Tracking campaign funds: Millions raised by Texas Senate candidates Ted Cruz, Beto O'Rourke

By Mario Diaz - Reporter

HOUSTON - In 1931, political humorist Will Rogers said, “Politics has got so expensive that it takes lots of money to even get beat with nowadays."

The same can be said in 2018.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz recently told Channel 2 Investigates, “The Texas economy is booming."

The senator is right, especially when it comes to politics.

Cruz said this campaign is “a battle” and his Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, is a formidable one.

His signs are on front lawns across Texas and his quarterly campaign finance reports say, “We have out-raised Senator Cruz at every single turn.”

In recent days, the Mega Millions jackpot has been dominating headlines. For months, however, O'Rourke has been generating his own millions through record-breaking campaign contributions. “Beto O'Rourke is raising more money online than any Democrat in the country,” said Manny Garcia, the deputy executive director of Texas Democrats.

According to O’Rourke, the average donation is $33.

James Dickey, the chair of the Republican Party of Texas, told Channel 2 Investigates, “A whole lot of money (is) coming in this race."

Dickey’s horse in the race is Cruz. “He raised almost $5 million last quarter, a record for any Republican senatorial candidate and he was lapped by O'Rourke," Dickey said.

Garcia told Channel 2 Investigates that, for years, Democrats accepted that “the cavalry wasn't coming." Garcia said he has watched Democratic donors send their money outside Texas, to subsidize other, more competitive races across the nation. “Democrats in Texas were the ATM to the entire country," he said.

In this cycle, the numbers tell a different story. Federal election records show O'Rourke has raised a staggering $61 million in his battle with Cruz, with nearly $21 million coming from Texas, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The sole focus is to turn Texas into a battleground state. “Turning Texas blue has always been the great white whale, like Moby Dick, if only they can make that happen,”

Cruz told Channel 2 during a recent rally. The Texas senator himself is pulling nearly 60 percent in out-of-state campaign contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics

O'Rourke admitted to Channel 2 Investigates that critics were skeptical of his unconventional approach toward fundraising. “I don't think anyone thought we were going to be this successful. In fact, most believed that, because we decided to not take political action committee money -- There were no super PACs on our side. We are not listening to the corporations and special interests. -- that we would be (at) a significant fundraising disadvantage," he said.

In the last quarter alone, O'Rourke raised $38 million. Cruz hauled in $12 million, the most by any Republican not funding their own race.

"It's pretty clear that, if it wasn't Beto, the money wouldn't be there,” said Mark Jones, of Rice University's Baker Institute.

Jones told Channel 2 Investigates, “This stands to be the most expensive race where you didn't have somebody bankrolling it with their own personal fortune."

A total of $86 million has been raised by both candidates thus far. Cruz still has one major advantage -- the number of voters in Texas who traditionally have voted Republican at the polls.

There is no doubt that Democrats feel they have captured lightning in a bottle with their candidate, but with all of this money coming into Texas, come election night, if they come up short, was it just thunder?

Jones' response?

"Well, I think it really depends on how much Beto loses by. If Beto loses by 5 to 7 points and we can compare that to four years ago, where Greg Abbott defeated Wendy Davis by 20 points, then, if you are a Democrat, you're saying, 'That's progress.' If, on the other hand, Beto O'Rourke loses by a double-digit margin -- say, 10, 12, 15 points -- then, that is going to be incredibly demoralizing for Democrats," he said.

Early voting is underway and the election is set for two weeks from Tuesday.

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