Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, is set to start airing TV ads in his race against Republican incumbent Ted Cruz.
O’Rourke’s campaign told supporters Monday that it has placed a “$1.27 million media buy” and voters will start seeing “positive TV ads” in 20 Texas markets this week. The dollar amount represents how much O’Rourke, an El Paso congressman, raised two weekends ago in response to Cruz’s first round of TV ads, three of which targeted the challenger.
“Texans in all 254 counties of our state are proving that together, we will be the big, bold, confident answer to the small, petty, negative attacks that are coming our way,” O’Rourke said in a statement.
Whether O’Rourke would air TV ads in the race — and if so, how extensively — has been something of an open question for months. He has expressed ambivalence about the effectiveness of TV ads nowadays and talked about investing heavily in a field operation instead.
In July, O’Rourke released his first ad, a minute-long montage of his travels across the state as livestreamed on Facebook. The spot has been appearing only online.
O’Rourke’s campaign did not immediately say what the content of the TV ads would be other than that they would be positive.
Cruz’s first TV ads came out Aug. 3. O’Rourke’s campaign sought to counter them with a $1 million fundraising drive over the following weekend and ended up exceeding the target by that Sunday night, raking in $1,274,528.
SMITHVILLE — As Ted Cruz took questions at a Republican women’s event here Saturday evening, Bastrop retiree Ronnie Ann Burt wanted to know: Should she really trust the growing barrage of chatter online that the senator’s re-election bid is in peril?
Cruz’s response: Believe it.
“It’s clear we have a real and contested race where the margin is far too close for comfort,” said Cruz, who’s facing a vigorous, massively funded challenge from U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso.
Cruz’s stop in this small Central Texas town was part of a return to the campaign trail Saturday in which the incumbent cranked up his long-building warnings that Democratic enthusiasm in the era of President Donald Trump should not be discounted, even in a state as red as Texas.
The timing couldn’t have been more fitting: A trio of polls came out this week showing Cruz’s race tightening anda national political forecaster shifted the contest in O’Rourke’s favor. Meanwhile,Cruz launched his first TV ads Friday, including three targeting O’Rourke, and the challenger moved quickly to turn them into a fundraising boon for him.
Appearing Saturday afternoon at the conservative Resurgent Gathering in Austin, Cruz delivered a nearly 10-minute assessment of the uncertain political landscape he faces in November.
“The biggest challenge I have in this race … is complacency,” Cruz said. “People say all the time, ‘Oh, come on, it’s a Texas re-elect. How could you possibly lose?’ Well, in an ordinary cycle, that might be true. But this is not an ordinary cycle. The far left is filled with anger and rage and we underestimate that anger at our peril.”
Cruz added that there is reason to be skeptical of the polls — his campaign has criticized their methodologies — but the trendline “ought to be a cause for concern for everyone.”
After the Resurgent conference, Cruz headed to a meeting with supporters and home school families in east Austin, where he continued to press the argument that the GOP base cannot take November for granted. Cruz said Travis County was the “base of the support” for O’Rourke but other “bright red” counties like Denton, Tarrant and Collin need to turn out hard as a counterweight.
“There are a lot of good, strong conservatives [in Travis County] too — you’re outnumbered, but it does make you sturdier when you’re withstanding criticism and abuse,” Cruz said. “What [Democrats] are doing is to find every liberal in the state of Texas and get them energized and get them to show up.”
Cruz’s remarks at events Saturdaycame a day after Gov. Greg Abbott offered a more reassuring forecast for November while addressing the Resurgentconference. He dismissed the idea of a “blue wave” in November as media hype that “sells papers” and reminded the audience that he ended up defeating his much-ballyhooed Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis, by over 20 points in 2014.
“Texas is going to stay red,” said Abbott, whose Democratic opponent, Lupe Valdez, has not caught traction in the way O’Rourke has against Cruz.
Cruz did not sound as sure as Abbott on Saturday — and his supporters appeared to get the message.
“I think what Sen. Cruz said is true: The Democrats are unhappy that they lost [the 2016 presidential election] because they never anticipated it, and so they’re coming out in force, and I see it in my own county,” said Jeanne Raley, vice president of the Lost Pines Republican Women group that hosted Cruz in Smithville. “That just means we have to work harder.”
“Complacency will kill any of us,” she added.
O’Rourke spent Saturday inthe border city of Del Rio, the latest stop on his 34-day tour of the state during the August congressional recess. Holding an evening town hall there, O’Rourke geared up supporters for a final three months of the race with momentum on their side.
“They say there are two points that separate us, the campaign we’re running and Ted Cruz — two points is all we’re down right now,” O’Rourke said. “There are 94 days to go in this election. We can totally win this, but it is 100 percent on us.”
O’Rourke’s campaign continued to show momentum Saturday afternoon, when it said it had raised more than $500,000 over the last 24 hours in response to Cruz’s commercials. The campaign has set a goal of topping $1 million by the end of the weekend.
Cruz got a taste of the opposition several minutes into his appearance at the Resurgent Gathering, when a protester interrupted with a sign reading, “Russian Bootlicker,” called Cruz a coward and used an expletive to denounce the crowd before breaking out in chants of “Beto!” Speaking afterward, Cruz wasted little time turning the incident into a rallying point for the fall.
“That anger, by the way, is dangerous,” Cruz said. “Every one of us needs to be taking this November election deadly serious.”
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has started airing the first TV ads of his re-election campaign, including one that highlights his work on the state’s recovery from Hurricane Harvey and two others that takes aim at his Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso.
The Harvey-themed commercial is airing in Beaumont, while the O’Rourke attack ads were found to be on the air Friday morning in Abilene and Lubbock. In a news release, Cruz’s campaign highlighted only the Harvey spot, and it did not provide any information about how much it was spending on the ads.
One of the anti-O’Rourke spots tells viewers he is “more extreme than he wants you to know,” pointing to comments O’Rourke has made about impeaching President Donald Trump as well as the movement among some liberal activists to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
O’Rourke has said that he would vote to impeach Trump. While he initially expressed openness to doing away with ICE, he has more recently rejected calls to eliminate the agency. The commercial goes on to claim such positions put O’Rourke to the left of liberal boogeymen such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
The other anti-O’Rourke spot focuses on a bill from Cruz that President Donald Trump signed into law last year that expanded the number of unemployment benefit applicants that states can drug test. A narrator then seeks to contrast the law with O’Rourke’s successful effort on the El Paso City Council in 2009 to amend a resolution to urge for an “open, honest, national dialogue on ending the prohibition of narcotics.”
“Beto O’Rourke said we should consider legalizing all narcotics, including heroin — that would be destructive to our communities and families,” a narrator says. “Texas needs a senator who’ll lead the fight against drug abuse, and help those in need get back to work.”
Cruz has previously attacked O’Rourke over the resolution, which was eventually vetoed by then-El Paso Mayor John Cook over concerns it could cause the city to lose out on federal funding. O’Rourke has long supported marijuana legalization but has not advocated for ending the prohibition on other drugs. At the time he amended the resolution before the city council, he said he was not calling for legalizing all drugs but looking to have a “serious discussion about that.”
O’Rourke responded to the drug-related ad Friday by tweeting a clip from a June 29 appearance in San Antonio where he discussed a number of attacks he was anticipating from the Cruz campaign.
“They will tell you, because I want to end the war on drugs and end the prohibition on marijuana, that I want to do some terrible things like legalize crack cocaine and give your kids heroin,” O’Rourke said at the event. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
The other TV ad Cruz began running Friday is more positive. It touts Cruz’s involvement in passing Harvey aid in Congress and shows media coverage of him visiting affected communities after the storm devastated the Gulf Coast last year. It also features a clip of Cruz at a news conference standing next to Galveston County Judge Mark Henry, who says, “No official, state or federal, has been more involved in the recovery of Galveston County than Sen. Ted Cruz.”
“When the hurricane hit, you stood up for Texas,” a narrator concludes, “and Ted Cruz stood up for you.”
O’Rourke’s campaign released its first ad last month, though it was only online. The candidate has expressed ambivalence about the effectiveness of TV ads in the race.
While Cruz’s campaign did not reveal the negative ads in its news release, it made clear in a subsequent statement that it would not shy away from offering contrasts with O’Rourke.
“Between now and November, Ted Cruz will be informing voters of his own record of accomplishment as well as the stark differences between him and his opponent,” Cruz spokeswoman Emily Miller said.
A new poll released Wednesday morning suggests a tightening race between U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke.
The newly released poll from Quinnipiac University gives Cruz a 6-point lead: 49 percent of registered Texas voters reported backing the Republican incumbent while 43 percent said they support O’Rourke, an El Paso Democrat. The poll’s margin of error is 3.5 percent. The results are closer than a poll Quinnipiac released in late May, which showed Cruz holding an 11-point lead over his opponent.
“U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has a slight, by no means overwhelming, lead,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll. “Congressman Beto O’Rourke has done a good job making the race competitive. With three months until Election Day, he is clearly in contention. A Democratic victory in the Lone Star state would be a serious blow to GOP hopes of keeping their U.S. Senate majority.”
The poll found 50 percent of Texas voters had a favorable view of Cruz while 42 percent had an unfavorable view. O’Rourke, on the other hand, had a 33 percent favorability rating, with 43 percent of voters not knowing enough about the congressman to form an opinion of him.
Quinnipiac released its poll just hours after Texas Lyceum released polling that showed the race between Cruz and O’Rourke as in a dead heat.
Texas Lyceum showed Cruz having a slim 2-point lead over O’Rourke: 41 percent to 39 percent. Nineteen percent of voters said they were undecided. Cruz’s lead in that poll fell within the 4.67 percent margin of error.
“O’Rourke continues to nip at Cruz’s heels, but it’s a long way to go until Election Day,” Josh Blank, Lyceum’s poll research director, said in a news release. “If this race looks different than the rest, that’s probably because it is because a strong Democratic challenger raising prolific sums of money and tons of earned media.”
Even before it was released, the Lyceum poll drew skepticism from Cruz supporters. Cruz’s pollster Chris Wilson published an article on Mediumquestioning whether it would be accurate.
“Dating back to 2008 the Texas Lyceum has generously given Democrats a massive house effect boost of seven (7!!!) points,” he wrote, adding that the poll has historically overestimated the share of the Hispanic vote.
With 97 days before the November general election, both polls revealed good news for Gov. Greg Abbott in his bid for re-election against former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez. The Republican incumbent — who’s sitting on a hefty war chest ahead of November — is leading his opponent by 16 percentage points with 22 percent of likely voters undecided, according to the Texas Lyceum poll. The Quinnipiac poll gave Abbott a 13-point lead over Valdez.
And two other Republican statewides – Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton – hold 10-point leads over their Democratic challengers Mike Collier and Justin Nelson, respectively, according to the Lyceum poll. Quinnipiac did not poll the lieutenant governor or attorney general’s races.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump is in a less comfortable position among Texas voters. Among those surveyed in the Texas Lyceum poll, 52 percent said they disapproved of the president’s job performance — including 85 percent of Democrats. Eighty-five percent of Republicans said they were satisfied with Trump. These numbers are on par with what Quinnipiac found: 46 percent of Texans said they approve of the job the president is doing, while 49 percent disapprove.
In its news release, Texas Lyceum said its poll was conducted via a telephone survey of adult Texans. Respondents were randomly selected and questioned by live interviewers, pollsters said.
Disclosure: Texas Lyceum has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has challenged Democratic opponent Beto O’Rourketo five topical debates before Election Day, about three months after O’Rourke challenged Cruz to six.
Cruz strategist Jeff Roe sent a letter Wednesday to O’Rourke, an El Paso congressman, proposing the following debate schedule:
Aug. 31 in Dallas on “Jobs/Taxes/Federal Regulations/National Economy”
Sept. 14 in McAllen on “Immigration/Border Security/Criminal Justice/Supreme Court”
Sept. 21 in San Antonio on “Foreign Policy/National Security”
Oct. 5 in Houston on “Energy/Trade/Texas Economy”
Oct. 12 in Lubbock on “Healthcare/Obamacare”
Roe said the debates would all take place on Friday evenings “because the Senate is expected to be in session during that time.” The debates would each be an hour long and vary in format — some would be town hall-style, while others would feature the two candidates seated or standing at podiums.
“As Senator Cruz has long believed, our democratic process is best served by presenting a clear and substantive contrast of competing policy ideas, and these five debates will be an excellent way for both you and the Senator to share your respective visions with Texas voters in the weeks leading up to the November election,” Roe wrote to O’Rourke.
O’Rourke responded in a statement to reporters: “I am encouraged that Sen. Cruz has decided that he’s ready to debate the issues. Our campaign looks forward to working with his campaign to finalize mutually agreed upon details.”
The five debates would be the most ever conducted in a U.S. Senate race in Texas, according to the Cruz campaign. A spokesperson described the proposal as “all inclusive and final,” saying the Cruz campaign is not open to negotiating the dates, locations or topics. Cruz’s team, however, is willing to work with O’Rourke’s on other details such as moderators, sponsorships and media partners, the spokesperson said.
Cruz has long expressed openness to debating O’Rourke, but his campaign has resisted making commitments until now. O’Rourke’s campaign first reached outto Cruz’s in April to start coordinating a debate schedule. The letter to senior Cruz staffers proposed six debates, including two in Spanish, and asked for a response by May 10. Though Cruz’s team did not respond directly to O’Rourke’s, Cruz told reporters at the time that his Spanish wasn’t good enough for him to debate in it.
After about two months passed without a formal reply, O’Rourke’s campaign sent another letter to Cruz’s senior staffers, nudging them on the initial proposal and offering to replace the two Spanish debates with two more English debates. Cruz’s team responded with a letter that reiterated he was looking forward to debating O’Rourke.
“However, your arbitrary timeline for coordinating between the campaigns remains irrelevant to our decision-making process,” senior Cruz adviser Bryan English wrote. “We will let you know when we are ready to discuss the details of joint appearances.”
Letter from U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign to U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke proposing five debates(375.2 KB) DOWNLOAD
In recent weeks, the race between U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, has largely revolved around immigration, playing out in detention centers along the southern border and over immigration bills in Washington.
But U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s abrupt retirement announcement Wednesday sent shockwaves throughout the country — and quickly turned the twoTexans’ attention to the nation’s highest court.
“After today, this race to represent Texas in the Senate matters more than ever,” O’Rourke wrote on Twitter Wednesday.
“Fully agree,” Cruz replied Thursday in his own tweet. “And the overwhelming majority of Texans want Supreme Court Justices who will preserve the Constitution & Bill of Rights, not undermine our rights and legislate from the bench.”
The power of consent for Supreme Court nominees is one of the Senate’s greatest powers, and now — after a controversial change to Senate rules last year — the chamber’s Republicans have the numbers to potentially confirm a nominee over unified opposition from Democrats.
For Republicans, the Supreme Court vacancy represents an opportunity. For Democrats, it has inspired fear. And for the U.S. Senate race in Texas, it has already become a rallying cry.
The Texas Republican Party opened its latest fundraising email Friday morningwith a call for donations to Cruz in light of the court vacancy. A day earlier, Cruz’s campaign sent out its own pitch to supporters for funds to ensure Republicans retain their Senate majority.
“If we lose the Senate, we will lose the opportunity to approve the nominations of strong Constitutionalists to the Supreme Court and other important positions. This is why we need your support. These are the stakes,” the Cruz campaign email reads.
O’Rourke’s campaign, meanwhile, sent an email to supporters Thursday soliciting $3 contributions “to help our grassroots, people-powered campaign be a check on Trump’s Supreme Court pick.”
Though some Democrats have demanded the Senate postpone the vote until after the November election — pointing to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s move to do just that in 2016 — McConnell has pledged to hold a confirmation vote ahead of the midterms. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the vote will likely happen in September.
Republicans are banking on the Supreme Court vacancy to turn out far-right voters who see it as an opportunity to push a conservative agenda through the courts.
“I think it actually energizes the Republican base, it makes people feel united,” Republican strategist Brendan Steinhauser said. “People seem to be very fired up. It seems very positive for Cruz.”
Cruz told Fox News Thursday he thought 2016 was a litmus test of the Supreme Court’s importance to voters, suggesting that the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia — which set off a more than year-long showdown in the Senate over Scalia’s successor — helped propel Donald Trump to victory.
“This was a major issue the American people decided,” he said. “It was a major reason that we have President Trump and we have a Republican majority in the Senate — because the American people want justices who will defend the Constitution, will defend the Bill of Rights.”
Cruz, who clerked for former Chief Justice William Rehnquist after graduating from Harvard Law School and laterargued before the U.S. Supreme Court nine times, said on Fox that filling Kennedy’s seat “could prove to be the most significant thing the Republican Senate does.” He has begun promoting a handful of candidates for the job, including U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
Cruz’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
If Republicans succeed in their plans to vote Trump’s nominee onto the court before November, O’Rourke has little chance of swaying the outcome of this confirmation process. In an interview Thursday, he distanced himself from Democratic leaders who are calling for delaying the vote.
“I don’t know that you want to set an arbitrary timeline on this. I just think, you know, the President should nominate and the Senate should do its due diligence,” he said. “My understanding is historically that would take you past the November election anyhow if the Senate were truly to do its due diligence.”
Instead, O’Rourke’s campaign is focusing on the importance of Democrats retaking the Senate and regaining control of the confirmation process for future nominees.
“The choice is clear: we can either have Ted Cruz or Beto in the Senate voting on Supreme Court nominees,” the O’Rourke campaign’s fundraising email said. “Someone who will vote for the agenda of special interests and corporations or someone who will vote for the people of Texas. We need to work every single day to cut Cruz’s narrow lead and ensure it’s Beto.”
O’Rourke campaign spokesmanChris Evan said the campaign will emphasize what O’Rourke would look for in a nominee down the line — namely, someone who supports civil rights, abortion rights, access to healthcare and ending partisan gerrymandering.
O’Rourke said he still doesn’t know where the Supreme Court ranks among issues on voters’ minds, so he will take their temperature at town halls across Texas in the coming week, starting with one Friday afternoon in San Antonio.
“We’ll see if these issues come up at the town halls. I’m assuming they will, but we’ll see,” he said.
On both sides, abortion may emerge as a particular flashpoint. The Supreme Court vacancy casts doubt on the future of the landmark 1973 case Roe v. Wade, which declared abortion a constitutional right. Kennedy cast several decisive votes to protect abortion rights over the course of his career, and a more conservative justice could spell the end of those protections.
The extent to which hopes and fears of repealing Roe v. Wade will translate into votes in November remains an open question, said former state Sen. Wendy Davis, whose famous filibuster of an anti-abortion bill in the Texas Senate in 2013 boosted her national profile, leading to a failed run for governor a year later.
“It depends on how many people make choice a central part of why they vote. Those who are opposed to abortion most certainly do. But many supporters continue to take for granted that they will always be able to access abortion,” she wrote in an email. “Will this recent development…be enough to motivate independent suburban women to vote with protecting abortion access in mind? Hard to say. But I certainly hope so.”
Anti-abortion activists in Texas and around the countryare already seizing on Kennedy’s retirement as an opportunity to take aim at Roe v. Wade. During most election cycles, Texas Right to Life typically spends more on state legislature races than congressional ones, said legislative director John Seago. But Kennedy’s retirement will likely prompt the group to boost its intended advertising for Cruz. He predicted other groups opposed to abortion will do the same in the months to come.
“In his race with O’Rourke, the Kennedy retirement is just going to electrify the race even more,” he said.
O’Rourke, who has so far outraised Cruz, has pledged not to accept PAC money — so abortion rights groups like the Planned Parenthood Action Fund can’t donate to his campaign directly.
But Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, said in a statement that the group will “lead grassroots efforts” across the state to mobilize voters.
“The Supreme Court vacancy poses a real and immediate threat to women in Texas, a state where access to safe, legal abortion is already on the line. It is critical that Texans – especially Texas women –make their voices heard in November by electing leaders who are committed to protecting women’s health and rights,” Gutierrez wrote.
Abby Livingston contributed to this report.
Disclosure: Planned Parenthood has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
Under a rapidly-warming West Texas Sunday morning, amidst the green fields that surround the Marcelino Serna Port of Entry, a group on nearly 2000 protesters, along with local, national and international press, marched on the newly-opened tent camp housing children of immigrants who were rounded up as a result of the Trump Administration’s ‘Zero Tolerance’ Policy on illegal entry to the U.S.
The Tornillo Tent Camp, named for the town that lies some two miles to the north of the Port of Entry, and almost 4o miles east of El Paso, is at the center of the immigration debate, as the children being kept in the tents and portable buildings at the facility have all been separated from their parents, who attempted to enter the US illegally.
Organized by Congressman Robert ‘Beto’ O’Rourke, who is also running for the Texas Senate Seat held by Ted Cruz, the march featured local leaders including former El Paso County Judge turned Congressional candidate herself Veronica Escobar and Congressman Joe Kennedy III, who represents Massachusetts.
The group marched a short distance from the Tornillo/Guadalupe toll lanes and back; originally intending to meet closer to the bridge, near the ‘Tree of Mirrors’ sculpture, the protesters were not allowed to get that close.
With a handful of security guards mixed in with Customs and Border Protection Agents, they formed a loose line at the gate leading to the bridge, however the group and the guards got no closer than 50 or so yards.
With Texas DPS Officers and El Paso County Sheriff’s Deputies looking on, the group chanted, held protest signs and walked arm-in-arm, never getting within visual distance of the tent city or the children housed there.
Under the watchful eyes of several buzzing drones, and at least one group of CBP Agents who took up a station on top of a building in front of the tent city, the group sang the National Anthem, prayed and listened to speakers for almost an hour.
Video by Steven Cottingham, Photographer / Gallery by Andres Acosta, Chief Photographer, El Paso Herald-Post.
UPDATE: Campaign officials with Democratic Candidate for Governor Lupe Valdez announced Saturday afternoon that the former Sheriff of Dallas County and Veteran will join O’Rourke and other regional leaders for the march on Sunday Morning.
****previous story below
On Friday, Congressman Beto O’Rourke announced that he will lead a Father’s Day march Sunday morning to raise awareness of a newly opened tent camp in Tornillo for kids who are taken from their parents under the Trump Administration’s new policy.
The Congressman will be joined by local leaders including former El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar, advocates, elected officials and concerned Texans as the group marches to the site where hundreds of children are already being sent without their mothers or fathers.
Via a news release, officials with O’Rourke’s office stated that Sunday’s public March to Tornillo comes less than a week after O’Rourke visited McAllen to “witness firsthand the developing humanitarian crisis along the border.”
During his visit, O’Rourke addressed the separation of children from their parents, the treatment, well-being and living conditions of unaccompanied youth, the denial of a legal asylum process for those presenting themselves at our ports of entry and recent actions taken by the Trump Administration. O’Rourke described the policy as “inhumane.”
According to the Texas Tribune, via the office of state Rep. César Blanco(D-El Paso) confirmed the opening of the facility at the federal port of entry at Tornillo, about 20 miles east of the El Paso city limits. As of Friday afternoon, 100 minors were on site there, Blanco said.
In the same article, the Tribune reported that “Homeland Security officials said that as of May 31, there were 1,995 immigrant children in custody as a result of the “zero tolerance” mandate.”
During a Friday news conference on the North Lawn, President Trump responded to critics of the policy, pointing the blame at the Democrats. Responding to a question from a reporter about how he felt about the policy, Trump responded:
“No, I hate it. I hate the children being taken away. The Democrats have to change their law. That’s their law…the Democrats gave us the laws. Now, I want the laws to be beautiful, humane, but strong. I don’t want bad people coming in. I don’t want drugs coming in. And we can solve that problem in one meeting. Tell the Democrats, your friends, to call me.”
However, only a day earlier, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson directly referenced the new “zero tolerance” policy which was announced in April., attributing it to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Trump Administration.
After tens of thousands of miles on the road, hundreds of town hall meetings and innumerable cups of coffee, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke made the final stop on his much-ballyhooed tour of all 254 Texas counties on Saturday, visiting Gainesville in his continuing bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz this fall.
Over the last 15 months, O’Rourke’s county-by-county driving tour has taken him all over the state, from his hometown of El Paso on the Mexican border to Cooke County in the north, where he held a town hall on Saturday afternoon.
“Here we are in Gainesville, which, as the crow flies, might be the farthest point you can get from El Paso,” he said to laughter from a packed house in the historic Santa Fe train depot.
The tour represents more than just an expansive retail campaign across the largest state in mainland America. It also marks a dramatic deviation from the political playbook employed by the majority of Texas Democrats over the last two decades.
“Since 1998, what we’ve seen is the triangle — they go to Houston, Dallas, and Austin and San Antonio. They’ll do one swing through the Valley and one trip through El Paso,” said Colin Strother, a longtime Democratic strategist in Texas. “That’s not how we’re going to energize our own voters, educate new voters, and it’s not how we’re going to win. What’s exciting and refreshing about Beto’s approach is that he’s going to go campaign everywhere.”
The county-by-county tour started in March 2017, when O’Rourke kicked off his campaign with a rooftop rally in El Paso. “Beto said, ‘We are going to all of the counties,’ and some of us said, ‘Are we really?’” said Chris Evans, the campaign’s spokesman. “But we have been.”
Fueled by five cups of coffee a day, O’Rourke does about 80 percent of the driving himself, in a maroon Dodge Grand Caravan, Evans said. The candidate and his staffers subsist on a steady diet of trail mix, beef jerky and Hostess Cupcakes.
When he’s not behind the wheel, O’Rourke has proven to be a formidable fundraiser, regularly outperforming his more famous opponent. In the first quarter of 2018, he raised $6.7 million, more than any other Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate raised over the same period. But his performance in the Democratic primary in March was disappointing: Even as he coasted to a 38-point victory over challenger Selma Hernandez, O’Rourke lost several key counties along the Mexican border to the Houston activist. And a Quinnipiac University poll released last month found Cruz leading O’Rourke by 11 percentage points.
“Our campaign is based not on an arbitrary travel data point like our opponent’s, but on a vision and message that we believe Texans desire and want to see from their leaders,” said Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for Cruz.
The publicity generated by the statewide tour has helped O’Rourke, who entered the race as a little-known congressman, gain valuable exposure to Texas voters, said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University. But the 254-county tour is ultimately just “a gimmick,” Jones said.
“Once you go beyond the top 100 counties, it’s not an especially efficient use of your time,” he said. “There are counties that have entire populations that are dwarfed by neighborhoods in Houston and Dallas and San Antonio and Austin.”
Still, Democrats hope that O’Rourke’s grassroots campaign will generate enthusiasm in red counties, leading to higher voter turnout and narrower margins of defeat there, said Strother, the Democratic strategist.
“I’ve seen pictures of him in Tyler County in east Texas. It’s the reddest of red counties, and based on the pictures I’ve seen he probably had 30 people there,” Strother said. “I’ve done campaigns a lot in east Texas, and I’ve never seen 30 Democrats in Tyler County. I didn’t know there were that many.”
Over the years, Cooke County has also been unfriendly to Democrats. In 2016, President Donald Trump won here with 83 percent of the vote. Cruz earned an almost identical portion of the county’s vote when he ran for Senate in 2012. At the town hall, however, O’Rourke chose to dwell on a different element of the county’s political history: Former president Harry Truman’s visit to Gainesville in 1948, in the run-up to his upset victory over Republican challenger Thomas Dewey.
“This country was not built on fear. This country was built on courage,” O’Rourke said, invoking Truman’s famous words.
Supporters acknowledge that O’Rourke remains a long-shot candidate, even in a political climate that might be favorable to Trump’s opponents. A Democrat has not won statewide office in Texas in nearly a quarter-century. Despite O’Rourke’s recent fundraising success, Jones cautioned,the candidate will have to accumulate significantly more money to compete with Cruz in November. And his campaign is unlikely to receive much financial support from the national party, which has prioritized a handful of Senate races in places where Democrats are more likely to succeed and statewide races are less expensive to run.
O’Rourke is not the first Texas politician to visit all 254 counties. When he ran for attorney general in the late 1980s, Democrat John Odam visited every county courthouse in the state in an effort to “listen and learn about the issues that were on people’s mind.”
In 1995, he published a book about his 254-county tour, “Courtin’ Texas: One Candidate’s Travels Through Texas’ 254 Counties & Their Courthouses,” which documents 18 months of grueling travel along the state’s highways — a physically taxing road trip, even for a candidate with four marathons under his belt.
“We’d go to the courthouse, go to a breakfast meeting, go to the next county and have a lunch meeting, and then keep on driving, keep on covering the state,” Odam recalled. “I know this sounds pretty naive and pretty elementary — but Texas is a damn big state.”
When the election came around, Odam lost by eight percentage points.
The U.S. Senate race between U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke took a personal turn Wednesday when Cruz’s campaign accused his Democratic opponent of ignoring his “mom’s tax fraud” while encouraging changes in tax laws to require businesses to charge sales tax on more online purchases.
Charlotte’s Furniture, owned by Melissa O’Rourke, was found guilty in 2010 of breaking tax laws five years earlier by accepting cash to avoid reporting payments to tax authorities.
Beto O’Rourke has a stake worth between $1 and $5 million in the shopping center where the El Paso store was located, according to congressional records, which Cruz argued ties the congressman from El Paso to the tax fraud.
The store was fined $500,000 and ultimately agreed to pay $250,000, the El Paso Times reported. Melissa O’Rourke closed the store in 2017, shortly before her son launched his campaign for U.S. Senate. She told the El Paso Times at the time that the store’s closure was unrelated to her son’s decision to run.
“The bottom line is that I’m very, very proud of my mom,” he added, talking to the Times. “I love her more than I can say and I’m very grateful for everything that she does, including for her entire life running that store, which her mom started in 1951.”
An O’Rourke campaign spokesman referred The Texas Tribune to the Times’ story when asked for comment.
Texas Democratic Party Deputy Executive Director Manny Garcia condemned Cruz’s statement in a news release, calling the senator “the epitome of the sick politician that will say and do anything to cling to power.”
“Ted’s cheap shots smell of desperation. His shameless tactics are exhibit A on why people turn away from politics,” Garcia continued in the statement. “But what else can we expect from the man that cowered and endorsed Trump after vile attacks on his wife and father.”
Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump suggested during the 2016 presidential election that he had “dirt” on Cruz’s wife and that Cruz’s father was connected to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Cruz condemned Trump’s statements at the time as “classless,” calling him a “coward.”
The Cruz campaign’s latest attack follows a Dallas Morning News story in which O’Rourke said he supported having businesses collect sales tax for revenues across state lines, a measure Cruz fiercely opposes. O’Rourke said in the interview that doing so could halt increasing property taxes and protect local businesses. Cruz said taxing across state lines would hinder online-focused mom-and-pop businesses from flourishing.
“His recent statements advocating that local businesses become tax collection agents for every state in the nation stand in stark contrast to his mother’s history of tax evasion,” Cruz’s campaign said in its news release.
Currently, online retailers only need to collect sales taxes in the states where they have a physical presence. The two candidates spoke as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to rule on a case related to the issue.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Melissa O’Rourke pleaded guilty to a tax violation. Her store was charged as a corporate entity.
EDINBURG — Flanked by a nine-piece mariachi band, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez leaned on Beto O’Rourke’s roots while introducing his congressional colleague to a crowd of Rio Grande Valley residents at a recent campaign event.
“Beto is one of us,” Gonzalez told the nearly 400 people who crowded into a local football stadium concourse on a humid May afternoon. “He’s from the border. … He understands our culture. El nos conoce.” (“He knows us,” the McAllen congressman said.)
It was one of just a few nods O’Rourke, his supporters and the Hispanic campaign surrogates joining him on a four-day swing through the border would make to the Democratic candidate’s ties to the border and to the state’s Hispanic community. The next morning, O’Rourke opened a town hall at a McAllen park by speaking almost completely in Spanish. And later that day in Laredo, a band warming up the standing-room only crowd played Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va” before the lead singer remarked, “We finally got a candidate from the border.”
Around the same time this month, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was huddling with a group of Hispanic business owners at a Mexican restaurant in downtown Houston. One of the organizers, longtime Cruz supporter Jacob Monty, admitted some of his friends were skeptical he could get Latinos to turn out for the senator, but he sought to prove them wrong. About 30 business owners ended up attending, and Monty estimated he could’ve gotten 100 if they had a bigger venue.
“The issue I always start with is we need more Latino senators, not fewer Latino senators, and you can say whatever you want about a particular vote, but Ted is Hispanic,” Monty said. “He is Latino.”
The split-screen campaigning by Cruz and O’Rourke illustrated their unique — even peculiar — connections to a Hispanic community that many see as the future of Texas politics. O’Rourke is white but has spent most his life on the Texas-Mexico border and has imbued himself with Hispanic culture, while Cruz is a Cuban-American from Houston whose political career is not as often closelyassociated with his Hispanic identity.
And while the Hispanic vote in Texas strongly leans Democratic, neither candidate appears to be taking anything for granted.
“The Hispanic community in Texas is a conservative community,” Cruz said in a recent interview. “The values that resonate in our community are faith, family, patriotism … and the American Dream.”
Cruz is the son of a Cuban immigrant, and his father’s story has been a staple of his stump speeches — how he fled the communist Cuban regime in the 1950s and came to America not knowing any English, possessing nothing but $100 sewn into his underwear and washing dishes for 50 cents an hour to pay his way through college. It’s an experience many Hispanic Texans can relate to, Cruz says.
O’Rourke is a self-described “son of the border” who grew up in El Paso and has spent most of his life residing there. While campaigning, he regularly reflects on his experiences growing up and representing a bicultural community that’s inextricably linked to Mexico.
A post-election survey done by Cruz’s pollster in 2012 found Cruz got 40 percent of the Hispanic vote against Democratic opponent Paul Sadler when he was first elected — a figure he often cities to show he outperformed Mitt Romney, the party’s presidential nominee at the time.
O’Rourke has never campaigned statewide before, but he’s been remarkably successful in El Paso, where Hispanics make up 81 percent of the population. O’Rourke unseated a longtime Hispanic incumbent in 2012 to represent the 16th Congressional District and sailed to re-election twice.
The two candidates are at odds on key issues for Hispanic voters. Cruz is a long-standing foe of the Affordable Care Act, through which more than a million Texans — many of them Hispanics — obtained health insurance. O’Rourke wants to put the country on a path toward universal health care.
On the immigration front, Cruz supports funding a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and rails against “amnesty” for people living in the country illegally. That includes protections for “Dreamers,” the common term for young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children. O’Rourke is vehemently opposed to a border wall and wants a permanent solution for both Dreamers and their parents.
The candidates also have somewhat different attitudes toward Hispanic outreach.
In his current campaign, Cruz said he is focused on continuing to make “the case that the values of Hispanic voters, like the values of Texans throughout the state, are conservative values.” He is also seeking to persuade Hispanic voters that the modern Democratic Party has become too liberal for them, and that the party overlooks that “one of the communities that is harmed the most by unchecked illegal immigration is the Hispanic community.”
Meanwhile, O’Rourke struggles with the idea of making distinctions among voters based on ethnicity for fear of pandering to certain voters. O’Rourke said he prefers to strike a balance between the issues that matter to a community and more universal concerns. In places like McAllen, that may mean talking about the border wall but also making the case for more affordable health care, he added.
“I have a hard time going too far in tailoring a message,” O’Rourke said in a recent interview. “I don’t want anyone to feel that they’re being played to.”
In a state where Hispanics tend to favor Democratic candidates, few are predicting that the support of Hispanic voters in Texas — both those living along the border and those residing in massive numbers in the state’s biggest cities — is truly up for grabs in this race this fall. But the O’Rourke-Cruz matchup nonetheless provides an unusual case study on the ability of two candidates with unique ties to the state’s Hispanic community to appeal to voters who many prognosticate hold the political future of state in their hands.
Voters tend to support candidates who either reflect their positions on the issues that matter most to them or who they can identify with personally or a combination of the two, said Victoria De Francesco Soto, a political science lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin who focuses on Latino politics.
“It’s kind of like poli sci 101,” she added. “What Beto represents is this really weird, quasi best of both worlds for Latinos where substantively he’s in line with most of the issues that the majority of Latinos care about and support. Descriptively, he’s not Latino, but he’s culturally Latino-friendly.”
In kickstarting the general election, the Cruz campaign itself focused on one of O’Rourke’s most personal connections to the border community — his name.
Within minutes of O’Rourke winning the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in March, Cruz’s campaign released a country music jingle needling the Democrat over his first name, a kind of Spanish-language nickname for “Roberto” that dates to his childhood. “Liberal Robert wanted to fit in,” the song went, “so he changed his name to Beto and hid it with a grin.”
The jingle drew attention to O’Rourke’s cultural bonafides on a level he had not previously experienced as an El Paso congressman. But it additionally shined a spotlight on Cruz, who also doesn’t go by his birth name: Rafael Edward Cruz.
“He may just be unfamiliar with this part of Texas culture that you would find in El Paso or in Del Rio or Eagle Pass or Laredo,” O’Rourke said, pointing back to his recent trip to the Rio Grande Valley during which several supporters approached him to declare “I’m Beto, too.”
“It’s really only when you’re just not familiar with those communities where millions of our fellow Texans live or are from that you can make that mistake or that you can not understand,” O’Rourke added.
To Cruz’s campaign, the episode was a political victory, regardless of the claims of hypocrisy. “Everybody now knows his name is Robert Francis O’Rourke — Irishman — and [Cruz’s is] Rafael Cruz,” Cruz strategist Jeff Roe later gloated.
O’Rourke’s recent return to the border came two months after he handily won the Democratic nomination but ended primary election night behind relatively unknown Houston activist Sema Hernandez in several border counties.
It wasn’t an uncommon outcome in state Democratic primaries in which, experts have said, Hispanic-sounding surnames go a long way with Hispanic voters when name recognition among primary candidates is low. A similar outcome happened in the 2014 Democratic primary for governor, when Wendy Davis lost several border counties with large Hispanic populations to a little-known opponent named Ray Madrigal.
But it opened up a line of questioning over O’Rourke’s efforts to engage with Hispanic voters along the border where turnout is often depressingly low. Even the Democratic nominee for governor, Lupe Valdez, would go on to declare that the congressman was “weak on the Hispanic vote” in what seemed like a reference to O’Rourke’s performance on the border on primary night.
O’Rourke’s primary performance went far from unnoticed by Cruz, a political obsessive in his own right. After the results came in, Cruz asked his team to run the numbers on which candidate earned more votes in his respective primary in the counties where Hispanic adults make up at least 40 percent of the population. Cruz had a higher tally than O’Rourke in 39 out of 62 of them.
While Democrats and analysts chalked up O’Rourke’s and Davis’ primary problems to the presence of Hispanic surnames on the ballot, Cruz offered a different explanation.
“[O’Rourke] lost many, many more counties in the Democratic primary than Wendy Davis did, including virtually every county up and down the Rio Grande, and I believe the reason is the same: His policies are much too liberal for most Hispanic voters in Texas,” Cruz said.
O’Rourke actually won the most populous counties on the border, including his home county of El Paso and most of the border counties in West Texas. He also won Hidalgo and Cameron counties — key counties in the Rio Grande Valley. And O’Rourke’s vote tallies in most of those counties far surpassed votes for Cruz in the Republican primary.
He conceded that he needed to spend more time in border counties but noted he has been pursuing a “much longer strategy” of visiting every corner of Texas to reach voters of all political stripes, not just seeking to drive up turnout in traditional Democratic strongholds.
More recently, the candidates’ cultural credentials took center stage again with O’Rourke challenging Cruz to six debates — two in Spanish.
While O’Rourke is fluent in Spanish, Cruz has never been known as a proficient speaker, and it has come up on occasion in his political career. Most famously, during the 2016 presidential race, Marco Rubio, a fellow Cuban-American senator, alleged Cruz “doesn’t speak Spanish” at a debate — and the Texan retorted with a stilted statement in the language.
When he was initially asked about O’Rourke’s hopes for Spanish-language debates, Cruz admitted his Spanish “remains lousy” and then offered a sentence in the language: “I understand almost everything, but I can’t speak like I want to.” He attributed it to the “curse of the second-generation immigrant,” speculating that many in the Hispanic community could sympathize.
“Democrats sometimes do this when they want to be cute,” Cruz later said in a radio interview. “No, we’re not going to debate in Spanish. And, look, for a simple reason: No. 1, most Texans don’t speak Spanish, but No. 2, my Spanish is lousy. We wouldn’t have a very good debate.”
For O’Rourke, who easily transitions from English to Spanish at campaign events, the proposal for a Spanish-language debate was rooted in a desire to engage with the millions of Texans who primarily speak Spanish or to whom being able to be listened to in Spanish “is a sign of respect.”
“If you want everyone engaged in our democracy, which I think we all do regardless of your background and regardless of the language you speak, you’ve got to be able to listen to and work with everyone, and so that was the intent,” O’Rourke said.
To Cruz’s fiercestcritics, it’s perplexing that the son of a Cuban immigrant can hold such hard-line immigration stances — to the point that in February he was the sole senator to oppose even starting debate on a proposal that would have granted a path to citizenship for Dreamers. And throughout his career, his positions have invited uncomfortable questions about his standing within his own ethnic group.
In the current race, that vexation was most prominently displayed during a recent Spanish-language interview between Univision news anchor Jorge Ramos and O’Rourke. Ramos, who frequently challenges elected officials over their positions on immigration, bluntly asked O’Rourke if he believed Cruz was a traitor to Latinos.
O’Rourke declined to indict Cruz as a race traitor and instead pointed out ways in which he believes Cruz’s politics are out of line with the beliefs of Texas Latinos. After additional prodding by Ramos, O’Rourke eventually conceded that Cruz does not represent Latinos.
It was a sentiment echoed by some Hispanic supporters of O’Rourke.
Under the sweltering sun of a May morning, McAllen resident Fidel Garcia was among the roughly 150 Rio Grande Valley residents that gathered around the gazebo of a local park to hear from O’Rourke. Sporting a “Beto for Texas” button on his yellow cotton button-up, Garcia cited Cruz’s politics as they relate to Latinos as the main reason he was supporting O’Rourke.
“The other candidate is Cuban, but he has no interest in helping Latinos,” Garcia said in Spanish, referring to Cruz. “He doesn’t have a heart for the Latino people … He doesn’t have a conscience for immigrants.”
On the other side are Cruz loyalists like Janie Melendez, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee from McAllen. Melendez, a Mexican-born teacher, said she feels well-represented by Cruz as a Hispanic Texan: She does not want “amnesty” for people in the country illegally, she is unapologetically anti-abortion and she would like to see gun rights expanded.
“I’m not a big fan of Robert O’Rourke,” she said in an interview.
In an interview with the Tribune days later, O’Rourke said he was surprised by Ramos’ use of the term traitor. Still, O’Rourke continued to make the case that — beyond his political positions — Cruz has not shied away from using disparaging language to refer to other Latinos.
O’Rourke recalled Cruz’s reaction to his initiative to bring an El Paso “Dreamer” as his guest to the State of the Union Address. While noting his own choice of guest — Sutherland Springs hero Stephen Willeford — Cruz referred to the “Dreamer” as an “illegal alien.” But that choice of words, O’Rourke argued “is the kind of dehumanizing language you use for people for whom you don’t have respect.”
Cruz chalked up the Ramos interview to another example of the willingness among Democratic politicians and national media reporters to engage in “race-baiting and trying to use racial stereotypes and bigotry”
“Many Democrats view it as unacceptable for an Hispanic or for an African-American to hold any views other than the liberal Democratic orthodoxy,” Cruz said in an interview.
He recalled fondly how he confronted that orthodoxy on the college debating circuit, when he and his partner David Panton, a native of Jamaica, once argued against race-based affirmative action. To liberals on campus, it was “shocking” that the two men, Hispanic and black, would take such a position, Cruz said.
They ended up making their case successfully and handily winning a student vote.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
The U.S. Senate race between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke is trending into new territory: the war on drugs.
It is a familiar topic for O’Rourke, a Democratic congressman who has earned a national reputation as an advocate for marijuana legalization since his days on the El Paso City Council. Yet it hadn’t become an issue in the Senate contest until now, as Cruz, the Republican incumbent, ramps up his general election crusade to paint O’Rourke as too liberal for Texas.
Cruz opened the new front Tuesday as he seized on a story published by the Daily Caller, a conservative news site, that claimed O’Rourke “once advocated for the legalization of all narcotics.” The story cited an episode on the El Paso City Council in 2009 where O’Rourke successfully — and controversially — amended a resolution about the war on drugs to urge for an “honest, open national debate on ending the prohibition on narcotics.”
“Reasonable minds, perhaps, can differ on whether marijuana should be illegal, but what Congressman O’Rourke introduced was a resolution for the City Council to take up legalizing all narcotics, legalizing everything, legalizing heroin, legalizing deadly opioids,” Cruz told reporters after a campaign event in San Antonio as his Twitter account sent out a similar line of attack. “As this country is facing a crisis — an opioid crisis … and in light of that growing tragedy, Congressman O’Rourke’s radical proposal to legalize all narcotics is a suggestion that might be very popular up at Berkeley. It might be popular in far-left circles, but it doesn’t reflect the values of Texans. Texans don’t want to see heroin and deadly opioids legalized and our kids able to just walk in to the corner store and buy them.”
Despite Cruz’s telling, the resolution did not explicitly call for legalizing all drugs but rather for a conversation about it. O’Rourke said as much at a Jan. 6, 2009, council meeting, video of which accompanied the Daily Caller story.
“I’m not saying that we need to do that – to end the prohibition,” O’Rourke said. “I think we need to have a serious discussion about doing that, and that may, in the end, be the right course of action.”
The resolution was ultimately vetoed by the mayor, John Cook, after he received pressure from elected officials worried that it could cause El Paso to lose out on federal resources. Among them was U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, who lobbied the council to vote against a subsequent effort to override Cook’s veto. Reyes, whom O’Rourke would unseat a few years later, got his way: The veto override effort was unsuccessful, though O’Rourke still voted for it.
O’Rourke would later concede that the language in the controversial amendment could have been handled better.
“It was an artless and even inaccurate amendment to the larger resolution (I only learned later that marijuana is not a narcotic, even though it was precisely that drug that I felt people would be most open to debating), but it got the point across,” O’Rourke wrote in his 2011 book, “Dealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the U.S. and Mexico,” which made the case for ending the federal prohibition on marijuana.
The attack is not new to O’Rourke, who faced it as he battled Reyes in 2012, ultimately dislodging the eight-term incumbent in a bitter primary. Reyes ran an ad that showed a group of young children shouting “no” and expressing disbelief as text on the screen claimed O’Rourke “wants to legalize drugs.” The fact-checking site PolitiFact rated that claim “Half True” at the time.
O’Rourke has not made marijuana legalization a major part of his U.S. Senate campaign. But at town halls and other campaign events, he does not shy away from the topic when the discussion turns toward it or when he is directly asked about it.
Such was the case Saturday morning as O’Rourke made a campaign stop in Sonora, a small city on the western edge of the Hill Country. Soon after he slid into a booth with patrons at a donut shop, he was fielding questions for several minutes about marijuana legalization.
“I’m on a bill that would end the federal prohibition on marijuana once and for all,” O’Rourke told them, later lamenting that the United States is “spending on that war on drugs right now when we could put it into the classroom, into teacher pay, into treating an opioid epidemic, a methamphetamine epidemic that I’m seeing through lots of West Texas right now.”
Cruz, for his part, has long maintained marijuana legalization should be left up to the states, though he personally opposes it. He reiterated that position while speaking with reporters Tuesday in San Antonio.
“I don’t support drug legalization,” Cruz said. “I think drug legalization ends up harming people. I think it particularly hurts young people. It traps them in addiction.”
On marijuana, Cruz added: “I’ve always said that should be a question for the states. I think different states can resolve it differently. So in Texas — if we were voting on it in Texas — I would vote against legalizing it. But I think it’s the prerogative of Texans to make that decision, and I think another state like Colorado can make a very different decision.”
While O’Rourke did not directly respond Tuesday to Cruz’s criticism over the council resolution, the El Paso congressman — coincidentally, apparently — got the endorsement on the same day of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. The group, which supported O’Rourke when he first ran for Congress, hailed him as a “true champion for abolishing our disastrous prohibition on marijuana since the very beginning of his political career as a city council member in El Paso.”
U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, has invited U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to participate in six debates with O’Rourke across Texas, two of them in Spanish, during their U.S. Senate race.
O’Rourke campaign manager Jody Casey made the proposal in a letter last week to Cruz’s senior staff, adding that the debates should have “media reach to all twenty markets in the state.”
“I would like to begin direct coordination of the debates with your campaign team between now and May 10th,” Casey wrote to Cruz advisers Bryan English and Eric Hollander in the April 24 letter. “Please advise my best point of contact on the Cruz campaign team.”
Cruz previously suggested he is open to debating O’Rourke. Cruz’s campaign said in response to the letter that it was exploring its options.
“Sen. Cruz has said he’s looking forward to debates,” Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said in a statement. “We are considering all possibilities in front of us and will be working with potential hosts and the O’Rourke campaign to determine the best platforms available so that Texans from all corners of the state can hear from the candidates directly about their views for Texas’ future.”
Regardless of what the campaigns ultimately agree to, debates in Spanish between the candidates seem unlikely. While O’Rourke is fluent in the language, Cruz is not known as a proficient speaker.
After a campaign event Tuesday afternoon in San Antonio, Cruz admitted to reporters that his Spanish “remains lousy” before offering a sentence in the language: “I understand almost everything, but I can’t speak like I want to.” Cruz, whose father came to America from Cuba, chalked up his shoddy Spanish skills to “the curse of the second-generation immigrant,” adding that he suspects many in the Hispanic community can relate.
“A debate in Spanish would not be very good because my Spanish isn’t good enough, but I look forward to debating Congressman O’Rourke,” Cruz said.
Still, Cruz has professed little resistance to sparring with O’Rourke so far. Asked in March if he would debate O’Rourke, Cruz told reporters he is “sure we’ll see a debate in this race.” Cruz noted that he debated U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., multiple times on national TV last year before adding, “I am not remotely afraid to debate left-wing liberal socialists.”
During a conference call with supporters Thursday, O’Rourke alluded to the letter while fielding a question about whether there will be a debate between him and Cruz.
“We certainly want a debate,” O’Rourke said, adding that his campaign is working to “make sure that we give every voter in Texas the opportunity to know the difference between the two candidates, their track record of service, what they hope to achieve for the state of Texas and the way in which they are campaigning.”
O’Rourke suggested he was undeterred by Cruz’s past as a college debate champion and a lawyer who has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court nine times.
“While I know that Cruz is a master debater, a very skilled politician, a very shrewd person … I would love the opportunity to talk about what all of us have been doing together over the course of the campaign and what we want to achieve for Texas,” O’Rourke told supporters. “I’m very much looking forward to it.”
Heady stuff, or scary stuff, depending on your team.
It’s from a highly regarded polling operation, but there are a couple of caveats that ought to figure into your jubilation/trepidation. The biggest is that the poll included a lot of Texans who have never been in a voting booth and likely never will be.
Also, this is a springtime poll. Lots of voters who actually will show up on Election Day have no more idea how they’ll vote on Nov. 6 than they know what they’ll have for lunch that day.
Partisans know. People acquainted with the candidates know. But political predilections are hard to nail down. People change their minds, candidates make mistakes, circumstances change. Take a look at this riff on springtime pollingfrom the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin (the authors are on the team that conducts the University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll) and you can see the difference between what the state’s voters have said months before elections and how they’ve actually voted.
Second, this new poll was a survey of registered voters, as opposed to a survey of likely voters. The difference is immense. Texas has 15.2 million registered voters, according to the secretary of state. Just over 9 million voted in the 2016 election, and presidential elections get the biggest turnouts. In 2014, which was a midterm election year like the year we’re in now, 4.7 million people voted. The folks at Quinnipiac also noted that 53 percent of the registered voters in Texas didn’t yet have an impression of O’Rourke. He’s never run statewide, after all, never been on a ballot outside of El Paso County, and he’s not in the hot part of the campaign season yet.
That’s all pretty normal, but it tells you where the holes are in any early survey of this broad a pool of voters.
Or, as it turns out, non-voters. Low turnout is a perennial problem across the country, but Texas outdoes most states — in the wrong way. (Shout out to Hawaii for beating us: Thanks!)
Here’s a simple political maxim: If you don’t vote, you don’t matter.
You don’t have power until and unless you exercise it.
Protesting, marching and speaking out isn’t voting. It’s useful. Sometimes it gets people to vote. Sometimes it reminds the pinheads in the capitols in Texas and Washington, D.C., who they’re working for and that their bosses vote. But people and factions that don’t vote have no juice. Nobody cares. They’re civic toddlers: noisy, cranky and a general pain in the back. Nobody is about to hand them the car keys.
Nobody listened to the Tea Party until the 2010 elections. Up until that election, smarty-pants insiders and officeholders regarded those folks as cranks. After that election, they were recognized as essential members of the conservative movement.
They got into the game in the easiest way possible. They engaged.
Non-voters get their power when they do the boring, clerk-like chore of registering to vote, showing up to vote and voting in a way that makes people listen.
Politicians are responsive. Honest. You can tell when you try to get them to do something that crosses their masters. The only way to change what they’re doing is to master the masters: Outnumber them. The only way to do that is to go to the polls.
It’s a free country, and you don’t have to vote. Everybody has friends who can yammer at length about how little a vote is worth. Those are the people the officeholders ignore whenever they can, like a vegetarian ignores the butcher.
Nothing happens to politicians who ignore non-voters, unless they get so far off road that those people become voters. In the meantime, ignoring non-voters gives them more time to listen to the other voters and to the interest groups that might or might not have things going in the direction you’d like things to go.
The people who got into office when those folks weren’t voting would generally prefer that those folks stick to their habits — forever. They didn’t need them to get where they are, and new entries into the game are potentially threatening to their careers. Want to protect them? Stay home. Watch TV. Mind your flower bed or your video game. Nobody cares what you do if you don’t vote.
Texas Democrats have a slogan that “Texas isn’t a red state — it’s a non-voting state.” Republicans like to say people don’t vote because they’re happy with the way things are going.
It’s hard to tell, unless you look at polls that include everyone who’s registered to vote, not just those likely to do so. Among those people, in Texas, in springtime, Cruz is three percentage points ahead of O’Rourke, according to the latest Quinnipiac University Poll.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
WASHINGTON — A new poll released Wednesday suggests the U.S. Senate race between U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke is far more competitive than many political observers have initially thought.
The poll from Quinnipiac University shows the two men in a dead heat: 47 percent of registered voters in Texas support Cruz, the Republican incumbent, while 43 percent back O’Rourke, an El Paso Democrat.
That number falls within the poll’s 3.6 percent margin of error.
The poll had another ominous warning for the GOP: President Donald Trump was underwater in Texas, with 52 percent of respondents disapproving of him and 43 percent approving of his job performance.
Cruz’s favorability rating showed a polarized response: 46 percent of Texans have a favorable view of the senator while 44 percent have an unfavorable view.
O’Rourke had a positive favorability rating – 30 percent of those who responded viewed him positively while 16 percent had a negative view. This indicates a large swath of Texans do not know who he is and leaves much room for both Republicans and Democrats to define him in the coming months.
Gov. Greg Abbott had far better standing among Texans than either Cruz or Trump. Fifty-four percent of Texans approve of the job he is doing, while 33 percent do not approve.
The pollsters also surveyed Texas voters about both of the Democrats vying to face Abbott in November. Abbott leads former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez 49 percent to 41 percent. Similarly, he leads Democrat Andrew White 48 percent to 41 percent. A May 22 Democratic primary runoff will determine whether Valdez or White is the party’s nominee.
To be sure, no one poll should be taken as gospel on the state of any race. Various factors can produce an outlier result, and the sample included registered voters, which is a less-narrow field of respondents compared to likely voters.
Even so, Quinnipiac is one of the most highly regarded polling outfits in politics, in part due to its use of live interviews over cell phones and landlines.