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While summer comes to a close, the country’s eyes are on Texas, where Senator Ted Cruz is feeling the heat from upstart Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, who has nearly outraised Cruz and is surging in the polls.
The Texas Senate race between Cruz and O’Rourke got a shot of national attention after a video where O’Rourke defended NFL player protests went viral. O’Rourke, a congressman from El Paso, has mounted a decisively progressive campaign for Cruz’s Senate seat leading up to November’s midterm elections.
The blue wave that O’Rourke appears to be causing is enough to spur President Donald Trump to head to the Lone Star State and support a former adversary who he hasn’t minced words tearing down in the past. Trump announced his plan in a tweet on Friday: “I will be doing a major rally for Senator Ted Cruz in October. I’m picking the biggest stadium in Texas we can find. As you know, Ted has my complete and total Endorsement. His opponent is a disaster for Texas – weak on Second Amendment, Crime, Borders, Military, and Vets!”
Trump chiming in now makes sense, although his clout in Texas might not be as hefty as he, and the Republican party, anticipate. An ABC/Washington Post poll from last week has Trump clocking in the worst national approval ratings of his presidency so far. An NBC/Marist poll from late August found that Texan support for Trump is more or less split. In a state that voted for Trump by nine points in 2016, now just 47% of registered voters approve of him, and 45% say they disapprove.
The reason this question is even on the table in stalwart Republican Texas is that O’Rourke is currently in a dead heat with Cruz. RealClearPolitics has O’Rourke within an average 4.4 point margin of Cruz over the last month, with some of the most recent points charting the candidates within a single point of each other. This is also currently the second most expensive race in the country, per Open Secrets, and a flood of support for O’Rourke’s campaign from across the country has him neck-and-neck with Cruz for donations at $22.33 million. (Cruz has raised about $22.36 million.)
A Democratic candidate who presents a viable threat to a sitting GOP senator in a state that’s been red for decades, reintroducing the possibility for Texas to actually flip? That’s unexpected. The last Texas Democrat to hold a Senate seat was Bob Krueger back in 1993 when he replaced Lloyd Bentsen, who stepped down to become treasury secretary under former president Bill Clinton. Krueger lost his bid to keep the seat later that year.
O’Rourke’s viral popularity among Democrats and millennials is a boon to many hoping to see the state demonstrate a major ideological change come November, as well as those looking for candidates who can galvanize younger, liberal voters. But Republicans are putting up a fight to preserve control over the Senate, welcoming the president into the fray.
Last week, Texas GOP even attempted to troll O’Rourke on Twitter using photos of his former punk band, him holding a skateboard, and a mugshot from a 1998 DWI that he’s been open about in the past. But the trolling backfired.
This race might actually be competitive now — and in Texas, that’s worth watching.
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