- Republican Sen. Ted Cruz fended off a very tough challenge
from Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke in one of the most
highly-anticipated midterm election races of the year.
- O’Rourke and Cruz presented Texas voters with a stark choice
on both policy and personality.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz fended off a very tough challenge from
Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke in one of the most
midterm election races of the year in a state that hasn’t
sent a Democrat to the Senate in 25 years.
O’Rourke, a 46-year-old El Paso Democrat, was fueled by
over $60 million in campaign donations, a savvy social media
strategy, and a series of glowing national media profiles — and
generous comparisons to President John F. Kennedy.
O’Rourke raised more money than any Senate candidate in history,
bringing in a
shocking $38 million in the third quarter
alone. For months, he’s attracted widespread national attention
with viral video clips of him defending
the free speech rights of NFL players and
live streams of his roadtrips across the vast state. The
attention came with celebrity endorsements from the likes of
country music star Willie Nelson and NBA legend LeBron James.
O’Rourke and Cruz presented Texas voters with a stark choice on
both policy and personality.
Cruz — a gun-toting, cowboy boot-wearing evangelical Christian —
developed a reputation in Washington for his sharp elbows and
lofty ambitions. Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham once quipped that
“if you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial
was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.” Meanwhile, O’Rourke
has framed himself as an affable former punk rocker with a knack
for connecting with millennials.
The race was defined by a bitter fight over immigration. Cruz
aligns with President Donald Trump on building a border wall,
opposes a path to citizenship for so-called DREAMers, and backs
the president’s call to end birthright citizenship. O’Rourke
supports a path to citizenship for the undocumented, spoke out
against Trump’s family separation policy, and has — more
controversially — advocated for demilitarizing the Immigrations
and Customs Enforcement Agency.
In a recent spat,
Cruz attacked O’Rourke’s campaign for using $300 of campaign
funds to buy basic supplies for an El Paso charity that provides
shelter and assistance to immigrants.
The two also advocated diametrically opposed positions on issues
like healthcare, gun control, and the environment.
Cruz, who rode the Tea Party movement into the Senate in 2012,
leaned into his hardline conservative credentials in an attempt
to energize the GOP base and even called in back-up from the
president, who he famously called a
“pathological liar” during the 2016 Republican primary.
O’Rourke, who ran on a staunchly progressive positions including
supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All proposal,
impeaching Trump, and defanging ICE, also depended on
unprecedented enthusiasm — and anger — among the Democratic base.
While some strategists argued that O’Rourke’s unapologetically
progressive platform helped him deepen Texas’ Democratic base,
others believe he ceded territory to Cruz by alienating centrist
voters and Republicans disillusioned by Trump.
But O’Rourke did attempt to balance his progressive platform with
aggressive outreach to independent and Republican voters,
frequently joking on the stump that he had convinced his mother,
a “lifelong Republican,” to vote for him — and that he would
appeal to many more Texans like her.
Unlike Cruz, O’Rourke has banned donations from corporate
political action committees, making the size of his campaign war
chest even more impressive.
In a sign of unprecedented energy in Texas, early voter turnout
exceeded the state’s total turnout in the 2014 midterm elections
— and nearly
reached presidential year levels.