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Without Beto O'Rourke, Texas Senate primary is 'wide open'

Bridget Bowman, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

At roughly the same point in the campaign two years ago, O'Rourke had started to garner media attention and was posting strong fundraising numbers, with $4.2 million raised in the three months ending Sept. 30, 2017. But he still had work to do to get Texans to know who he was. An October 2017 UT/Tribune poll showed that 53% of those surveyed did not know or had no opinion of him, but just over a year later, he came within 3 points of ousting Cruz.

That's one reason Democratic operatives aren't panicking yet about the largely unknown field of candidates. Another is that a competitive primary could test who has the strongest campaign.

Democrats still see Cornyn as vulnerable given his polling numbers, the state's shifting demographics and President Donald Trump's slipping approval ratings.

"No matter who our nominee is, they're going to be in a very, very competitive battle with John Cornyn," Texas Democratic Party spokesman Abhi Rahman said.

Thirty-five% of respondents in last month's UT/Tribune poll approved of Cornyn, 34% disapproved and 31% had a neutral or no opinion. The poll surveyed 1,200 registered voters online from Oct. 18-27. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates Texas Senate race Likely Republican.

Cornyn had nearly $10.8 million in his campaign war chest on Sept. 30. His campaign manager, John Jackson, said in a statement that Cornyn's team "fully (expects) national Democrats to pull out all the stops as they try to push Beto into the race."

It's unclear whether O'Rourke will help Democrats running in Texas in 2020, but some Democrats in the state say he is still an asset who could assist other candidates in raising money and turning out voters.


"If he didn't do anything else other than make his email list available to some of these targeted candidates, it could be absolutely a game-changer for them," said Strother, the Democratic strategist.

Fundraising will be a critical task for the Democratic hopefuls, since boosting name ID is expensive in a state with 20 media markets. Angle, the Democratic consultant, noted that donors are focused so far on congressional races and flipping the Texas House ahead of redistricting.

The Senate candidates "have to not only convince people of their appeal as candidates, but also that their race is equally important," Angle said.

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