An underdog congressman has emerged as a serious challenger for Ted Cruz's Senate seat in the 2018 midterm elections. Beto O'Rourke, a three-term representative from Texas, has raised $2.1 million in individual contributions, according to a report in USA Today.
In announcing his candidacy, O'Rourke said he would not accept donations from political action committees and would rely only on individual contributions. Political analysts said he faced a serious financial disadvantage because of it.
But O'Rourke's approach echoes Sen. Bernie Sanders' funding policy during his presidential run, which struck a serious chord with voters.
"If you’re Sen. Cruz, you have to take O’Rourke’s candidacy seriously," said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University. "He’s a popular member of Congress, and he’s raising enough money to run a professional campaign. That alone puts him head and shoulders above every other candidate who has even expressed an interest thus far in running a statewide race in 2018."
Raising $2 million in one quarter of the year for a Senate race is reportedly rare. “I think that is a big enough number that it will demonstrate the credibility he needs to be able to show he can raise money but also run a grassroots campaign,” Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, told USA Today. “I would say this makes him a credible challenger, and I think that was still a question for a lot of people.”
Cruz is widely disliked by his Senate colleagues, and he has inspired unprecedented public declarations of such. Last month, Sen. Al Franken called him a "toxic co-worker" and said, "I probably like Ted Cruz more than most of my colleagues like Ted Cruz, and I hate Ted Cruz. Ted doesn't get anything done. His big accomplishment was shutting down the government." In 2016, Sen. Lindsey Graham said, "If you killed Ted Cruz in the Senate, and the trial was on the floor of the Senate, nobody would convict you."
Cruz recently was the subject of a viral video in which he questioned fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates about her refusal to defend President Trump's travel ban, reciting an anti-immigration statute. Yates instantly recited a statute that trumped Cruz's statute, then cited the Constitution. A CNN video of the tete-a-tete has earned more than 600,000 views to date.
It is unclear whether Cruz's unpopularity and viral gaffe will translate into a disadvantage with voters. But a February University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll put his approval rating in the state at 38 percent.