SAN MARCOS, Texas (CN) – Before the president of Bobcats for Beto could ask Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke a question on Monday, she gushed, “It’s such a freaking honor to meet you.”
“You’re such an inspiration for running in such a red state,” the woman said.
It’s been two weeks since the three-term El Paso congressman announced that he outraised U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in the last fundraising cycle by some $500,000, a minor feat in O’Rourke’s uphill battle to become the first Democrat to win statewide office in Texas since the 1990s.
Cruz still has more cash than his likely Democratic opponent, but O’Rourke said on Monday that he’s on track to win. Barnstorming through Texas in his quest to unseat Cruz in the November midterm elections, O’Rourke said that, despite the odds, he “feels like we’re winning.”
“After meetings like these, I call my 7-year-old Henry and I say, ‘Henry we’re winning.’ Because it feels like we’re winning,” O’Rourke, 45, told a crowd of supporters in San Marcos, the first of five town hall events of the day. “Anyone who doubts the viability of what we are set to do, this campaign, winning in November, needs to be here right now and feel what we all feel.”
O’Rourke jumped from common topics like Washington’s partisan atmosphere to veteran’s issues to climate change. But he isn’t afraid to jump into the fray with progressive ideas, however unpopular they may seem to be in Texas.
“You have people, cabinet secretaries, who are defying the facts and science,” he said.
He later worked up the crowd when he repeated a “no compromise” line on issues such as President Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the Mexico border, reducing coverage for the Affordable Care Act, and a woman’s right to choose.
O’Rourke, a 1995 graduate of Columbia University, worked in New York before starting a small tech company in his hometown of El Paso. He served two terms on the El Paso City Council before unseating an eight-term incumbent for his West Texas U.S. House of Representatives seat.
Cruz for his part told reporters last week that he was “absolutely” prepared for his first re-election campaign since winning his Senate seat in 2012.
“It’s true my Democratic opponent is raising a lot of money,” Cruz said. “We’re not going to take it for granted. That’s a manifestation of the energy on the extreme left.”
Cruz made the comments just after warning a group of Texas Republicans that “the left is going to show up” in this year’s midterm elections.
“They will crawl over broken glass in November to vote,” Cruz said at the party’s annual Lincoln Reagan Dinner on Friday.
“We are!” one woman shouted at O’Rourke’s town hall on Monday when an audience member asked O’Rourke to respond to Cruz.
“I don’t know if that’s crawling over broken glass, that’s doing exactly what your country needs at the most critical moment in our history,” O’Rourke said of his supporters after talking up a group that braved freezing temperatures to attend an event the day before.
Cynthia Hinojosa, 23, said Democrats are hoping to build enough grassroots momentum to topple over electoral norms in the state.
“Yeah, we haven’t had a statewide candidate like him since the 90s, but Republicans, what did they do? They went grassroots, and little by little, that’s what we’re doing here in Texas, we’re going to take it back,” Hinojosa said.
“With him, it’s going to be amazing,” she said of O’Rourke, with a smile.
Public Policy Polling found O’Rourke trailing Cruz by 8 percentage points, 45 to 37, with 18 percent undecided.
President Trump won Texas over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election by 9 points.
But other polls showed Cruz’s unfavorable ratings on the rise in the aftermath of his bruising defeat to Trump in the 2016 Republican primary elections.
“Ted Cruz has done nothing good for this state,” said Alex Thompson, 19, a student at Texas State University. “We Texans, we’re so proud to be Texans, but we’re not being treated as such.”
“I’m mad, I’m mad as hell,” she added.