The Democratic congressman challenging Sen. Ted Cruz for US Senate in Texas has shattered fundraising records. Viral videos of O'Rourke speaking about being a potential 2020 presidential candidate. And his campaign's innovative approaches to the digital and organizing fronts could become a model for Democrats everywhere in the years ahead.
November's midterm election – just four days early in Texas – polls still consistently show him trailing Cruz in the high single digits.
O'Rourke wants to get a national audience and a chance to shift the race Thursday night when CNN hosts a 7 p.m. ET town hall meeting with O'Rourke moderated by Dana Bash at the border city of McAllen.
In recent days, O'Rourke's tone has turned much more confrontational ̵
"It's why the President called him Lying Ted, 'and it's why the nickname stuck – because it's true," he said.
"When an unconventional candidate becomes conventional, that's when they split up like a cantaloupe," Cruz campaign manager Jeff Roe said after Tuesday night's debate. "He does not have a second act. He's been making a liberal bed, and tonight he's tucked himself in."
O'Rourke is the only candidate in CNN's town hall. Cruz declined multiple invitations to appear back-to-back with O'Rourke. Last week, Cruz challenged O'Rourke to turn Thursday, March 30, 2006 
O 'Rourke launches his campaign on the promise that he would never accept money from political action committees – even those friendly to progressives' interests. The pledge, along with viral videos of O'Rourke defending NFL players who protested during the National Anthem, skateboarding and more, turned him into an online, small-dollar fundraising dynamo. And O'Rourke shattered every record for a Senate candidate when, in the third quarter of 2018, he hauled in more than $ 38 million.
Democrats, O'Rourke is more competitive than previous Democratic disappointments in Texas, where the party has been shut down in 1994
Another reason: O'Rourke has visited all 254 of the state's counties, drawing massive crowds in small cities and towns where event-goers said they haven 't seen a statewide Democrat since Ann Richards, the governor in the early 1990s.
Latino voters, a constituency Democrats have to reach to win in Texas.
In 2016, Latinos made up 28% of the voting-eligible population in Texas but just 20% of the electorate – people who actually turned out to vote – according to the Census's Current Population Survey. In midterm elections, Latinos have made an even smaller share of the Texas electorate. O'Rourke leads with Latinos, but is not the child of surge in interest in the midterm elections from Democrats have seen from other constituencies, like women.
O'Rourke's innovative digital operation
If O'Rourke is going to outperform the polls on Election Day – and reach constituencies that Democrats have often ignored in Texas – it'll be because Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.
In the field, O'Rourke's campaign has embraced "distributed organizing" – a strategy that channeled the ground troops backing Sanders' presidential campaign in places where no paid staffers were on the ground. O'Rourke field director Zack Malitz and his organizers have launched several "pop-up" offices, which are actually spaces like super-volunteers' houses and garages.
To raise money, O'Rourke has followed Sanders' small-dollar approach.
Three consultants – Shelby Cole, ad strategist Liz Bennett and graphic designer Camilo Caffi – were the core of O'Rourke's early digital team. Kenneth Pennington and Hector Sigala have worked on O'Rourke's campaign.
Bennett's ads built O'Rourke's massive email list. And Cole – who originally sold O'Rourke on the vision of a campaign that could raise huge amounts of money online as long as he did not rely on a cookie cutter.
O'Rourke's emails are much longer and more personal than most political fundraising solicitations. He never uses popular tactics such as fake deadlines, sky-is-falling warnings, or "final notices" intended to scare potential donors into giving.
"Shelby and Liz, please use the word geniuses," said Mike Nellis, the digital consultant for California Sen. Kamala Harris.
"I do not they'll deserve, "he said.
O'Rourke also has filmed content for his digital ads, rather than repurposing TV spots, and so has a vast archive of Facebook livestreams that have turned into ads.
A recent study from the Wesleyan Media Project found that between May 31 and September 3 of this year, 53% of O'Rourke's campaign is spending on digitally – a vastly higher share than other major Democratic candidates.
Facebook's political advertising archive shows O'Rourke has run more than 5,800 ad variations – including 460 that are active now – on the platform. Google's political ad report O'Rourke is the only candidate to spend more than $ 1 million on Google ads this year. Democratic digital strategists also said O'Rourke has been effective on advertising on YouTube, which is often afterthought for candidates.
Tara McGowan, a Democratic strategist who ran the Priorities United States super PAC's digital program in 2016 and then launched ACRONYM, credited O'Rourke's campaign for understanding the value of authenticity in receiving donors. O'Rourke, sitting on a doorstep, explaining his no-PAC strategy and saying, "I need your help one last time. … I'm counting on you, and I'm grateful. "
" Too many candidates and stills today lean to too close to outdated assumptions of how to win elections and lean on a very old, outdated model, "she said. Sharpening his Cruz attacks
19659002] Cruz has mastered the one-line political attack and O'Rourke has, until recently, been hesitant to swing back.
O'Rourke would lead to "two years of a partisan circus and one witch hunt on the president."
Hey mocked O'Rourke's more combative approach.
"It's clear Congressman O'Rourke's pollsters have told him to come out on the attack," Cruz said.
Cruz's effort to align himself with Trump is a bet that O'Rourke wants to turn down substantial numbers of new voters. A CNN poll out Tuesday found that Trump's rating with all adults in Texas is 41%. But it's much higher – 49% – among likely voters.
Trump plans to visit Texas on October 22 – the day early for a major rally with Cruz in Houston.