By Sam Tilley
Can Ted Cruz be toppled by what would be the first Democrat to hold elected office in Texas for 25 years?
Traditionally, Texas is regarded by political commentators as a ‘safe’ Republican state; a place where no Democrat has managed to win state-wide elected office in close to 25 years. It therefore comes as a surprise that the incumbent, former presidential candidate Ted Cruz, is not sure of winning a second term as Texas’ junior senator. The Democratic candidate, Representative Beto O’Rourke, has managed to close what was an unsurmountable lead in recent weeks which has led most media outlets to only predict a “Lean Republican” outcome. In 2012, the last time this particular seat was up for grabs, the media declared Texas to be a “Solid Republican” seat. Is this a case of the ‘Donald Trump’ effect, or are there more pressing, local issues at play?
Ted Cruz is not your typical Republican senator. Described by one of his colleagues as “miserable son of a b****”, Cruz’s rampant unpopularity could well be scaring off potential donors in a race that is already seeing him being outspent by O’Rourke despite recent promises by out-of-state donors that they were going to start “spending heavily” on Cruz’s campaign. Cruz, once one of President Trump’s most vocal critics, has warmed to the executive’s agenda in the first half of his term and is nowadays seen as one of the President’s staunchest allies in the Senate; a fact not lost of either his Democrat opposition or the more moderate Republican voters. The latter is particularly important as despite Texas backing Trump in 2016, it did so with the smallest margin for a Republican candidate in election history.
The campaign itself has been a mixed one. Cruz’s camp have repeatedly attacked O’Rourke for allegedly changing his name to sound more Spanish, an odd allegation considering Cruz’s first name is actually Rafael. O’Rourke himself began his campaign on a more ideological footing, but as election day approaches he has increasingly found himself switching to a far more aggressive style of debate. As expected from a border state, immigration is an important election issue – despite Cruz, the man who personally led the 2013 government shutdown over the implementation of Obamacare, trying to shift the tone of debate towards healthcare, taxes and O’Rourke’s very public support for the impeachment of Donald Trump. Cruz is strongly appealing to the Trump voters of 2016 in order to reverse his diminishing lead over his opponent, having had it drop from roughly 18% at the beginning of the year to 4% at the start of October.
The Democrats have long had a dream of turning Texas ‘purple’; that is any state that has a senator from each party, but their luck has largely been absent in elections of recent years. The last elected Democrat in Texas on a state-wide level was Governor Ann Richards who lost her bid for re-election in 1994 to a certain George W. Bush and, ever since, the Republican party have won every state-wide office. O’Rourke will be hoping to change that and, despite only being predicted a win in a solitary poll, there are renewed hopes amongst Democrats that Texas could be one of the states that forces the Senate away from Republican hands. To the contrary, Republicans are becoming increasingly concerned that Cruz could be voted out of office; a scenario that would shatter the Republican’s control over the upper house of Congress. One thing’s for certain however – if Cruz does leave office, you may be able to hear the cries of Democrat celebration from every corner of the Lone Star State.