Beto O'Rourke was asked on Saturday at an event in Austin, Texas, if he'd stay in the race if he didn't meet the elevated qualifications to appear on the debate stage alongside fellow Democrats in November.
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He said that he would, joking, while at the Texas Tribune Festival, that hitting his fundraising goal could require a Facebook livestream and a kitten.
O'Rourke, the former representative, joked with the moderator Garrett Haake, an NBC correspondent, about theatrically snagging a few new donors.
"You know, it's kind of raising the ante or the bar for how we compete for those dollars," O'Rourke said. "I mean, I could maybe do a Facebook livestream with a kitten and, say, you know, 'Now, we don't want anything to happen to the kitten ... and so, you know, send your $5 or $10 or $15 in now. And, you know, Miss Whiskers is going to be fine.'"
The line prompted laughs from both the crowd and the reporter.
"The federal election attorney's on the phone right now," Haake responded.
"To be clear, we're not going to do that," O'Rourke assured the crowd. "I can't say it didn't cross my mind."
With at least 12 candidates slated to appear for the fourth Democratic presidential debate in October, the battle for attention and donations has reached a fever pitch. At least two candidates and their teams, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro and Sen. Cory Booker, have made dramatic appeals for donations by sounding the alarm of possibly ending their bids.
Continuing more seriously, O'Rourke thanked his campaign contributors.
"Now, we have been so so lucky," O'Rourke added. "Hundreds of thousands of people have donated to this campaign, many of them in Texas. Many of them were with us in the U.S. Senate campaign, hundreds of thousands of people have signed up to knock on doors and to make phone calls.
Campaigns are really upping the ante for End of Quarter fundraising. I could do a Facebook Live with a kitten and say, "We don't want anything to happen to Miss Whiskers so send your $5." I'm not gonna do that, but if you want to donate, here's a link: https://t.co/5Qz24HzZwN pic.twitter.com/otBcHuyTu9— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) September 28, 2019
"And I really do think that's going to be the difference in this campaign, that grassroots effort, doing the tough work day in and day out, making that $5 contribution to the campaign. That's what gets us through at the end of the day."
O'Rourke is among the dozen who've qualified an October debate in Ohio, hosted by CNN and The New York Times, along with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who made a similar joke to O'Rourke's on Friday.
Klobuchar said she should tie herself "to a railroad track and then record this video and say 'I won't move until I get all your donations,' in to a million dollars. But I'm not going to do that because I give it to you straight."
It’s almost the end of the quarter! I know you've heard a lot of over-the-top pleas at the end of the quarter but I'll just give it to you straight: there's no time like right now to contribute and show your support for our homegrown campaign: https://t.co/iVg91M9DTq pic.twitter.com/cCIVRXzKVf— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) September 28, 2019
November's debate, the DNC has announced, has higher thresholds for polling and donor numbers. O'Rourke has met the donor requirements, but needs improved polling.
According to the DNC, candidates must cross one of the two polling requirements and receive money from at least 165,000 individual donors, an increase from 130,000 for the fall debates, to qualify.
For polling requirements, Democratic hopefuls must earn at least 3% in four or more national or early-state -- Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada -- polls, a modest bump from the last round of debates, or get at least 5% in two early-state polls.
To cross the first polling threshold, each of the qualifying polls must have a different sponsor -- or be in a different geographical area if it's the same sponsor. But with far less polling coming from the early states, for a candidate to qualify via the second avenue, the DNC is allowing for two early-state polls to be in the same geographical areas and from the same sponsors.