You would think they’d have learned a lesson after the Jon Ossoff debacle in Georgia last year, when liberals nationwide spoiling to bloody Trump’s nose after the election handed Ossoff a mind-boggling $23 million for a special election in a House race. He ran hard, bought lots of ads — and lost by nearly four points. A red district stayed red. The same happened four years ago in Texas when abortion warrior Wendy Davis raked in the bucks from national donors for her upstart challenge for governor. That was going to be The Year Texas Turned Blue™. In the end she and affiliated outside groups spent $36 million on the race. She lost by 20 points, faring just two points better than the Democratic candidate for agricultural commissioner who didn’t bother to campaign.
Ossoff and Davis were both examples of over-optimism. That optimism was understandable in Ossoff’s case: He made it close and Democrats look to be on track for a big result in the House this fall. In Davis’s case it was less understandable. They were jazzed by her unapologetic pro-abortion stance in a state as red as Texas and rewarded her by, essentially, lighting their money on fire on her behalf. Davis was carried away in part by a national red wave in 2014 that flipped the Senate back to Republicans.
Which category does this fall into, Ossoff or Davis?
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…
Furthermore, the $6.7 million total came from more than 141,000 contributions — another record-busting number for O’Rourke.
I think Beto-mania is a hybrid of the Ossoff and Davis movements. Liberals have good reason to be broadly optimistic about their candidates this fall but they’re letting their excitement at O’Rourke’s unabashed liberalism on things like guns and abortion blind them to the reality of his chances against Ted Cruz. He’ll do better than Wendy Davis did since it’d be hard to do worse, particularly given the national climate. But the primary results last month should have been a warning to them about how this is going to go. They can hate Cruz (there’s surely a “spite money” element to this), they can say that Texas will be a purple state before long, but all O’Rourke’s going to give them is a moral victory by maybe losing more narrowly than expected.
If they want to shovel dough at a loser that would be more wisely spent on winnable races, though, I for one don’t mean to stop them. In fact, I wonder how many Democratic leaders cringed upon seeing O’Rourke’s blockbuster numbers, knowing that each new encouraging sign that comes out of Texas will dupe even more liberal donors into thinking there’s a chance and kicking in money that should be going to the DNC, DSCC, and DCCC for the midterms. The bigger O’Rourke’s star gets, the more cash will be sucked into its gravitational orbit before it shrinks into a black dwarf on Election Day. The party would have been better off if his first-quarter fundraising was garbage, extinguishing whatever small chance of an upset that remained.
As it is, his big bucks can help him do the most important thing for a candidate taking on an incumbent, raising his name recognition. There will be copious “Beto!” placards around Texas this fall, needless to say. It strikes me, though, that Cruz is not a politician whom it’d be easy to beat if you’re trailing, just because he’s so preternaturally calculating. He’ll play a prevent defense effectively all the way to November. Every word will be carefully measured to protect his advantage. Few are excited about him (anymore) but he won’t say or do anything to alienate anyone who’s open to supporting him. And one would think that if there were any skeletons in his closet that might make a difference, they would have been found and displayed during the 2016 presidential primaries. He won’t beat himself. If O’Rourke can find the mythical blue statewide majority in Texas by registering and turning out Latino voters in the hundreds of thousands, maybe he can win. Short of that herculean effort, it’s a matter of how close he can get in losing.
He’ll make a great fundraiser for the DCCC next year, though!