'Rescue' Mission? Conservative Groups Pouring Money into Tight Texas Senate Race

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Posted: Sep 10, 2018 2:01 PM
'Rescue' Mission? Conservative Groups Pouring Money into Tight Texas Senate Race

There are two ways to look at these latest developments: First, as the headline suggests, conservative outside groups and donors are looking at too-close-for-comfort polls and deciding to pour resources into Texas on Ted Cruz's behalf.  After all, Cruz's lead over liberal Beto O'Rourke in the RealClearPolitics average has dwindled down to less than five percentage points (compared to the Texas gubernatorial race, in which Republican incumbent Greg Abbott has a commanding double-digit lead).  Second, the O'Rourke campaign is swimming in money, as the Democratic nominee has become a pro-impeachment Resistance darling; Cruz allies want to make sure the on-air message battle is at least fairly competitive -- and that potentially complacent Cruz leaners understand what's at stake, especially in Senate races.  Either way, it's notable that the cavalry is coming to Texas, even if it's just as a precaution:

With a string of polls showing GOP Sen. Ted Cruz’s lead slipping, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick showed up in Washington on July 25 to deliver an urgent plea to White House officials: Send President Donald Trump. Patrick, who chaired Trump’s 2016 campaign in the state, made the case that a Trump visit was needed to boost turnout for Cruz and the rest of the Texas Republican ticket. The lieutenant governor soon got his wish: Trump announced on Twitter late last month that he was planning a blowout October rally for Cruz, his former GOP rival. The previously unreported meeting comes as senior Republicans grow increasingly concerned about the senator’s prospects in the reliably red state, with some expressing fear that an underperformance could threaten GOP candidates running further down the ballot. Cruz’s Democratic opponent, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, has raised barrels of cash, closed the polling gap and emerged as a cause célèbre of liberals nationwide.

Other party officials tell Politico the threat to Cruz is overblown, but the point about any drag at top of the ticket harming down-ballot Republican candidates is a salient one: A handful of House seats in the Lone Star State are up for grabs, and the GOP is already facing the headwinds of a tough national environment and a clear Democratic enthusiasm advantage.  So in addition to the Trump visit and renewed sense of urgency about the race, significant sums of money are starting to flow:

The entire Senate Republican leadership hosted a fundraiser for Cruz at the end of June and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whom Cruz once famously called a liar on the Senate floor, has made the maximum donation to Cruz’s campaign through his leadership PAC, Bluegrass Committee. Cruz has also received $5,000 from Senate GOP Whip John Cornyn’s (R-Texas) leadership PAC, $10,000 from Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), and $10,000 from Sen. Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) Rely on Your Beliefs Fund. The open wallets aren’t surprising, but they are notable given Cruz’s past clashes with colleagues...But GOP leaders and rank-and-file Republicans alike are putting aside those differences in the face of an existential threat to Cruz’s Senate career in the form of O’Rourke, the skateboarding ex-punk rocker who has amassed a stunning $23.6 million war chest. The latest fundraising reports show O’Rourke with more cash on hand, $13.9 million, than Cruz, at $9.3 million.

The conservative Club for Growth is reportedly readying a seven-figure ad blitz over the coming weeks, with other organizations weighing whether to jump in, as well.  Texas Republicans would certainly welcome those investments, but nationally, activists and strategists have to be wondering whether those dollars could be spent on more pressing priorities.  In other words, if the center-right coalition really needs to shore up Ted Cruz, the threat of a major blue wave is real and acute.  In any case, here's CFG's latest TV spot, targeting O'Rourke's ethics:

Hitting Beto on his record and his far-left-for-Texas views strikes me as a better play than focusing -- as some have -- on his drunk driving arrest, after which he reportedly attempted to flee the scene, years ago.  Far better to train attention and fire on what he's done as an elected official, and what he would do in the US Senate.  Since we mentioned other contests that Republicans would rather be gunning for, here's the NRSC's new ad in Montana, juxtaposing Sen. Jon Tester's rhetoric as a candidate with his actions in Washington.  He's traveled quite a distance from his high-minded promises, it seems:

Montana isn't generally seen as among the lowest hanging fruit on the (historically favorable) Senate map for Republicans, yet the party apparently believes they have a shot.  And that's not the only ad they're putting on air in Big Sky country.  This spot, starring the Vice President, is a formula that will be replicated in other red states:

Parting thought: How will Jon Tester vote on Brett Kavanaugh?  We know how Beto O'Rourke would.