Election Day is approaching and the one Republican whose seat should be secure seems to be struggling against a Democrat challenger. Recent polls show that Ted Cruz (R-Texas), one of the most conservative members of Congress, is holding a single-digit lead over Democrat Beto O’Rourke.
Sen. Cruz is defending his seat for the first since being elected in 2012, but 2018 is shaping up to be a tough year for Republicans. A wave of Republican retirements and an enthusiastic liberal base has Democrats hoping for a blue wave to take the House and Senate. Among the potential Republican upsets, there is probably no incumbent that Democrats would love to unseat more than Ted Cruz. Taking Cruz’s seat in deep-red Texas would deal a psychological blow to GOP conservatives as well as reducing the already slim Republican hold on the Senate.
In a normal year, Cruz would be a shoo-in for reelection, but this is no normal year. Five of the last six polls show O ‘Rourke within ten points. The last two polls, taken in late July, show him within striking distance of Mr. Cruz. A Quinnipiac survey of 1,138 registered voters showed Cruz with a six-point lead while a Texas Lyceum survey of 441 likely voters showed the race within the margin of error at two points.
Support for the candidates is split among traditional lines. Cruz leads with men and white voters while O’Rourke leads with women, blacks and Hispanics. Independent voters are evenly split among the two. Beto’s rise over the past few months led the Cook Political Report to move the race to the “lean Republican” column, one step away from becoming a tossup.
Part of the problem for Cruz is that, while Republicans strongly approve of his job performance, voters at large are split. A February 2018 survey from the University of Texas showed voters split 40-41 percent on approval/disapproval for Cruz. While the senator has a loyal base, the controversy he generates has also created a loyal opposition.
Another factor may be Sen. Cruz’s relationship with President Trump. The same UT poll showed that Texans were also evenly split on approval for the president. Cruz was one of the last Republicans to endorse Trump in 2016, a fact that may cause some Trump supporters to be soft in their support for the senator. Trump opponents may not like the fact that Cruz seems to have become a consistent Trump backer since the 2016 election.
Cruz seems to realize the threat that O’Rourke represents. At the Resurgent Gathering in Austin last weekend, Cruz told Erick Erickson, “We have a real race here, and we need to take it seriously,” noting that O’Rourke favors tax increases, a bigger government and is anti-Second Amendment.
Despite O’Rourke’s lack of support for traditional Texas values, Cruz is among the Republican incumbents having problems with fundraising. In the second quarter, O’Rourke raised $10 million, more than double Sen. Cruz’s take. The O’Rourke campaign, which is refusing PAC money, said that 70 percent of the donations came from within Texas.
Democrats have a history of building up big expectations for victories in Texas and then having their hopes crushed. It was only four years ago that “Abortion Barbie” Wendy Davis was purported to have a chance at becoming the governor of Texas. When the ballots were counted, however, Davis lost the election to Greg Abbott by more than 20 points.
With 100 days to go, it is too early to tell whether Beto O’Rourke will become another disappointing chapter in the history of Texas Democrats or whether he will pull off an upset that would shake the Republican Party to its core. The race is still Ted Cruz’s to lose, but it currently looks like a nail-biter.