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Looking at the toss-up Senate seats in 2018, so far we’ve covered Florida, Indiana and Tennessee. Each state has a close race that will tighten into October. Ordinarily you don’t expect to see statewide races in Texas on a “toss up” list for anything since the state is so heavily dominated by Republican voters. This time around, however, incumbent Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican, is facing a very tough challenge from the immensely popular Beto O’Rourke, a Democratic Representative from Texas’ 16th district. O’Rourke has been cultivating an Obama-like following, but will strong popularity be enough to propel him over the line in deep red Texas?

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Writing in the Texas Tribune, Ross Ramsey says the race is still Cruz’s to lose, but it appears from the outside that O’Rourke is the powerhouse:

How in the world did U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz — Republican of Texas, former presidential candidate, Texas solicitor general, U.S. Supreme Court clerk, double Ivy League graduate — get positioned as the underdog in his first race for reelection?

Not that he’s really the underdog in this campaign against U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso. It’s still a Republican state. O’Rourke has been through more elections as a candidate than Cruz, but none on a statewide level. The financial advantage belongs to the challenger, but only if you don’t count the outside political committees and groups that financed Cruz in 2012 and that are jumping to his defense now. And the polls, close as some of them are, consistently have found that the incumbent has the advantage.

For all that, the challenger plays as the juggernaut in the race — to the point where the glowing profiles of the Democrat have spawned parodies. Even people in his own party are fretting. Mick Mulvaney, a former member of Congress who’s now the federal budget director, was recorded telling a private Republican group that Cruz might be in trouble. “There’s a very real possibility we will win a race for Senate in Florida and lose a race in Texas for Senate, O.K.?” Mulvaney said, according to The New York Times. “I don’t think it’s likely, but it’s a possibility. How likable is a candidate? That still counts.”

Cruz is not resting on the advantage of incumbency or the vast Republican voter numbers in Texas, so he’s decided to actually call in a favor from an old political foe who once accused his father of assisting with the JFK assassination. Yes, that’s correct, “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz has asked Donald Trump to pay him a visit in Texas for a rally, according to the Dallas Morning News:

President Donald Trump announced Friday that he’ll come to Texas in October to hold a “major rally” for Sen. Ted Cruz in the biggest stadium in Texas.

The revelation that he would come to the rescue of a man he derided as “Lyin’ Ted” during the 2016 presidential campaign came in a tweet, weeks after Cruz had said he would welcome Trump’s help in his effort to fend off El Paso Rep. Beto O’Rourke — and after Cruz aides insisted the senator hadn’t actually asked the president to stump for him.

Cruz waited three hours before publicly acknowledging Trump’s plan, calling it “terrific!”

Trump is deeply divisive, even in conservative Texas, and Democrats insisted that his involvement in the race will benefit their side at least as much as Cruz. [Emphasis added]

I highlighted the last sentence, because that could be make or break in the race. Even with his popularity, O’Rourke has a lot to overcome purely by the numbers. Texas is deep red, he’ll need a lot of independents and some crossover Republican votes coupled with 100% Democratic turnout to have a serious chance at Cruz. On the other side, Cruz is hoping to motivate Trump votes in a bid to lock down more Republican voters who perhaps only came out to support Trump in 2016 but wouldn’t ordinarily vote in midterms.

Polls

The numbers speak for themselves and put Cruz on some very shaky ground:

Cruz O'Rourke RCP Poll Average 2

That’s basically margin of error territory which is why this race, of all races, has ended up in the “toss up” column. For any statewide Republican to be within this margin sends alarm bells for Republicans nationwide. Then again, not every Republican is running against a candidate as well-like as O’Rourke seems to be.

Issues

The actual issues in this race, which has become somewhat nationalized, cut along regular partisan lines but also tie in to voter feelings on President Trump as well. Here is some background on various topics from the Caller Times:

The economy
O’Rourke, the challenger and a Democratic congressman from El Paso, says he’d promote regulations on business and industry that protect consumers, promote competition and grow the economy. He supports stronger antitrust regulations to break up monopolies he says stifle competition and innovation.

Cruz, a Republican seeking his second term, says he wants to reform Social Security but would not alter benefits for people who already receive checks from the federal program that dates to the Great Depressions. But for younger workers, he would raise retirement age gradually to reflect longer life spans and longer careers. He’d also allow younger workers to invest portions of their Social Security withholdings into 401k-style plans.

Education
Cruz has long advocated abolishing the U.S. Department of Education, saying the federal government “has no authority to set curriculum” and other classroom standards for local school districts. He is also an advocate for school vouchers, which allow parents to tap money they pay in local school taxes for tuition and other expenses in private schools.

O’Rourke says he’d like to increase federal aid to public schools low-income communities. He also says teachers and local education officials should have more “autonomy” when it comes to setting classroom standards “and reduce the emphasis on arbitrary, high-stakes tests.”

Energy and environment
O’Rourke says he favors a mix of renewable energy and protecting the traditional fossil fuel energy sources that have long served as the backbone of the state’s economy. He also wants the United States to reverse Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords.

Cruz has said he was among lawmakers who encouraged Trump to withdraw from the Paris accords, calling the move “great news for the Texas economy” because the international agreement, he said, would make oil and gas energy sources unaffordable for many Texans,

Immigration
Cruz supports Trump’s border wall and he cast the lone vote in the Senate against a Trump-backed initiative to offer a path to citizenship for some 1.8 million young immigrants brought into the country illegally as children.

O’Rourke, who hails from a Border city, is a fierce opponent of Trump’s plan for a border wall. He has also rallied to protest the administration’s family separation policy for people who enter the United States without documentation. He supports a path to citizenship for immigrant children who crossed the border with parents or other family members.

Health care
Cruz is among the most outspoken critics of former President Barack Obama’s signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act. He famously staged a Senate filibuster in an unsuccessful effort to repeal the measure. He still wants the law off the books and to be replaced with a law that would allow Americans to purchase health insurance across state lines.

O’Rourke said on Facebook last year that “single-payer Medicare-for-all program is the best way to ensure all Americans get the healthcare they need.” He later modified his position, saying medicare “is one option” toward universal coverage.

On his issues page, there’s no mention of Medicare of all or for a single-payer plan. Instead, he calls for beefing up Obamacare, including adding an optional plan where policyholders could buy into a government-run plan similar to medicare.

Trump and impeachment
Cruz, who fought Trump for the 2016 presidential nomination, is now generally supportive of the president on issues like the tax cut and the appointment of conservative judges to the federal bench. He rarely passes up an opportunity to remind voters that O’Rourke has called for the president’s impeachment.

During an August campaign stop in Corpus Christi, O’Rourke said Trump and his campaign in 2016 colluded with Russia to swing the election and the president’s actions last month with the Russian leader in Helsinki are cause enough to bring impeachment charges.

If I were running in this race, I’d still rather be in Cruz’s shoes than O’Rourke’s, but the polls indicate that this race could move toward either candidate and the next 55 days will be crucial for each campaign.

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Filed in: 2018 Midterms Tagged in:
Nate Ashworth is the Founder and Senior Editor of Election Central. He's been blogging elections and politics for almost a decade. He started covering the 2008 Presidential Election which turned into a full-time political blog in 2012 and 2016.

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