Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Texas U.S. Senate- Race of the Day

34 Days Until Election Day

Texas U.S. Senate

Status: Republican Incumbent
2016 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Leans Republican

For many people, this will be the marquis contest of November's midterm election. It will represent both what is exciting about politics and also the worst of politics, as two ambitious men in their forties compete to represent the second largest state in the Union.

Republican incumbent Rafael Edward Cruz, a Canadian born, half Cuban-American, who prefers to be called Ted is being challenged by Democrat Robert Francis O'Rourke, an El Paso born Irish-American Congressman who prefers to be called Beto. Opponents of both take issue with these near life-long nicknames, suggesting one man or another is pretending to either ignore or embrace a racial identity they should not.

For more than a generation now, the Lone Star State has voted very Republican. The last Democrat to win a Senate race was 30 years ago, and the last time a non-incumbent accomplished the feat was 48 years ago, before either Cruz or O'Rourke were born. This year though, the Democrat challenger is raising more money than the well-funded Republican incumbent, and O'Rourke's campaign has taken on an aura of what critics say is a "cult" as supporters from across the country take special interest in this race, mostly out of a desire to see his opponent defeated. The Congressman is described as "the next Kennedy" by some, and if he is elected, considering the Electoral College heft of Texas, will immediately be thought of as a contender for the national ticket. In the meantime, the Presidential ambitions of the very smart Republican Senator seems to have suffered tremendously for the near future.

In 2012, Cruz ran for office for the first time, after experience in federal and state legal communities. He was hard charging and attracted national support in his own right from conservative activists as he upset the GOP establishment choice for the Senate and then easily won the seat in the fall running in the Republican dominated state. Those who have disliked Cruz have tended to really dislike him though, whether it is on disagreements with his unapologetic stances on issues, or his personality which many find off-putting, even though who often agree with him on issues. Cruz went to the Senate intent on being disruptive and in his freshman term did not make many friends among Democrats or his GOP colleagues.

Those on the right who enjoy cable news shows or talk radio took a liking to Cruz though. There is no doubting the man's intelligence, or ability to debate, in the politically classic way of actually going back and forth on issues. He wasted no time putting together a campaign for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, even though he would not be the only young Cuban-American first term Republican Senator to run. In fact, much of Cruz's campaign was built on contrasting himself in a more conservative way to Florida's Marco Rubio. Neither man could have hardly anticipated the Donald Trump phenomena For months, Cruz treated Trump with kid gloves, trying to be his pal, feeling confident all along that Trump would eventually fail, and Cruz would be around to pick up his support.

As time passed, and with Cruz having generated significant Tea Party support, Trump turned on his former debate stage ally with gusto. The moniker "Lyin' Ted" was invented as Trump attacked Cruz for not being stalwart enough on illegal immigration and other issues, and saying that all U.S. Senators or anyone who had held political office was suspect. Trump with all his"Birther" bona fides that Cruz might be ineligible to be President because he was born in Canada, when his American citizen mother was living there with her then husband, the Senator's Cuban refugee father (who remains a very active and sometimes controversial political surrogate for his son.) When Cruz attempted to fight back against Trump's attacks, the celebrity businessman threatened to "spill the beans" on the Senator's accomplished professional wife and insinuated that she was ugly. Finally, there was the crazy theory floated, thanks to a thinly sourced National Enquirer cover, that Cruz's father had somehow been an associate of Lee Harvey Oswald and was involved with him in Texas when John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

These attacks on Cruz began to take their toll and Cruz would angrily call Trump names in front of television cameras, and attacked his veracity and character in harsh terms. All GOP candidates who wound up getting in the mud with Trump would come to regret it though. In particular, Cruz seemed to swing and miss by attacking Trump for having "New York values." That allowed Trump to claim the mantle of 9/11 in some sense and others who might be opposed to Trump found there were perhaps some sinister dog whistles in the comment.  While Cruz won several state contests and the second highest number of delegates, he and others in the field could never coordinate effectively to stop Trump from receiving the Presidential nomination.

At the GOP National Convention in Cleveland, there was much speculation about if Cruz would be allowed to speak and what he might say. In his prime-time speech, he eloquently defended conservatism and seemed to be positioning himself as a leader in the party moving forward. He told delegates to "vote their conscience" in regards to the Presidential election, neither explicitly endorsing nor rejecting the man he had previously called a "sniveling coward." The Trump delegates (and even many of Cruz's) went ballistic at this final portion of the speech, loudly insisting that Cruz endorse Trump in the name of party unity. (Many party luminaries were skipping the convention all together.) Cruz was practically booed off stage that night and that hope that GOP establishment types had of maybe primarying the Senator's reelection campaign now had his former Tea Party allies joining in the charge of wanting to vote out Cruz.

The next day, Trump tried to shrug off the Cruz incident, repeated the "his dad might have been involved in killing JFK" innuendo and predicted that in the near future, Cruz would decide he had to offer his endorsement, and that he, Trump, would refuse it. As it turned out, Trump was mostly right, as with the pressure on, Cruz did endorse Trump, (who seemingly accepted it.) The Senator who explained that he was not willing to be a "servile little puppy dog" found a way to submit to Trump. Since Trump has been President, Cruz has turned into one of his strongest allies and defenders in Washington. The occupant of the Oval Office strongly supports his former rival for reelection and promises to come to Texas to campaign for him on a grand scale.

Of course, making nice with Trump virtually ended any primary threat to Cruz for 2016. He captured 85 percent in the March primary against several little known candidates who tended to criticize him for being too close to Trump. That same day, Congressman Beto O'Rourke won the Democrats' nomination with a relatively unimpressive 62 percent, considering the party support he had. Taking 24 percent was businesswoman and baseball coach Sema Hernandez, about whom little was known, except that she actually had a Latino name, in a state where so many Democrat primary voters are of that ethnic background. An even more unknown dude named Edward Kimbrough took 14 percent of the primary vote.

O'Rourke first attracted national attention in 2012 when the then City Councilman unseated a veteran Hispanic Congressman in the party primary in the heavily Hispanic district based in El Paso. O'Rourke offered a generational and ideological contrast, expressing his strong support for LGBT rights and also things such as steps towards drug legalization. It would be interesting to know how many voters thought that the candidate named Beto might have been Hispanic himself.

Both Cruz and O'Rourke came to Capitol Hill at the same time and as the Republican set his sights on the White House, the Democrat looked towards a statewide run for Senate and attempted to take steps to define himself as a more centrist Democrat. As it became clear that his race would be against Cruz however, O'Rourke has once again embraced the progressive label, and that has helped him raise considerable amounts of money from places like New York and California.

The two nominees differ sharply on almost every major issue and the race has been quite personal as well. Cruz seems to realize that there is probably little he can do to get voters to actually like him personally so he has engaged in a strategy to try to drive up his opponent's negatives. In many ways, that is just political common sense. Attacking O'Rourke for once being in a punk band when he was in college probably had little effect, but an episode from O'Rourke's twenties may wind up playing a significant part in the result of this election.

Aside from a college arrest in 1995 in which charges were not filed, O'Rourke ran afoul of the law three years later when the then 26 year old was charged with a DWI in Texas. The details of this incident did not become public knowledge until very recently. O'Rourke, who was highly drunk, was speeding and crashed his vehicle. According to witnesses, he attempted to flee the scene. During the course of the campaign, the candidate has taken responsibility for the actions and apologized for them. Republicans have stated that he had not previously been forthcoming about just how serious this legal matter was and how much danger the public was in. Considering the intense scrutiny being placed on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh for all sorts of things he is alleged to have done (or included in his yearbook) in both his High School and college years, there is likely a high degree of hypocrisy in those who would overlook what an older, adult O'Rourke did. Personally, I think these things can be overlooked (there is nothing remotely corroborated involving sexual assault and Kavanaugh, and he has forcefully denied all charges of that), if a person has demonstrated they have grown and learned from their past misdeeds. It does make the Kennedy comparisons for O'Rourke a bit more apt though.

After the primary, most thought that while O'Rourke was an attractive political figure and Cruz had his own sort of baggage, it would still be a fairly easy win for the Republican, considering the political makeup of Texas. However, several polls have shown a closer than expected race. All sorts of anecdotal evidence suggests that Texas Democrats are fired up to come out and vote in the midterms and that O'Rourke could ride a "blue wave" of African-American, Hispanics, female voters, young people, and disaffected moderate Republicans to an upset over Cruz.

As of today, this race is closer than I expected it to be, but still, I am not prepared to call it a toss-up. Republicans still have a profound advantage in Texas and as these sorts of battles get nationalized, Republicans are becoming motivated, especially in wake of the Kavanaugh saga (where Cruz defended the nominee as a member of the Judiciary Committee) to vote as well. Other wedge issues such as Second Amendment rights, sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants, and the concept of replacing ICE are all things that might make it problematic for someone as far left as O'Rourke to win statewide.

O'Rourke will outspend Cruz, but will probably fall a few points short. Anything closer than a 10 point race though is an accomplishment in and of itself, and lead to a lot of opportunities for "Beto" to remain in the public eye, although in politics, "moral victories" do not really count for too much, especially when a Senate majority might be on the line.

U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 
19 D (9 Safe, 5 Likely, 2 Leans, 3 Tossup)
  9 R (2 Safe, 1 Likely,1 Leans, 5 Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:
42 D (23 holdovers, 9 Safe, 5 Likely, 2 Leans, 3 Tossup)
51 R (42 holdovers, 2 Safe, 1 Likely, 1 Leans, 5 Tossup)


At 11:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A "marquis" is a nobleman ranked below a duke but above a count (or earl, as counts are called in Great Britain). I think that you meant to say that the TX Senate race is a "marquee" match-up:

At 8:04 AM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

Cruz wins reelection by double digits (57% to 40%).

At 2:43 PM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

I'm expecting 2018 to be Cruz's LAST political campaign for statewide office as he's going to run for POTUS again in 2024.


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