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Let Beto O’Rourke Keep His Money

Claims that Texas Democrat’s fundraising is robbing from other candidates are exaggerated

Progressive fever around Rep. Beto O'Rourke shows no sign of waning. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Progressive fever around Rep. Beto O'Rourke shows no sign of waning. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

I’m old enough to remember when some Democrats and reporters suggested that Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke donate his Senate campaign money to other candidates and causes.

But the latest Quinnipiac University survey found the congressman within 5 points of Republican incumbent Ted Cruz, clearing him, it would seem, to just spend it on his own race. It was ridiculous to suggest he give away his hard-earned cash in the first place.

The primary precedent cited in support of O’Rourke donating his campaign funds was the Virginia Senate race in 2008, when Democrat Mark Warner contributed $500,000 from his own campaign to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Of course, the biggest flaw in this comparison is that Warner was on his way to a 31-point victory, while people were demanding O’Rourke’s cash when he was trailing by 8 points in a New York Times  Upshot/Siena College poll.

But more importantly, the fear that O’Rourke’s fundraising is robbing from other Democratic candidates is exaggerated. Fundraising is not a zero-sum game.

The congressman has thousands of donors who are attracted to him and his movement, and it’s unlikely that those donors are weighing whether to donate to him or Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota or Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Many donors are either contributing to O’Rourke or not contributing at all.

Fundraising isn’t even a problem for most Democratic candidates anyway. Nevada Rep. Jacky Rosen raised $5 million in the first 17 days of October for her Senate race, and Heitkamp raised more than $12 million in the aftermath of her vote against Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. Heitkamp is struggling to win re-election because she’s a Democrat in North Dakota, not because she doesn’t have enough money.

Watch: ‘I Think Beto O’Rourke Is Highly Overrated,’ Trump Says

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Even if O’Rourke keeps and spends the money he’s raised, Democrats could still benefit.

Regardless of whether he wins, the enthusiasm surrounding O’Rourke’s campaign could boost Democratic turnout in the Dallas and Houston suburbs and benefit challengers Colin Allred in the 32nd District and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher in the 7th District.

Democrats are also using O’Rourke’s success and stardom to raise money for other candidates, anyway.

A mid-September fundraising email from the DSCC carried the subject line: “Beto O’Rourke (D) + you vs. Ted Cruz (R) + GOP money machine.” It included a few headlines along with the line, “If we can flip Texas, we can flip the Senate. It’s that simple.”

“We’re getting down to the final days of the election where a massive influx of money could tip a close race,” Team DSCC wrote.

But the request for a contribution was more nuanced: “Pitch in $1 now to help candidates like Beto get over the finish line and flip the Senate.” Absent was a guarantee the money would go specifically to help O’Rourke in Texas.

“Texas Senate race now a ‘Toss Up’” announced the subject line of another DSCC email at the end of September (referring to another organization’s ratings, given that we’ve held the race as Likely Republican since April). Once again, the Beto-inspired fundraising request was clearly written to help other candidates.

  • “We can’t stop this momentum now, team! Rush a $1 gift and help Democrats like Beto flip the Senate this November.”
  • “We can’t let GOP mega-donors tip the scales in close races like Texas.”
  • “Democrats like Beto are fighting hard to flip the Senate Majority — but they need your help if they want to keep the momentum going until Election Day.”
  • “Chip in $1 now and give Beto and Democrats everywhere the resources they need to win — 100% of your gift helps flip the Senate.”

Equality PAC sent no fewer than a dozen fundraising emails mentioning O’Rourke, many of them with similar language: “Rush $5 NOW to elect Democrats like Beto O’Rourke,” for example.

O’Rourke is still an underdog against Cruz, but he’s close enough that he shouldn’t have to give away the money he raised for his campaign. And he shouldn’t be blamed if Democrats don’t make a dent in the Republican majority.

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