Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is facing a surprisingly close reelection campaign against progressive Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, as Republicans seek to maintain their slim majority in the Senate.
Cruz is favored to win, but his margins are unexpectedly tight in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office in a quarter century. An average of polls by RealClearPolitics shows Cruz with a 6.5 percentage point lead as of Tuesday. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report lists the race as a toss-up, while other observers say the seat is likely to remain Republican. Polls on the state gubernatorial race, in contrast, show Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott leading by an average of 20 points.
Texas-based Republican political strategist Jerod Patterson believes Cruz will win reelection but said the race likely marks a blue shift in a previously reliably red state.
“Now is where the pendulum starts to swing back,” Patterson told me, pointing to unexpectedly competitive races for the Texas statehouse, the judiciary, and other local contests.
The shifting demographics of the state, with a growing Hispanic population and an influx of younger voters, could provide Democrats a potential foothold. Those changes could start to affect results in the suburbs around cities like Houston, Austin, and Dallas, Patterson said.
Texans are enthused about the Senate race, with participation in the first week of early voting in the largest counties already surpassing turnout over the entire two-week early voting period in the last midterm election, according to Derek Ryan, who is analyzing early voting patterns. Early voting was also drawing many who had not participated in previous midterm elections. Nationally, high turnout has historically favored Democrats, but voters who participated in Republican primaries still hold an edge in Texas early voting, according to data.
The race is drawing national attention in part because of Cruz’s high profile within the Republican Party. Democratic donors have poured funds into O’Rourke’s campaign coffers, setting a record for a Senate candidate. He brought in $38 million in the third quarter, largely from small donors across the country, compared to $12 million for Cruz in the same period, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political contributions.
Cruz, who was an outspoken conservative candidate during the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, has embraced President Donald Trump during his reelection bid despite their bitter rivalry two years ago.
“His entire political calculus has been about accumulating a record with which he can win with the Republican base nationally,” Patterson said.
O’Rourke, meanwhile, has sought to appeal to voters across the state, visiting every county, not just those in which Democrats have traditionally done well. He has pushed progressive positions on healthcare and other issues, while also trying to appear as a post-partisan political figure. —Anne K. Walters