This election cycle, the U.S. is seeing revolutionary and unexpected Democratic success in the Senate campaign cycle in historically Republican states. One of the best examples is here in Texas, where Democrat Congressman Beto O’Rourke is within single-digit points of the current Texas Senator of five years, Republican Ted Cruz, in several polls, according to the Texas Tribune. But how could this be, with the Texas GOP’s website stating that Texas is “without a doubt, the strongest Republican state in the nation” and considering that Texan voters have not elected a Democrat in three decades? The answer is not quite clear- perhaps O’Rourke’s success both in polls and in grassroots fundraising can be credited to discontent with current Republican leadership. However, one thing is clear: Americans, and Texans in particular, are searching for change.
When examining reasons for a sudden surge in Texan Democratic support, the first things to notice are the stark differences between Cruz’s and O’Rourke’s campaigns. For one, O’Rourke and his supporters pride themselves on their campaign finance, raised solely through “grassroots” donations, as opposed to a more common route, followed by Cruz and others, toward corporate contributions for funding. Remarkably, according to CNN, O’Rourke has raised more campaign funds than Cruz this way, giving him access to advertisements, in addition to all the free press he has already received, and more opportunity to travel and campaign. With large advertisement buy-outs, however, the Democrat’s campaign has decided not to release Cruz attack ads, a favor not returned from his opponent. This leads to another prime part of Beto’s campaign: speeches and face-to-face meetings with Texans from all counties. O’Rourke’s willingness to travel, raise money the “old-fashioned way,” and concentrate ads on his qualities rather than his opponents’ shortcomings appeals to Texan values of hard work and determination.
Current Senator Ted Cruz, however, still leads the race, appealing to his conservative base, releasing attack advertisements, and penning Trump-esque nicknames for O’Rourke along the campaign trail. However, Cruz finds trouble combatting O’Rourke’s charisma and youthful positivity, his two greatest strengths, as these qualities have been notably absent in Cruz’s previous campaigns, including his run for president in 2016. Senator Cruz also lacks national support compared to O’Rourke, who has gone viral as a young Democrat nominee wanting to bring substantial bipartisan change to Washington. Covered by national platforms including the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and others, as well as appearing on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” Beto O’Rourke is suddenly in the national spotlight as a “ray of hope” for Democrats, while Ted Cruz has received no such platform on the Republican side.
Also, O’Rourke has made special focus and effort to campaign not only to Democrats, but to all parties, leanings, races, and ages, another quality lacking in Cruz’s campaign, as his efforts have remained solely focused on his base- middle-aged to older conservative Republicans. In this way, Cruz excludes many potential voters, especially younger Texans between 18 and 25, who polls show supporting O’Rourke.
Largely, O’Rourke’s support from young voters results from his interest in campaigning for and with them; for example, he rallied students at the University of Texas, encouraging young people to “show up” on voting day and appealing to student-focused issues like gun control. In fact, O’Rourke, in an interview with Sam Houston State University’s Houstonian, said, “I want to serve everyone in this state. I could care less whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, whether you just turned 18 and this is going to be your first election or whether you just turned 80 and this is going to be your 20th election.” O’Rourke’s interest in inclusion and universality within his campaign and message once again appeals to many more voters than Cruz’s conservative-focused, corporate-funded campaign can.
Ted Cruz’s campaign and platform deserves credit, though. The experienced Senator’s qualifications cannot be denied, as he has an impressive near-20 years of government work under his belt. This expertise adds to Cruz’s credibility for voters and gives him an edge on the wants and needs of Texans, especially those of his base. His long governmental career also gives Cruz’s supporters reassurance of his conservative leanings, through previous Senate votes and notable speeches, including a famous 21-hour filibuster against former President Obama’s healthcare bill.
However, President Trump’s recent staunch endorsement of Cruz, through a tweet and planned rally, may not necessarily help Cruz’s image or reputation, as accepting Trump’s support seems hypocritical following the polarizing Republican presidential primaries in 2016. During the 2016 campaign cycle Cruz and Trump went head-to-head many times, including occasions when Trump insulted Cruz’s appearance and views, not to mention attacks on his wife and family. Cruz, in return, utterly denounced Trump, only reluctantly endorsing him later as Republican presidential nominee. Cruz and Trump never publicly made up, making sudden support for Cruz’s campaign not only odd on Trump’s side, but incredibly hypocritical for Cruz to accept. Endorsement for the sake of endorsement, like his campaign strategy in general, strengthens the argument that Cruz is running for party over people.
This upcoming Senate election in Texas determines much more than simply a seat in the capitol. The way Texans vote will decide what they want in a representative and in government in general: Ted Cruz’s exclusive conservatism, or Beto O’Rourke’s inclusive bipartisan ideas. Even leaving party and political leaning aside, voters are already seeming to show they prefer a campaign fueled by hard work, independence, and personal focus on character; in this way, O’Rourke may prove to be the better candidate for Texas, despite his contrary views to the Republican norm. The race is too close to call, but Texans have made their impatience with the old way clear. Change may be coming.