The midterms aren’t for another 19 months, but the Texas race is already off to an exciting start. Ted Cruz, who ran for president in 2016, will be challenged by Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke.
O’Rourke is a 44-year-old El Paso resident who is currently serving a third time in the House of Representatives. He won his first congressional election in his majority Latinx district in 2012 with 65.4% of the vote, won re-election in 2014 with 67.5%, and won yet again in 2016 with a whopping 85.7%.
But does he have a chance against Ted Cruz? Perhaps. While Cruz won the 2012 Texas Senate election with a 56.6% majority, he actually initially lost the Republican primary by over 10 points, only securing the nomination in the primary runoff.
Cruz is also quite unpopular both nationwide and in Texas. A Huffington Post aggregate found that he never had a positive approval rating during the 2016 election, ending his campaign with over 50% of voters disapproving of him.
A February 2017 Texas Politics Project found that Cruz only has a 38% approval rating in his home state, a slight improvement from between 32% and 35% in October 2016.
So even though Texas overwhelming went red in the 2016 elections, Cruz’s unpopularity should give Texas Democrats – and anyone who wants to unseat Cruz – hope for 2018.
But then there’s the issue of money. In the 2012 Texas Senate race, Cruz outspent his Democratic opponent by $13,521,425. Cruz already has over $4 million going into 2018. While O’Rourke has started fundraising, national Democratic committees have already signaled that they will be focusing on the 10 incumbent Senate Democrats who are running for re-election in states won by Trump. And as with many state minority parties, the Texas Democratic Party is weak, meaning that O’Rourke will have to depend on grassroots liberal enthusiasm to boost his campaign.
But O’Rourke may not even be the Democratic candidate. While he is the only Texas Democrat to announce his candidacy so far, Congressman Joaquin Castro, identical twin brother of Julián Castro, Barack Obama’s second-term Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, is expected to run as well. Cruz’s campaign sees Castro as a more formidable opponent, though neither has caused much worry so far.
Even if O’Rourke does not secure the nomination, the fact that he has already announced his candidacy in and of itself is a victory for red state Democrats. Given an astounding lack of funding and weak state party infrastructure, red state Democrats often never even gain name recognition in their own states. But O’Rourke is already building a base and making national headlines.
It’s not much, but it’s something. And with Democrats decimated at every level, something is pretty damn important.