Could O’Rourke beat Ted Cruz in the Texas Senate Race? I wouldn’t Beto ‘gainst him!

(Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

BY KATIE MAGUIRE, North America Editor

Beto O’Rourke is being heralded as the exciting new face of the Democratic party. O’Rourke has been the Representative for Texas’ 16th congressional district since 2013, but is making waves thanks to his close Senate race against incumbent Ted Cruz. At 47, he is youthful for a Senator, and possesses many of the same cool, calm, characteristics that worked well for Obama, but how likely is it that he can win this Senate race?

Texas is a notoriously deep red state. There has not been a Democratic Senator in Texas for 25 years, the Republicans have control of all state-wide Texas offices, both houses of the state legislature and have a majority in the Texas congressional delegation. This makes the rise and success of O’Rourke in this race even more surprising, especially given the fact that his opponent ran for President in the 2016 election and won the second-most state contests and delegates.

The days of popularity for Ted Cruz seem to be long in the past. He is a figure of ridicule by his Republican colleagues; former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner called Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh”, fellow senator Lindsey Graham once said both that he would rather buy a ticket for the Titanic than choose between Cruz and Trump, and “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you”, the late Senator John McCain called Cruz one of the “wacko birds.”, and former President George W. Bush said: “I just don’t like the guy.”

And that is to say nothing of the personal attacks Donald Trump launched against Cruz and his family, ranging from insinuating his wife was ugly to accusing his father of assassinating John F. Kennedy. Cruz famously refused to endorse Trump for President, but ended up phone banking for him, culminating in this tragic photo.

Ted Cruz Senate Race 2

Trump has returned the favour this week, taking to Texas to support Cruz’s re-election, walking back his campaign nickname “Lyin’ Ted” and proclaiming him “beautiful Ted”. But Trump being called on to try and strengthen Ted’s position is yet another sign of weakness. The Republican base needs energising behind him, and Ted just does not seem able to.

He is seen as a man lacking in principle, known for going back on his word, most evident by his continued support of Trump, siding with him over 90% of the time. Cruz is most known for his failed presidential campaign, his failed attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and his involvement in the government shutdown, none of which inspires much faith in Texan voters.

O’Rourke on the other hand, offers an alternative for Texans. What he offers is change, something more than just the status quo, promising vast social reforms on education, healthcare, gun control, and abortion rights.

O’Rourke’s campaigning is very similar to Obama’s, many comparing his charm and oratory skills to the 2004 convention speech that propelled Obama to nationwide fame. Many are already predicting that he will run for President in the not too distant future.

The optimism around O’Rourke has resulted in him breaking the Senate record on fundraising in a single quarter, raising $38million compared to Cruz’s $12million in the same period, but without input from corporate/labour political action committees.

He has visited all 254 of Texas’ counties, which seems to have paid off in the polls, with Ted’s lead being reduced to single digits. When he became a Congressman, he beat an eight-term incumbent. Beating Ted Cruz is entirely feasible.

Though these are positive signs for the O’Rourke campaign, he still has ground to make up. He has not yet been ahead in the polls, and whilst they are close, the polls are of registered voters, of which there are about fifteen million in Texas and less than 40 per cent are likely to turn out in this election. The high fundraising is also not necessarily indicative of an easier win as traditionally the challenger needs a lot more campaign funds than the incumbent in Senate races.

If Cruz does win, it will be because of his overtly racial fearmongering in his appeals to the angry white conservative men in Texas. Cruz shared a video on Twitter of O’Rourke addressing a black congregation about the murder of Botham Jean in his apartment by Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, appealing to those who believe attacking police brutality to be an attack on the police generally. Cruz has also repeatedly gone after Beto for his support of NFL players protesting the national anthem, Beto’s stance on which went viral and reportedly has had around 50 million views.

In this ugly campaigning, Cruz shows precisely why Texans are being so drawn to Beto O’Rourke: he gives them something to vote for, not something against. A relative break from the stark partisanship that has plagued American political discourse in recent years.

O’Rourke is not one to be ruled out this election, he may not Cruz to victory, but as a New York Times piece from April points out, “2018 is shaping up as a year in which old rules are out the window and everything is up for grabs. Ryan’s planned retirement and the increasing disarray of the Republican Party illustrate that. So does Texas’ emergence as a credible wellspring of Democratic hope.”

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