I tend not to focus too much on fundraising reports, especially among congressional candidates, but these numbers are simply stunning.
Texas Democratic Senate candidate Rep. Beto O’Rourke raised a record $38.1 million in the third quarter, the campaign announced Friday, nearly tripling his overall fundraising haul for the cycle.
The blockbuster quarter surpasses the record for the largest fundraising quarter ever in a U.S. Senate race – set by Rick Lazio in his race against Hillary Clinton in New York in 2000.
The total was “powered by 802,836 individual contributions and without a dime from PACs, corporations or special interests,” the campaign said in a press release.
Team Beto has every reason to boast. The Texas congressman is running a fine race; he’s generated all kinds of excitement in a contest that many expected to ignore; and he’s forced Sen. Ted Cruz (R) and other Republicans to scramble to hold onto a seat in one of the nation’s most reliably “red” states.
Indeed, a $38.1 million quarterly haul would be a good total for a competitive presidential candidate. Jeb Bush raised $35.5 million for his entire national candidacy a few years ago – and Jeb was a pretty good fundraiser.
The fact that an underdog Senate candidate raised that much in a midterm is jaw-dropping. If O’Rourke had raised $3.8 million in the quarter, it would’ve been fairly impressive. He instead raised 10 times that number.
But – and you probably knew a “but” was coming – I don’t imagine Democratic officials are delighted with the news out of Texas.
It’s not my job to care who donors support, but O’Rourke faces tough odds in the Lone Star State this year. Yesterday, a Quinnipiac poll showed him trailing Cruz by nine points with less a month to go before Election Day, and as of this morning, FiveThirtyEight shows O”Rourke with a 22.9% chance of winning.
That’s not horrible, but it suggests success is unlikely.
I haven’t spoken to any Democratic officials this morning, but I have a hunch they’d prefer a dynamic in which O’Rourke still raised plenty of money – maybe somewhere in the ballpark of $8 million – while donors directed the remaining $30 million toward other, even more competitive Senate races.
In Nevada, for example, Sen. Dean Heller (R) is this year’s most vulnerable Republican incumbent, and an NBC News poll found him with a very small lead this week. Do you suppose his challenger, Jacky Rosen (D), would like a slice of Beto O’Rourke’s $38 million pie?
How about Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema (D), running in the nation’s most competitive open-seat Senate contest? Or maybe North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp (D), this year’s most vulnerable Democratic incumbent, running in a small state where a little money goes a long way?
My point is not to detract from O’Rourke’s impressive candidacy. What’s more, he’s running in a big state – both in terms of geography and population – and he’s taking on a highly controversial incumbent. The Texas Democrat will need every penny he can get.
But I have a hunch his party wishes at least some of that money was going elsewhere right about now.
Postscript: In terms of inauspicious parallels, it’s worth noting that Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.) set the previous quarterly fundraising record for a Senate candidate, raising $22 million in his race against Hillary Clinton in 2000. Lazio ended up losing that race by 12 points.