Beto O’Rourke’s ascent from Surprisingly Popular But Probably Still Doomed Senate Challenger to Greatest Senate Fundraiser Ever has forced political consultants to ponder a previously ludicrous question: Is it possible to raise too much money?
The grumbling over O’Rourke’s Texas-size cash hauls ($38 million in the third quarter of this year, a record) and his middling odds of victory (FiveThirtyEight gives him a 22 percent chance) have led some political observers to ask that he let some of the money flow to Democrats in more closer Senate races.
“He could have a huge impact for the party by sharing some of it with the D.S.C.C.,” one Democratic political honcho told the New York Times, “so it could be spent in states where candidates just need a little extra to get over the hump.”
There’s also some envy at work: Not only is O’Rourke being flooded with individual, typically small donations from outside Texas, he’s also getting money from states where Democrats are running in tight races, like Sen. Joe Donnelly’s fight in Indiana against challenger Mike Braun.
But O’Rourke is not giving it up. He told a Washington Examiner reporter, “Folks contributed to this race because they want us to win this race. If they want to contribute to another campaign, of course they’re welcome to do that … No, we’re going to spare no expense. We will bear any burden to make sure that we deliver for this state and for this country.”
Some of the Democrats who want those sweet Beto bucks to turn into Donnelly dollars have pointed to Virginia Democrat Sen. Mark Warner, who in 2008 passed along $500,000 in campaign cash to the Democratic Party. (He won by more than 30 points.) He had also out-raised his hapless opponent Jim Gilmore by eight times. And, unlike O’Rourke, who has rejected political action committee or corporate donations, Warner got over $2 million from PACs.
O’Rourke, on the other hand, is in a close but winnable race that has electrified small, ideologically committed donors—about 44 percent of the $38 million he just raised came from people donating under $200. O’Rourke’s entire identity is being the Democrat that Democrats love. He’s a Pod Save America episode in human form—hell, the Pod boys are making a movie with him.
The reason people give money to O’Rourke is to give money to him so he can win a race in a state that’s always just been beyond the horizon for Democrats. It’s a big, expensive state that any Democrat would need a ton of money to have a chance of winning. That money also supports a massive field operation that could turn out votes for Democratic House candidates who have better shots at winning than O’Rourke does. To turn him into a skateboarding fundraiser for the DSCC now would be to betray everything his donors like about him. What these griping Democratic consultants want is to go national with Michael Avenatti’s Donate to Beto but give half to me scheme.
Sure, O’Rourke might lose, but would it be the worst thing in the world if he showed Democrats they can outraise Republican incumbents by avoiding corporate money and PACs? For some consultants, fundraisers, and operatives who thrive in the mucky world of traditional political fundraising, it very well could be.