Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke knows most people are already writing off his long-shot bid to unseat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, but he argues his race could be the key to flipping the Senate in 2018.
“I’d like nothing more for the establishment to count us out,” O’Rourke told CNN in a phone interview from El Paso.
The 44-year-old third-term House Democrat isn’t hiring pollsters or campaign consultants and is sticking with a pledge he made during his first run for the House to refuse any corporate money or donations from political action committees. He pointed to his party’s dismal record in the last 30 years trying to win a Senate seat in Texas, saying Democrats spent close to a billion dollars on “consultants, polls, wizards and experts, and we really came up short.”
O’Rourke insisted that his retail strategy to travel the state is “not complicated” and made it clear he doesn’t think much of targeted data-driven campaigns, saying, “I’m going back to the basics.” He said he could try the same playbook that other Democratic statewide candidates like former state Sen. Wendy Davis tried, or “I can run an honest campaign about Texas, driven by Texas.”
Cruz didn’t respond directly to O’Rourke’s argument that the senator has been too focused on national politics, but said in a written statement to CNN that he “will continue to work every day to earn and keep the trust of Texans across our great state. I’m confident that Texans want a senator who will lead the fight for freedom — defending the Constitution, getting government off our backs, and allowing small businesses to create jobs and opportunity.”
The National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee was more direct about O’Rourke, saying he’s out of step with the state.
“Beto O’Rourke would be a shoo-in for the United States Senate if he was running in Massachusetts or California — his voting record is perfect for those states,” committee spokeswoman Katie Martin told CNN in a written statement.
O’Rourke, who once traveled the country in a punk rock band, now represents the far-western corner of the state along the southwest border. He officially announced his campaign in his hometown of El Paso on Friday, saying, the state needs “a senator who is not using this position of responsibility and power to serve his own interests, to run for president, to shut down the government.”