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O’Rourke raises record $38M, triples Cruz amid sagging polls

This combination of Sept. 21, 2018, file photos show Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, left, and Democratic U.S. Representative Beto O'Rourke, right, during their first Senate debate in Dallas. O'Rourke says there's still work to do after being asked about Hispanic outreach in his race against Cruz. O'Rourke needs a broad electorate in November to have a chance at pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the 2018 midterms. His path to victory includes getting more Latinos to the polls, which Texas Democrats have struggled to do for decades. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool, File)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Democrat Beto O’Rourke said Friday that he raised more than $38.1 million for his Texas Senate campaign in the last three months, a record haul that more than triples rival Ted Cruz’s total despite recent polls showing a widening lead for the Republican incumbent.

O’Rourke said the contributions came from 800,000-plus donors nationwide. The El Paso congressman, who has refused support from outside political groups and declined to hire consultants and pollsters, has become a star in national liberal circles.

His totals through Sept. 30 shattered the previous quarterly fundraising high for a U.S. Senate race of about $22 million that Rick Lazio notched in 2000, during his unsuccessful bid against then-first lady Hillary Clinton. They also should ensure that the Cruz-O’Rourke Senate race remains the country’s costliest.

“This is a historic campaign of people: all people, all the time, everywhere, every single day — that’s how we’re going to win this election,” O’Rourke said in a statement.

Cruz previously announced raising $12 million over the same period. He’d predicted, correctly as it turns out, that O’Rourke would exceed $30 million for the quarter.

But O’Rourke’s good news comes amid polls that have begun to show him trailing Cruz by about 10 points after closing to within striking distance earlier in the race. No Democrat has won statewide office in Texas since 1994.

O’Rourke has nonetheless attracted attention throughout Texas and beyond with an energetic campaign that has taken him to all of the state’s 254 counties — even deep red areas Democrats gave up on decades ago — and for a background that includes a stint with a punk rock band.

Campaigning in his hometown of Houston later Friday, Cruz took his opponent’s monster fundraising in stride, saying, “At the end of the day, you can’t buy Texas.”

“Texans are going to vote for our values,” he said.

Cruz and O’Rourke are set to debate for a second time on Tuesday night in San Antonio. The Democrat is then planning to appear on a CNN townhall from the U.S.-Mexico border city of McAllen that will be carried live on national television Thursday night.

The network had said that it previously invited Cruz to participate in a separate townhall, and that he declined. But Cruz said during the Houston campaign stop that he’s willing to join O’Rourke on Thursday in McAllen and make the townhall a debate — though it remains to be seen if all the details can be worked out in time for that to happen.

Despite his longshot status, O’Rourke has now outraised Cruz every quarter but one since announcing in March 2017 that he was giving up his House seat to run for Senate. His latest bonanza far outpaces the about $23.6 million he had raised through the entire rest of the race through June 30.

Full financial disclosures aren’t due until next week, and neither O’Rourke nor Cruz has announced how much their campaign war chests are worth with the Nov. 6 election looming. Still O’Rourke had $13.9-plus million on hand through June, compared to Cruz’s $9.2 million then, according to federal disclosure records.

All that money ensures both candidates will be able to continue flooding the airwaves in major media markets around Texas. Cruz, and outside groups supporting him, have released a series of attack ads, criticizing O’Rourke for his stance on immigration and his publicly defending NFL player protests during the national anthem.

O’Rourke has refused to go negative, instead recently recording a 30-second TV spot in real-time — including doing multiple takes — on Facebook live. He declared: “You’ve probably seen the negative attack ads seeking to scare you about what we’re trying to do for this country at this critical moment” before offering a message of unity across party lines.

Cruz has repeatedly brushed off his opponent’s fundraising prowess, saying the “extreme left” is energized by hatred for President Donald Trump and that, since there are more Republicans in Texas than Democrats, all he has to do is turn out his base to win. But being so flush allows O’Rourke to add staffers and try to motivate low-frequency voters in Texas, which traditionally has one of the lowest turnout rates in the nation.

Cruz also often dismisses O’Rourke supporters as carpetbaggers and has decried “Hollywood liberals” backing his opponent — even though, through most of the race, the incumbent has accepted more money from donors outside Texas than has O’Rourke.

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Associated Press Writer Paul J. Weber contributed to this report from Houston.

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