O’Rourke bet big on the RGV, but region couldn’t get him over finish line

Despite Democratic hopeful Beto O’Rourke betting big on the Rio Grande Valley, the region could not help him get past incumbent U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who won Tuesday’s election, even with O’Rourke raising a historic $70 million and campaigning across the state for nearly two years.

O’Rourke visited the Valley 10 times over the last two years, and South Texas turned out in historic numbers this election, with 114,560 of Hidalgo County’s 362,815 registered voters casting early ballots. That total surpassed the 56,652 early votes cast during the same early period in 2014, the last midterm election. But the 2018 early vote numbers still fell behind the 2016 presidential election, where 137,720 people voted early. The Democratic challenger took traditionally blue Hidalgo County, as expected, with more than 68 percent of the early vote, 76,985 to 34,661. With 88 percent of county precincts reporting as of 10:20 p.m. Tuesday, O’Rourke also took Election Day in Hidalgo by more than 68 percent.

Major media outlets began calling the race in Cruz’s favor at about 9 p.m., as the GOP incumbent was ahead by more than 51 percent as of press time.

While the Valley showed up in larger numbers than in the past, it still lagged behind many of the state’s largest counties. Of the 30 counties where most registered voters live, only four had lower turnout levels than Hidalgo County, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

O’Rourke has crisscrossed the state, reaching all 254 counties, which just about everyone in Texas knows by now. He has spent more than just about any candidate in the country online, hoping to spur younger voter turnout.

Cruz, meanwhile, known for his attack-dog persona, stayed true to form. Using an abundance of advertisements himself, Cruz painted O’Rourke as a far-left liberal who is out of touch with Texas. Cruz hammered on about O’Rourke wanting to raise taxes and open the U.S.-Mexico border, which O’Rourke denied.

Cruz expounded on securing the border, routinely referencing his endorsement from the Border Patrol’s labor union, the National Border Patrol Council, on the campaign trail. That endorsement was issued in April in Edinburg, one of only two campaign events Cruz held in South Texas since the March primary.

O’Rourke hoped that by continuously visiting the Valley, it would help put him over the top. But it did not.