Beto O’Rourke uses nixed debate time slot to shoot ad on Facebook Live

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (left) and U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, at the first of their three debates, in Dallas, on Sept. 21, 2018.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (left) and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, at the first of their three debates, in Dallas, on Sept. 21, 2018.
Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson for The Texas Tribune

Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, took to Facebook Live on Sunday evening and recorded a TV ad in real time responding to the flood of attack ads against him. It happened at the same time O’Rourke had been set to debate Cruz in Houston — a debate that was postponed Friday amid the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation battle but one that Cruz offered to put back on once he learned he could return to Texas for the weekend after all.

“You’ve probably seen the negative attack ads seeking to scare you about what we’re trying to do for this country at this critical moment,” O’Rourke said in the final cut of the 30-second ad, which he did in four takes as he faced the high-definition camera from an empty kitchen. “Now we can be defined by our fears or known by our ambitions. I’m confident that when we see each other not as Democrats or Republicans but as Texans, as Americans, as human beings, there’s no stopping us.”

The Facebook Live broadcast capped three days of drama surrounding the debate — the second of three in the race — which was initially set for 6 p.m. in Houston. It was put off Friday morning as it looked like Cruz would be stuck in Washington over the weekend for votes related to Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s embattled nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. But when the Kavanaugh confirmation battle took a twist later Friday allowing Cruz to head back home after all, his campaign offered to move forward with the debate. O’Rourke’s representatives said it was too late, explaining that the campaign had been in a holding pattern for days and that once the debate was postponed, it had to go ahead with other plans for Sunday evening.

Those other plans apparently included the Facebook Live, and even before O’Rourke announced the live ad recording, Cruz’s campaign noted O’Rourke still had the option to debate Cruz on Sunday evening.

“Same time you were supposed to be debating @tedcruz – this is more important than debating before millions of Texans??” Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said on Twitter.

The Facebook Live was addressed to supporters who were gathered for debate watch parties across the state and described by the campaign earlier Sunday as an “important campaign update.” Before recording the ad, O’Rourke talked to supporters about the Kavanaugh controversy and stressed the importance of registering to vote by the Oct. 9 deadline and casting an early ballot starting Oct. 22. Then he told supporters he wanted to try something new — recording an ad before them “to respond to all this negativity and this fear-mongering and these scare tactics and this negative stuff that is flooding an airwaves today.”

The 30-second spot that resulted “will begin airing in markets throughout the state this week,” O’Rourke’s campaign said afterward.

Earlier this month, Cruz and O’Rourke agreed to three debates The first debate took place on Sept. 21. The second debate has not yet been rescheduled. The final debate is scheduled for Oct. 16.



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