you scale that to an 18-month statewide campaign?” asked El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar, a longtime O’Rourke ally. “I think you can with the kind of work ethic Beto has and the kind of passion and enthusiasm Beto has.”

To many familiar with O’Rourke, the 2012 race is not exactly a blueprint for his 2018 effort — but it’s certainly instructive.

A revealing resolution

Before getting elected to Congress, O’Rourke had been perhaps best known outside El Paso for his stance in favor of marijuana legalization. It would lead him to publish a book in 2011 — two months after he launched his House campaign — that argued for ending the prohibition on pot as a way to fight the drug war unfolding just across the city’s border with Mexico.

That position fueled one of his first clashes with Reyes. As a council member in 2009, O’Rourke proposed a resolution calling for a nationalDealing_Death_and_Drugs_TT conversation about legalizing marijuana. The resolution passed unanimously, but the mayor vetoed it, and when O’Rourke tried to mount an override effort, in his recollection, the council started getting calls from Reyes.

“He asked us not to move forward with the resolution and delivered a thinly veiled threat: failure to do so would result in the withholding of stimulus funds for our city, the third poorest in the United States,” O’Rourke recalled in his book, “Dealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the U.S. and Mexico.”

Reyes was apparently persuasive — the override effort fell short. Yet the episode proved illuminating for even O’Rourke’s critics at the time.

“He was really able to articulate a lot of the issues, but even though they had their flaws, it was perceived as at least he was proposing ideas,” said Vincent Perez, a former Reyes staffer and current El Paso County commissioner who once appeared opposite O’Rourke on a local TV show to debate the war on drugs. “Strategically, it was difficult because Beto was able to use … [Reyes’ stance] against legalization as part of a larger problem with the federal government.”

Despite the timing of the book, which O’Rourke published in November 2011 with council ally Susie Byrd, he did not make his pot stance a central issue in his 2012 campaign — even de-emphasizing it, by some accounts. It did not come up in his announcement speech, which nonetheless offered a careful case for sending Reyes home.

“Silvestre Reyes has served 16 years in the U.S. Congress — 16 years that he’s had to spend much of his time in Washington, D.C., he’s had to sacrifice time with his family, and he’s done what I think he thought was in the best interests of our city, and for that we owe him our respect and we owe him our gratitude,” O’Rourke said, “but we do not owe him another term in office.”

A unique landscape

2012 was a unique year for Texas elections. The court battle over Texas’ redistricting maps pushed the 2012 primary from March 6 to May 29, affording upstart challengers the most precious resource in politics: time. That benefited both O’Rourke and Cruz, who used the extended period to pull off his own massive upset — over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

The newly redrawn 16th Congressional District was also seen as bad news for Reyes. It no longer included part of the region’s Lower Valley, which had been a reliable stronghold for Reyes over the years.

It was also a notable time in El Paso politics, which was seeing the rise of a distinct group of Democrats aligned with former state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh. Generally speaking, they were young and progressive-minded and did not have as strong ties to the local party as some of their colleagues — meaning they were not necessarily the types to wait their turns in politics.

“They cared less about pissing people off,” recalled Morris Pittle, an ad maker involved in the 2012 campaign. “Sometimes that’s what it takes to make these things happen.”

“For those of us who were in on the campaign from the beginning, especially those of us who were elected officials — and there were very few of us — what it meant was going against a longtime member of Congress, a Hispanic leader, someone who had quite a following in the Democratic Party,” said Escobar, the El Paso County judge.

It was not lost on the city’s more entrenched Democrats that the white O’Rourke — he is a fourth-generation Irish American — was looking to unseat a Hispanic lawmaker in a district that has an overwhelming Hispanic majority. Some critics still needle O’Rourke by calling him “Robert O’Rourke” — his legal name — as opposed to the more popular “Beto,” which uses a Mexican nickname he took on in his childhood.

Yet as he built his profile in El Paso, O’Rourke had found cachet with the city’s Hispanic voters thanks to his fluent Spanish and willingness to wade deep into issues important to them.

“I think O’Rourke out-raza-ed Reyes,” said Richard Pineda, a professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who directs the school’s Sam Donaldson Center for Communication Studies. (In Spanish, raza refers to race.)

“Everything should’ve gone the other way with Reyes when it came to the candidate that had that Spanish connection,” Pineda said.

The “Great Depression campaign”

Reyes was not exactly caught flatfooted by O’Rourke’s challenge — he had been rumored to be interested in higher office long before he announced — but it soon became clear O’Rourke was the workhorse in the race. He spent months knocking on doors — over 16,000 by his count — and showed up everywhere, while Reyes was not fond of block walking and sent a staffer to most campaign forums.

People involved in the O’Rourke campaign jokingly referred to it as the “Great Depression campaign” due to its lack of financial resources — and tightfistedness when it had them. The campaign was made up of mostly unpaid volunteers, not the high-priced consultants and pollsters that O’Rourke has also sworn off for his Senate campaign.

O’Rourke’s shoestring operation provided a vivid contrast to Reyes’ well-funded bid, which had all the makings of a modern campaign — including a slick 60-second TV ad that aired during the Super Bowl. Reyes also had on his side President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton, who traveled to the far-flung district to stump for the incumbent.

O’Rourke’s most memorable endorsement may have been that of the El Paso Times, which said Reyes had “stood on the sidelines” as decisions had been made affecting the border region.

It was a theme O’Rourke frequently echoed throughout the race as he promised to be a more forceful, engaged advocate for the region in Washington. O’Rourke also was not afraid to raise ethical questions about Reyes, who doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to himself and family members, according to a 2012 study that got ample attention in the race.

Reyes did not exactly shy away from his long congressional tenure, presenting himself as the seasoned legislator who knew how to rake in federal dollars for the district — “Reyes Works” was his campaign slogan. The Super Bowl spot showed him driving around town, surveying the projects that had received federal assistance as dollar amounts flashed across the screen.

In the final few months of the race, Reyes increasingly cast doubt on whether voters could trust O’Rourke given his drug stance and arrest record from the 1990s. One ad showed children making angry faces, shouting “No!” and shaking their heads in disbelief as it spelled out O’Rourke’s support for legalization. “Say NO to drugs. Say NO to Beto,” the commercial read in conclusion.


Another commercial opened with O’Rourke’s mugshot as it highlighted his two arrests: first in 1995 for attempted burglary and then in 1998 for driving while intoxicated. He was never convicted in the cases, which he has attributed to foolish mistakes as a young man.

Helping out with Reyes’ ads was Pittle, who had previously assisted with O’Rourke’s city council campaigns and briefly worked for his congressional bid at its start.

Looking back on the marijuana and arrest record ads, Pittle said they were “not effective at all,” though he acknowledged they were for a Democratic primary and not the kind of general election O’Rourke would face against Cruz. On marijuana in particular, Pittle said, “Given the way we are in our society today, I don’t think that matters to people anymore.”

By the time Reyes’ campaign launched those attacks, it was already becoming clear that O’Rourke would come out on top in the primary.

On May 29, 2012, O’Rourke won with 50.5 percent of the vote, beating Reyes by 6 points. His 3,000-vote victory meant he narrowly avoided a run-off election.

Outside help

By the end of the race, Reyes had vastly outraised and outspent O’Rourke — by margins of roughly 2-to-1 at most points throughout the campaign. O’Rourke did receive help from a Houston-based super PAC, the Campaign for Primary Accountability, that reportedly spent $240,000 against Reyes as part of a broader effort to defeat longtime incumbents in both parties.

Along the way, the group collected a $18,750 check from Campr II Partners, a firm with ties to O’Rourke’s father-in-law, El Paso developer Bill Sanders. The donation drew cries of nepotism from Reyes, who said the super PAC money was being used to “undermine the vote and will of the people.”

The super PAC had such an outsized role in the race that it even appeared to draw the attention of Clinton, the former president, who said during his visit to El Paso that Reyes was the victim of “sneak attacks” by an outside group. “Follow the money,” Clinton told El Pasoans, according to video posted online.

Candidates do not have direct control over a super PAC’s activities. The group’s involvement in the 2012 contest still casts something of a pall over O’Rourke, who has long railed against the corrosive influence of money in politics. In his Senate campaign, he has vowed to continue rejecting PAC money.

The super PAC connection certainly left an impression with Reyes. On Election Night, the congressman asked whether El Pasoans would let “people in Houston” decide their elections and later told reporters O’Rourke “deliberately ran a nasty, dirty, filthy campaign.”

“We must move on”

El Paso Democrats say there are still some hard feelings over the 2012 race, especially among the Reyes family and its allies. The contest has “always left a bitter taste in the mouth of a certain Democrat in El Paso,” said Pineda, the UTEP professor.

Reyes and his brother, who served his campaign manager, did not respond to multiple calls and emails seeking comment for this story. Reyes has not entirely receded from the political spotlight — he has made a number of media appearances since the 2016 election, criticizing President Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We must move on,” said one Democratic official involved in Reyes’ campaign, who like some others, preferred not to speak on the record about a race that is still a sensitive subject in El Paso. “It’s a different time. We must look at the greater good, and the greater good is taking over our Senate seat, which we haven’t held.”

Even among O’Rourke’s skeptics, the 2012 race continues to be a touchstone for his penchant for seemingly quixotic endeavors. Perez, the county commissioner, said the ambitious O’Rourke had a choice back then: Either wait for Reyes’ seat to open up and join the inevitably crowded race to replace him or take the much lonelier route that he took in 2012.

“I think he took a very strategic and calculated risk in challenging him in the primary, and ultimately I think that strategy paid off,” Perez said. “Nobody really had the guts to do what he did.”

Read related coverage:

Disclosure: The University of Texas at El Paso has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here

Author:  PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

To Beat Ted Cruz, Beto O’Rourke Plans to Throw out the Democratic Playbook

WASHINGTON – On what could be his last normal Thursday morning as a rank-and-file member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Beto O’Rourke calmly ate a breakfast of oatmeal and coffee in the dining room he shares with two other congressmen in a townhouse just off Capitol Hill. 

He was due to the chamber in an hour or so for votes. The following morning, he would officially launch his bid to unseat one of Texas’ savviest politicians in modern history, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.  

“I’m not going to do this and lose,” O’Rourke told the Tribune between bites. “I’m only going to do this if we can win, and I’m going to run to win, and I know no [Democrat has] figured out how to do this.”

No Texas Democrat has won a U.S. Senate seat in nearly thirty years or any statewide office since 1994. It is hard to find a political operative in Washington or back in Texas who would bet money – or professional credibility – on O’Rourke winning this race. 

But the El Paso Democrat is earnestly bullish that he will go to the Senate through a strategy of bringing retail politics to a state of 27 million people. 

He has no pollster and no consultants at this point, and said he has no interest in hiring operatives of that ilk. 

“Since 1988, when Lloyd Bentsen won re-election to the Senate, Democrats have spent close to a billion dollars on consultants and pollsters and experts and campaign wizards and have performed terribly,” he said.

The approach offers a clear contrast with Cruz, who has used his own consultants to devastating effect in his races for the U.S. Senate and the White House. Last month, several members of Cruz’s political team showed attendees at the Conservative Political Action Convention a presentation of his presidential campaign’s investment and innovations in data analytics. 

When O’Rourke first floated the notion of running for Senate in an early November interview with the Tribune, many people in Texas and Washington responded with, “Who?” 

But the shock registered most at home in El Paso. 

“The first surprised call was from my wife, like, ‘What? What? Excuse me? What’s going on?’” he said. But four days later, O’Rourke and his wife, Amy, were watching with horror at Donald Trump’s victory on Election Night. At that moment, the decision was all but made. 

“It was Amy who said, ‘I think you should go see if you can’t do something that’s more effective than what you’re doing now.’” 

In a conventional campaign, O’Rourke would try to raise somewhere in the ballpark of $30 million in federally mandated $2,700 increments. Then he would turn to the campaign committees and beg them to invest millions more. 

But the national Democratic committees are overtly telegraphing that the priority in 2018 is to protect the ten party incumbents who represent states Trump carried in 2016. 

To complicate matters, it is hard to overstate how unknown this third-term Democrat is in both Texas and Washington. 

He represents El Paso, which is so remote it is in a separate time zone from the rest of the state. It is a shorter drive from his district to San Diego than to Beaumont. 

Back in November, at least one high-profile Democratic official in the state confessed to having never heard of him.

And amid Wednesday’s giddiness in Washington Democratic circles around his pending announcement, seasoned players referred to him as “Bee-to,” mispronouncing the Spanish nickname for his Anglo given name of Robert.

Another potential stumbling block: He has a pair of arrests – but no convictions – on his record from the 90s: one for breaking and entering and another for drunken driving.

But most of all, he is taking on a wily and hardworking incumbent who was the second-place finisher for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. 

How in the world does he plan to beat Ted Cruz? 

“Tactically, strategically, I don’t know,” O’Rourke said. “It’ll come from Texas, and I have faith and trust the people of this state will make the best decision in the interest of their families and their kids…I just trust that. My challenge, I guess, is to meet enough of them so that they can make an informed decision.” 

His aim, he said, is to campaign beyond urban strongholds in a case-by-case basis. 

In a 38-minute long interview the day before his official announcement, it was apparent that O’Rourke was not going to make his campaign all about Cruz – a temptation given the senator’s polarizing image among even some in his own party. O’Rourke never once mentioned Cruz by name or directly criticized his potential rival. Instead, he focused on topics like immigration, the border, and advocacy for his hometown. 

The approach brought to mind the discipline Cruz has shown in his campaigns for U.S. Senate and president. 

And then there is money. Traditionally, the best way to build name recognition has been through television advertising, and a statewide buy runs at least $1 million a week.

Cruz begins the race with $4.2 million in campaign money. And the early signs amid O’Rourke’s run is that tea party groups and establishment organizations will line up with tens of millions of dollars to back Cruz at the slightest sign of trouble. 

Nationally, Democrats have no appetite at this point to spend serious money in Texas, and O’Rourke is not accepting money from political action committees. He, like all federal candidates, has no control over whether a super PAC opts to get involved. 

But anyone opposing Cruz is a likely magnet for angry liberal dollars. And O’Rourke could have the makings of a Bernie Sanders-type fundraising operation. He is one of the most adept politicians when it comes to social media and was an early adapter of building a following with Facebook Live, a means of broadcasting events through that website. 

The results of those efforts are often viral frenzies. Most recently, his bipartisan road trip with U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, earned both men a storm of positive publicity. So much so, that a handful of Republican operatives in Washington began to sit up and watch O’Rourke more closely. 

But before O’Rourke can face off against Cruz, there is the issue of sorting out his primary. 

For years on end now, many expected it would be one of the Castro twins leading the charge to turn Texas blue, and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, is still openly mulling a Senate run of his own. 

Oddly, though, O’Rourke said Castro was the one who planted the seeds to launch this campaign. 

“I remember this summer at the convention, Joaquin…publicly said that he was thinking about running, which I thought was exciting, and I thought, ‘Hey, let me know,’ and he said, ‘If I don’t do this, you should think about doing it.’” 

“It got me thinking,” O’Rourke added. 

Once it became clear on Wednesday the O’Rourke campaign was on the verge of a launch, Castro put out a statement gently reminding the press that he was still in the mix. 

O’Rourke said he wished Castro luck on Wednesday in making his own decision. O’Rourke insisted if the primary is competitive, they will both “try and do this in a way that will make Texas proud.” 

“It’s good for Texas…you want a competitive democracy,” he said. 

But, he added, the mutual interest was indicative of improved conditions for the party. 

“It shows you that something’s happening,” he said.

The 2016 election gave Democrats cautious hope for Texas. Trump’s margins were narrower than other recent GOP standard-bearers and Democrats made enormous headway into urban centers.

O’Rourke, however, spent much of his time in the lead up to Friday’s announcement in mid-sized towns, including: Wichita Falls, College Station, Killeen, Lubbock, Midland, Waco, Corpus Christi and Odessa.  

O’Rourke said he had expected a few dozen attendees at each of these events. Oftentimes, over a hundred people showed up, having heard of the event through word-of-mouth or Facebook.

The larger aim is to look beyond the cities and take his case to rural voters. The idea is not to win those regions, but to lose less-badly. 

It is the same tactic former President Barack Obama credited with his victories as a candidate in Iowa. 

“There were some counties where I might have lost, but maybe I lost by 20 points instead of 50 points,” Obama said in November. 

But Texas is a whole lot larger than Iowa. Can any of this work? 

“We’ll find out,” O’Rourke said.

Read more: 

Author:  ABBY LIVINGSTON – The Texas Tribune

Rep. O’Rourke to Hold Town Hall on “DREAMers” Monday

El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke will have a special Town Hall meeting on Immigration, specifically the possible impact of the new President’s policies on DREAMers (acronym for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors.)

“DREAMers” are the young people who were brought to this country at an early age without documentation, who have lived most of their lives in the U.S. and in communities like ours.

In 2012 President Obama granted the DREAMers a reprieve from deportation through executive action, allowing them to continue to be productive members of our society, pursuing their education, careers and in some cases service in the military.

President-elect Donald Trump has promised to “immediately terminate” President Obama’s executive actions on immigration to include deportation protections granted to DREAMers.

Via an emailed news release, O’Rourke adds, “This could mean that young El Pasoans, who have spent almost all of their lives in this country, who are currently attending El Paso Community College or UTEP for example, will be forced to leave their friends, families and community to return to their country of origin.”

Rep. O’Rourke’s Town Hall will be held on  Monday, November 28th starting at 6 p.m. at the El Paso Community Foundation Room (333 N Oregon St).

O’Rourke Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Remove Hurdles in Veteran Health Care

WASHINGTON, D.C. — April 29, 2016 — Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) today introduced the Vet Connect Act with Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Health, Congressman Dan Benishek, M.D. (R-MI).

“At a time when the VA has 43,000 unfilled positions, referring care out to the community is as important as ever,” said O’Rourke. “Our legislation would give doctors the full picture of a veteran’s health and allow them to make better medical recommendations. Moreover, it lets veterans focus on getting healthy rather than filling out bureaucratic paperwork.”

This bipartisan legislation would reduce bureaucratic red tape at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to more easily share a veteran’s full medical record with doctors outside of the VA who are directly involved in that veteran’s medical care.

“As a doctor, I understand that in order to properly treat a patient, medical professionals must have access to a patient’s full medical record,” said Dr. Benishek. “Without it, you cannot make informed decisions about what medical treatment is in the best interest of the patient. This common sense legislation will help eliminate the hurdles doctors face when trying to provide veterans care outside of the VA system.”

The current model involves a series of bureaucratic steps that make it difficult for veterans to get their medical records to community doctors outside the VA. As a result, community doctors aren’t getting a veteran’s entire medical record. This prevents the doctor from making the best possible decisions for medical care.

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