(CN) – The 2018 midterm election for a U.S. Senate seat in Texas is in full swing, and Democrat Beto O’Rourke raised the stakes Tuesday in his race against Republican Ted Cruz by announcing he has pulled in nearly $7 million so far this year.
O’Rourke, who represents the El Paso area in the U.S. House of Representatives, says he raised $6.7 million in the first quarter of 2018, which he announced during a 12-day marathon campaign schedule ahead of the April 15 filing deadline set by the Federal Election Commission.
O’Rourke did not release his cash-on-hand numbers, but his last benchmark was $4.9 million in mid-February, compared to his incumbent opponent’s $6 million.
While Cruz has not yet released his fundraising statistics for the first quarter of 2018, he reportedly raised only $803,000 in the first 45 days, whereas O’Rourke raised $2.3 million in the same timeframe.
During an interview with the Texas Tribune on Tuesday, O’Rourke said that about
70 percent of his latest fundraising haul came from Texans at an average of “a little over $40.”
Small individual donations fall in line with O’Rourke’s campaign style, which he said was “powered by people who are standing up to special interests.”
Cruz responded to O’Rourke’s latest fundraising numbers during a campaign stop in San Antonio on Tuesday night.
“We are seeing all across the country, the far left giving millions of dollars to liberal Democrats running for office, and it underscores that Republicans cannot take November for granted in Texas,” Cruz said.
Just before the Texas primary on March 7, O’Rourke said in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that candidates have had a hard time gaining traction on the campaign trail because they failed to “show up” and get voters excited about their campaigns.
O’Rourke has focused on holding many campaign rallies across the state, rather than on confronting Cruz directly.
Chris Evans, a campaign representative for O’Rourke, elaborated on that strategy and stressed the importance of connecting with voters, no matter their party affiliations, especially in long-neglected counties. Evans said in an interview that multiple potential voters in various counties said that they had not seen a national candidate in their respective counties in decades, if ever.
O’Rourke’s goal is to spend time connecting with voters in all 254 Texas counties, of which he has visited 229, instead of collecting political action committee donations.
Evans mentioned that several people in various counties asked O’Rourke why he has not accepted donations from even the “good” PACs, such as environmental groups, and O’Rourke has replied that his interests remain with voters, not PAC fundraising.
Evans also said that O’Rourke did not shy away from Republican voters. His rallies remained open to the public, and he focused on discussing voters’ policy concerns. Evans said that while Republican voters may disagree with O’Rourke on some ideological grounds, most voters care about issues that cross party lines, such as education and health care.
Ultimately, Evans said that voters just want to be heard and acknowledged, rather than encouraged to vote for a specific candidate. He said that while O’Rourke may not win over every voter at every rally, getting communities together and engaged in the political process was also an important aspect to the overall process.
After O’Rourke successfully clinched the Democratic nomination, Cruz released a new campaign advertisement featuring a one-minute parody country song about O’Rourke titled, “If You’re Gonna Run in Texas.” The song asserted that liberals are not able to gain electoral traction in Texas because they do not mesh with Texans’ values.
“Beto wants those open borders and wants to take your guns,” the unattributed voice sang. “Not a chance he’ll get a vote from millions of Texans.”
A representative for the Cruz campaign could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Texas has not had a Democratic U.S. senator since 1993, when Senator Bob Krueger was appointed to continue Senator Lloyd Bentsen’s term after Bentsen resigned to become treasury secretary in former President Bill Clinton’s cabinet.
While Cruz stressed the importance of Republican excitement for his re-election, most metrics indicate that he will likely keep his Senate seat in November, including analysis from RealClearPolitics.
While rural Texas voters primarily remain Republican, the Lone Star State is also “contrary to many expectations, heavily urban, so a swing toward Democrats in the suburbs could have an outsize effect here,” according to RealClearPolitics. “O’Rourke starts as the underdog, but this one is worth watching.”