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Beto O’Rourke Has Millions to Spend, and Strong Words for Trump

An interview from the road with the Texas Democrat working to unseat Ted Cruz.

Beto O'Rourke, a Democrat running for a Senate seat, greets supporters at the Brandon Community Center after a town hall event in Lufkin, Texas, Feb. 9, 2018.

Beto O'Rourke, a Democrat running for a Senate seat, greets supporters at the Brandon Community Center after a town hall event in Lufkin, Texas, Feb. 9, 2018.

Tamir Kalifa/The New York Times/Redux

When President Trump announced his plan this week to dispatch as many as 4,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, Rep. Beto O’Rourke thought back to 18-year-old Esequiel Hernandez, Jr., and of the United States Marine who killed him.

Twenty-one years ago, President Clinton deployed American troops to patrol the Southern border of the United States. The Marines were looking for drugs, but a unit in ghillie suits found Hernandez, a U.S. citizen, tending goats on his family’s West Texas ranch. Hernandez, who was carrying a .22 pistol to ward off predators, was shot to death.

“The Hernandez family lost their son, and were devastated by that,” O’Rourke told Rolling Stone by phone Friday morning. “That Marine, who was put in a position that he never should have been placed in, has to live with that for the rest of his life.”

O’Rourke, a House Democrat who is campaigning to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz in November, derides Trump’s border plan. “We don’t need it, it’s not fair to the service members, and it’s not something that we, who live in Texas, and who live along the U.S.-Mexico border, want.”

The congressman, whose El Paso district (TX-16) abuts Mexico, notes that immigrant arrests are lower than they’ve been since 1971. “This is as safe as its been in almost a half a century. Members of the military are trained to go to war and to kill people. They’re not trained for law enforcement and for patrolling the border with Mexico – that’s why you have border patrol agents. They do a great job. We should back them up, get behind them, support those border patrol agents, and not put U.S. service members in a precarious position.”

Rolling Stone spoke with O’Rourke as he drove from Austin to a town hall in Goldthwaite, Texas, population 1,867. When the Democrat launched his campaign over a year ago, he pledged to visit all 254 counties in the Lone Star State. His trip to Goldthwaite, in Mills county, puts him at 230, with only 24 counties left and six months to go before election day. 

Earlier this week, O’Rourke’s campaign announced it had pulled in an eye-popping $6.7 million dollars in the first quarter of 2017 – more than any other Democratic Senate candidate received last quarter, and more than any Democrat has ever spent on a Senate race in Texas. O’Rourke emphasized that the money came from more than 141,000 individual donors.

Sen. Cruz’s campaign has not released its first quarter fundraising numbers yet. (According to the most recent figures available, Cruz has raised $7.3 million since the start of 2017.) O’Rourke may have outpaced Cruz in fundraising, but the sitting Senator earned far more votes in last month’s Texas primary: 1.3 million in the Republican primary to O’Rourke’s 641,000 in the Democratic.

O’Rourke remains unfazed.

“We were in Paris, Texas, not too long ago, and at the end of that town hall, a number of people came forward and said, ‘I vote in the Republican primary, because in our county, that’s the only way I can choose my county commissioner, my justice of the peace, my county judge, but in November, I will be voting for you.’ And that is characteristic of so many people and so many counties across Texas.”

At a campaign stop Tuesday, Cruz acknowledged that his campaign won’t come close to matching O’Rourke’s haul this quarter. “That’s a whole lotta money,” Cruz said. “There’s no doubt about that. And it has been clear for some time that the hard left is energized and they’re mobilized and they’re angry at the president. And we are seeing all across the country… and it underscores that Republicans cannot take November for granted.”

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