Over the last 90 days, Democrat Beto O'Rourke raised more cash in a three-month span than any U.S. Senate candidate since there have been U.S. Senate candidates. He raked in $38.1 million, more than three times as much as his Republican rival, incumbent Ted Cruz. Despite the El Paso U.S. representative's windfall and the amount of cash he's poured into the race so far, recent polls of the contest between Cruz and O'Rourke show the senator settling into a lead somewhere in the mid-to-high single digits.
While the polls could be wrong — O'Rourke could win by 10 if millennials, a group that supports him by a wide margin, actually show up at the same rate as Texas' over 50 population — Texas has a long history of candidates who've raised or borrowed a ton of cash only to see it go up in smoke on Election Day. As the candidates get ready for the latest, biggest week of their campaigns, let's take a look at some of those cautionary tales.
1. 2002 Texas Gubernatorial Candidate Tony Sanchez Fools Himself — Sixteen years ago, Tony Sanchez convinced the most dangerous person in the world he had a chance to knock off incumbent Rick Perry. Himself.
After winning more than 60 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary, the Laredo multi-millionaire came out swinging against Perry, who was finishing out then-President George W. Bush's second elected term as Texas governor. Despite never gaining any real traction in the polls, Sanchez put nearly $60 million of his own cash into his campaign, about 10 percent of his personal fortune. He outspent Perry, whose campaign laid out a healthy $24 million, by almost 3-to-1.
For his trouble, Sanchez kept Perry's margin to less than three touchdowns, eventually capitulating by a 58-40 margin in the general election.
2. Kay Bailey Hutchison Tangles With Perry in the 2010 Primary — Kay Bailey Hutchison underestimated Perry to the tune of about $20 million in 2010. Seeing an opening where there wasn't one, Hutchison gave up her U.S. Senate seat to take a run at Perry — previously the winner of two GOP primaries and two general elections — in the Republican primary. Despite spending almost $3 million more than the 10-year incumbent, Hutchison couldn't even force a runoff in a three-way primary, collecting only 30 percent of the vote following a series of withering attack ads from the Perry campaign.
3. Clayton Williams' Cash Can't Keep His Foot Out of His Mouth — In 1990, Texas oil baron Clayton "Claytie" Williams should've had a free run to the governor's mansion. The state's Republican party got in line behind him following his easy win in the primary, and he was the clear favorite as he entered the general election against former Texas Treasurer Ann Richards.
Then Ol' Claytie went out on the campaign trail, refused to shake hands with Richards at a public debate and compared rape to the weather, saying "If it's inevitable, just relax and enjoy it." Even a 2-to-1 spending advantage and $8 million of his own money couldn't stop Williams from being the last Texas Republican to lose a governor's race.
4. David Dewhurst Sounds a Warning for All Who Would Run Against Ted Cruz — Heading into the 2012 GOP primary, it looked like David Dewhurst, Perry's popular longtime lieutenant governor, was a sure thing to win the U.S. Senate nomination. He had more experience and cash, thanks to his personal wealth, than any of his opponents, including Cruz, who to that point had never been elected to office.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
After topping Cruz 45 percent to 34 percent in the initial round of voting, Dewhurst coughed up all of his lead and then some, eventually losing to Cruz by 14 points in the runoff. By the end of the primary, Dewhurst had spent almost $30 million, including almost $20 million of his own money, in his effort to take over the Senate seat vacated by Hutchison. Cruz spent less than $15 million, showing just how formidable a candidate he can be.
5. Wendy Davis and the Danger of Democratic Hope — After her 2013 filibuster of an anti-abortion bill in the Texas Senate, Democrats tagged Tarrant County state Sen. Wendy Davis as the next Great Blue Hope, believing she could make inroads against GOP gubernatorial hopeful Greg Abbott. Despite spending almost $40 million in cash raised by her campaign and a joint effort with Battleground Texas, Davis finished the governor's race with nothing better to show than a few polls early in the race that had her within single digits. On Election Day, she lost by more than 20 points and saw her former state Senate seat taken over by Tea Party activist Konni Burton.