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Ted Cruz Introduces Legislation to Keep Immigrant Families Together After They Cross the Border

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz announced emergency legislation Monday evening to keep immigrant families together after they cross the border into the United States.

The legislation follows comments Cruz made on Saturday that essentially called for more resources to adjudicate asylum claims. He also called for keeping immigrant kids with their parents as long as those adults are not associated with criminal activity.

“All Americans are rightly horrified by the images we are seeing on the news, children in tears pulled away from their mothers and fathers,” Cruz wrote in a release. “This must stop. Now. We can end this crisis by passing the legislation I am introducing this week.”

The provisions of the legislation, according to the news release, include:

  • Doubling the number of federal immigration judges, from roughly 375 to 750.
  • Authorizing new temporary shelters with accommodations to keep families together.
  • Mandating that immigrant families be kept together, absent aggravated criminal conduct or threat of harm to children.
  • Providing for expedited processing and review of asylum cases so that — within 14 days — those who meet the legal standards will be granted asylum and those who do not will be immediately returned to their home countries.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Texas’ senior senator and the second-ranking Senate Republican, said on the chamber floor earlier Monday that he, too, would introduce legislation on this front.

“It will include provisions that mitigate the problem of family separation while improving the immigration court process for unaccompanied children and families apprehended at the border,” he said. “To the greatest extent possible, families presenting at ports of entry or apprehended crossing the border illegally will be kept together while waiting for their court hearings, which will be expedited.”

Cruz and Cornyn are part of a growing number of Republican federal lawmakers who are pushing back against the Trump Administration’s recently implemented “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which has so far led to the separation of about 2,000 children from their parents at the border. House Republicans are currently reworking a compromise immigration bill that would modify — but not end — the “zero tolerance” policy, NPR reported Monday.

Cruz’s Democratic rival in his fall re-election bid, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, spent part of the weekend demonstrating near a tent city in Tornillo, outside of El Paso.

Author: ABBY LIVINGSTON – The Texas Tribune

Texas has 254 Counties. Beto O’Rourke Campaigned Against Ted Cruz in Each of Them

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.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author: DAVID YAFFE-BELLANY – The Texas Tribune

O’Rourke Says He’s “Very, very Proud of my Mom” After Ted Cruz Brings up Her Tax Fraud Case

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.

Beto O’Rourke told the El Paso Times on Wednesday that the “store made a mistake and the issue was resolved” and that he did not want to engage with Cruz’s personal attacks.

“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.

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Author: MATTHEW CHOI – The Texas Tribune

Hispanic Identity Already Shaping the Race Between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke

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 closely associated with his Hispanic identity.

The ways in which the two candidates’ unique relationships with the Hispanic community have already intersected in the high-profile race are numerous. There was Cruz’s ridiculing of O’Rourke’s first name “Beto” even though Cruz is best known by his own diminutive nickname. There was O’Rourke’s conspicuous underperformance in border counties that called into question his support among Hispanic voters. And more recently, there was O’Rourke’s request to debate Cruz twice in Spanish, though Cruz is anything but fluent in the language.

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.”

Campaign contrasts

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.

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.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz speaks at the kickoff of his 2018 re-election campaign in Stafford on April 2, 2018. Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune

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.”

Cultural credentials

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.

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke announces his bid to run for U.S. Senate while speaking to supporters in El Paso on March 31, 2017. Ivan Pierre Aguirre for The Texas Tribune

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.

Immigration debate

To Cruz’s fiercest critics, 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.

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Marijuana Legalization, War on Drugs Emerge as Issues in Race Between O’Rourke, Cruz

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.”

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Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Beto O’Rourke Wants to Debate Ted Cruz 6 Times, Including Twice in Spanish

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.”

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Author:  PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Analysis: A Poll Showing a Close Race in Texas, if Most Texans Voted

You probably saw the new Texas political survey from Quinnipiac released last week — the one that had Democrat Beto O’Rourke running just a few percentage points behind Republican Ted Cruz in this year’s U.S. Senate race.

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.

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Author: ROSS RAMSEY – The Texas Tribune

New Poll finds Race Between Ted Cruz, Beto O’Rourke “Too Close to Call”

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.

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Ted Cruz to Report Raising Less than Half of What Beto O’Rourke Raised this Year

When U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke announced his latest fundraising haul earlier this month – a stunning $6.7 million – it was widely expected to surpass what his rival, Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, brought in over the same period. Now it’s clear by how much: roughly $3.5 million.

Cruz raised $3.2 million in the first three months of this year, according to his campaign.

O’Rourke, an El Paso Democrat, did not outpace just Cruz – he posted one of the top quarterly federal fundraising hauls ever, outside of presidential campaigns. If not for O’Rourke’s large sum, Cruz’s fundraising would be considered robust for any incumbent seeking re-election.

In tallying Cruz’s numbers, his team takes into account three groups: Ted Cruz for Senate, a re-election campaign committee; the Jobs, Freedom, and Security PAC, a leadership PAC; and Ted Cruz Victory Committee, a joint fundraising committee that sends contributions to the re-election campaign and his leadership PAC. O’Rourke, who only has a single campaign account, has sworn off PAC money.

Cruz’s re-election campaign fund alone raised $2.7 million. The rest of the $3.2 million was raised via his leadership PAC and his joint fundraising committee. Cruz’s campaign will report having $8.2 million on hand across all three groups. Late Friday, O’Rourke’s campaign announced it “now has more than $8 million on hand.”

Since his plans to vacate his U.S. House seat in a bid to unseat Cruz a year ago, O’Rourke has frequently outpaced Cruz on the hard-dollar fundraising front. But Cruz also has a network of aligned groups that will spend on his behalf in the race.

He is also expected to have massive super PAC support in the fall. O’Rourke, meanwhile, has publicly asked super PACs to not help him in the race.

Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994. But O’Rourke’s campaign has excited Democrats around the country, in part due to his ability to draw large crowds around Texas, including in some conservative strongholds.

Yet the enthusiasm behind O’Rourke’s bid remains perplexing to some national political observers. While repeatedly outraising an incumbent helps a challenger signal that their campaign in viable, most political insiders say privately if not publicly that Cruz remains in a strong position to win re-election.

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Beto O’Rourke: Ted Cruz and Donald Trump “Want you to be afraid of Mexicans”

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, lit into U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and President Donald Trump during an interview in Waco on Tuesday, suggesting the two Republicans were inciting fear in Texas voters.

“Let me tell you what the president and our junior senator are doing right now,” he said at an event hosted by The Texas Tribune. O’Rourke was being interviewed by the Tribune’s CEO, Evan Smith. “They want you to be afraid of Mexicans. When they call them rapists and criminals, and say only a wall will keep them out.”

O’Rourke is challenging Cruz in the November election. During the interview, he often referred to Cruz as “our junior senator,” rather than by name. And he criticized Cruz and Trump on their positions regarding LGBT people.

“And that … is bullshit, and we’ve got to be bigger and stronger and more courageous than that,” he added. “And I know that we are. I know that we are.”

Cruz responded on Twitter later Tuesday: “Liberal Dems — like Hillary and @BetoORourke — say anyone who wants to secure the border and end sanctuary cities must be a bigot and ‘hate Mexicans.’ That’s a nasty insult directed at millions of Texans who welcome legal immigrants (like my Dad), but also respect rule of law.”

The remarks come the same day O’Rourke’s campaign said it raised $6.7 millionin the first quarter of 2018. He said 70 percent of that money was raised within the state. Cruz has yet to release his fundraising haul for the same time period.

At the same time, O’Rourke addressed criticism that he failed to consolidate Democratic support on the March 6 primary, when he lost more than a handful of counties to underfunded challengers.

“We finished 38 points ahead of the closest finisher,” he said. “Many in Texas, perhaps most, still did not at that point — maybe still do not today — know who I am, and that’s on me to do.”

He then stressed that he spent a great deal of time away from the state’s Democratic strongholds, courting votes in conservative and rural bastions.

“The strategy leading up to the March 6 primary was really a much longer strategy leading up to the November 6 general election,” he added. “You will see me far more often in the border than you have seen me so far.”

On the issue of guns, O’Rourke said he does not own firearms, but does not “want to take anyone’s guns” or repeal the Second Amendment.

“In the five-and-a-half years I’ve been in Congress, we’ve had precisely zero debates on gun safety as tens of thousands of our fellow Americans are killed every year in gun violence,” he said.

“We still don’t have universal background checks, so millions of gun sales are going through without any background check whatsoever right now — even though we know that, in those states that have adopted them, we see a 50 percent reduction in gun violence against an intimate partner.”

As for the tax rate, O’Rourke said that the country is in need of infrastructure investments, particularly in broadband internet to rural regions, and that tax hikes might be needed.

“I think for some, the very wealthiest among us, for corporations, taxes are too low,” he said. “I don’t think they need to be raised back to where they were necessarily.”

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Beto O’Rourke Says he Raised Staggering $6.7M in First Quarter of 2018

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, raised over $6.7 million for his U.S. Senate bid in the first quarter of 2018, according to his campaign, a staggering number that poses a new category of threat to Republican incumbent Ted Cruz.

The haul is easily O’Rourke’s biggest fundraising quarter yet, more than double his next-closest total for a three-month period. It also is more than any Democratic Senate candidate nationwide took in last quarter, O’Rourke’s campaign said.

Cruz has not released his first-quarter fundraising numbers yet, but O’Rourke’s $6.7 million total is on a different level than his previous hauls, which ranged from $1.7 million to $2.4 million. Those alone were good enough to outraise Cruz for three of the last four reporting periods.

Furthermore, the $6.7 million total came from more than 141,000 contributions — another record-busting number for O’Rourke.

“Campaigning in a grassroots fashion while raising more than $6.7 million from 141,000 contributions, we are the story of a campaign powered by people who are standing up to special interests, proving that we are more than a match and making it clear that Texans are willing to do exactly what our state and country need of us at this critical time,” O’Rourke said in a statement.

O’Rourke’s campaign released the fundraising statistics Tuesday morning ahead of the April 15 deadline to report it to the Federal Election Commission. Cruz has not offered any numbers for the full quarter, though he disclosed raising $803,000 through the first 45 days of the year — a fraction of O’Rourke’s $2.3 million for the same timeframe.

On Tuesday morning, O’Rourke’s team did not volunteer its cash-on-hand figure, but the $6.7 million raised is likely to go a long way toward closing his deficit with Cruz in money to spend. As of mid-February, O’Rourke had $4.9 million in the bank to Cruz’s $6 million.

O’Rourke unveiled the $6.7 million figure on the second day of a three-day, 12-city trip by Cruz to mark the official start of his re-election campaign. O’Rourke is also hitting the road — he plans to hold town halls in 15 cities over the next six days.

Author:  PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

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With New “Tough as Texas” Slogan, Ted Cruz Launches Re-election Bid Emphasizing Harvey Recovery

STAFFORD — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, formally began his re-election campaign Monday, hitting the road extolling Lone Star State exceptionalism — especially in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

It was an ostensibly unifying message that complemented Cruz’s new campaign slogan — “Tough as Texas” — and punctuated a period of home-state re-engagement following his unsuccessful 2016 presidential campaign. Still, as his second-term bid got underway Monday, there were abounding signs that the Cruz Texas elected in 2012 — conservative insurgent, political provocateur — is not about to tone it down.

At his first stop of the day in Beaumont — and later at a boisterous rally here — Cruz segued from lengthy recollections of Texan heroics to blunt warnings about a dangerous Democratic vision for the country on the line in November. Before Cruz spoke here, supporters were shown a tongue-in-cheek ad depicting the consequences of Republicans staying home this fall, complete with news anchors talking of new Democratic majorities impeaching President Donald Trump and over a million undocumented immigrants suddenly being granted citizenship.

When Cruz took the stage, he spent a good chunk of his remarks recognizing a few heroic figures in attendance — people like Stephen Willeford, who sprang into action amid the church massacre last year in Sutherland Springs and helped take down the gunman by opening fire on him with his own gun.

“That’s Texas,” Cruz said after ticking through their acts of bravery. “Texas is strong, Texas is independent, Texas is fearless, Texas is free, Texas loves freedom and Texas is tough.”

“We don’t sit around waiting for some other guy to fix the problem,” Cruz added. “Texans step in and git ‘er done.”

The rally at the Redneck Country Club outside Houston — a favorite haunt of Cruz loyalists — came at the end of the first day of a 12-city tour the senator is making across the state through Wednesday. He started it Monday morning in Beaumont with an event billed as specifically about Texas’ resilience following Harvey, which battered the Gulf Coast last fall.

Cruz is revving up his campaign almost a year to the day after U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, launched his underdog effort to unseat the incumbent. O’Rourke has since proven to be a relentless campaigner and strong fundraiser, though Cruz largely ignored him until last month, when he began tearing into his challenger as ideologically out of step with the red state.

Cruz did not mention O’Rourke in his remarks to a crowd of about 100 people gathered at an airport firehouse for the Beaumont stop. Neither did he to the Redneck Country Club crowd — an audience so enthused that some members had encouraged Cruz to crowd surf after one particularly well-received applause line.

But at each place, Cruz spoke of a crystal-clear choice in November and alluded to what’s quickly become his favorite area of contrast with O’Rourke — gun rights — while discussing the recent call by former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens to repeal the Second Amendment.

“Now here’s a dirty little secret: There are an awful lot of Democrats in Washington who long in their heart for the repeal of the Second Amendment,” Cruz said in Beaumont, adding here, “They’re just not as brave or truthful or candid enough to admit it.”

Speaking with the media after his Beaumont appearance, Cruz said a “great question for enterprising reporters” to ask O’Rourke would be if he agrees with Stevens. O’Rourke has spoken favorably of Texas’ long tradition of gun ownership but argued certain commonsense steps can be taken to prevent senseless violence, such as instituting universal background checks and banning the AR-15 rifle. The latter proposal has particularly drawn the ire of Cruz, who reminded reporters Monday that his opponent has bragged about getting an “F” rating from the National Rifle Association — “an extreme position, even within Washington Democrats.”

O’Rourke’s campaign was not letting Cruz’s statewide swing go unanswered. It posted a Snapchat filter in Beaumont that allowed users of the app in the area to layer a cartoon of a frowning Cruz atop their posts. The filter also included a jab at Cruz’s White House bid, which O’Rourke has said distracted Cruz from representing Texas for much of his first term.

“Ted Cruz visited 99 of Iowa’s 99 counties,” the filter said. “When’s the last time he listened to Texans in Beaumont?”

Cruz fired back on Twitter, contrasting the number of recent visits he has made to Beaumont with O’Rourke’s apparent tally. “Maybe that’s why you lost Jefferson County in the Dem primary,” Cruz said to O’Rourke, who promptly respondedwith a photo of him helping out in Beaumont after Harvey.

The sniping was a far cry from most of the last year, when Cruz largely declined to mix it up with his challenger. That changed as both men secured their party’s nominations in the March 6 primaries, and Cruz abruptly switched to offense, painting O’Rourke as too liberal for Texas. The strategic shift included a radio-ad jingle taunting O’Rourke, set to the tune of Alabama’s “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas.”

“If you’re gonna run in Texas,” the jingle goes, “you can’t be a liberal man.”

While Cruz did not mention O’Rourke on the stump Monday, the hometown rally here offered a not-so-subtle reminder.

The song Cruz walked out to? Alabama’s “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas.”

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Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Analysis: Why Texas Republicans Hope 2018 Won’t be Like 1990

Unpopular presidents regularly get their parties clobbered in mid-term elections, but Texas Republicans have a couple of layers of political insulation. Donald Trump is still popular with the party’s voters, and Texas Democrats would have to have an unusually strong year to win big even if there’s a Trump slump in 2018.

When Texas Republicans won the last round of state elections in 2014, the margins of victory were almost as important as the victories themselves.

In contested statewide races, the average Republican candidate finished 13 percentage points ahead of the average Democrat.

To win in an environment like that, a Democrat would have to outperform the rest of his or her ticket by a huge margin.

Of course, some Democrats won, but not statewide and not in districts that performed like the rest of the state. Those who won did so in districts drawn to favor Democrats, or more accurately, in districts where Republicans couldn’t legally configure the maps to favor their own candidates.

There are a number of congressional and legislative districts in Texas where Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in 2016. National apparatchiks from both parties have their eyes on U.S. Reps. John Culberson of Houston, Will Hurd of Helotes and Pete Sessions of Dallas — Republicans seeking reelection where Trump was weak.

That’s interesting, but so is this: In Culberson’s district in 2014, Republican Greg Abbott beat Democrat Wendy Davis by 21.8 percentage points. The spread in Hurd’s district was 13.8 percent; below the state average of 20.4 percentage points, but still formidable. In Sessions’ district, Abbott beat the Democrat by 15.8 percent.

Texas Democrats and their candidates weren’t completely responsible for that performance; they were running against the political winds in a mid-term election during the Obama administration. If you flip the logic, lots of Democrats are hoping Trump will do for Republican contestants what Obama did for his.

In that sense, 2018 potentially provides a clean test of where the parties stand. Texas voted against Obama twice, and thumped his side in both of his midterm elections. And Texas was relatively kind to George W. Bush, the Texas president who preceded him.

Trump’s a break from all of that. Still, Texas Democrats have a lot to overcome, and doing that will require locating a standard-bearer to run well enough against the Republicans to attract voters to the polls.

What they’re hoping for is something like the 1990 election, which was a big break for Republicans, who pinned their hopes that year on Midland oilman Clayton Williams Jr. He lost, famously, to Democrat Ann Richards. But U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm won reelection and the Williams-Richards race was close enough to get a couple of down-ballot Republicans — Kay Bailey Hutchison and Rick Perry— past their Democratic rivals.

Those two wins — Hutchison as state treasurer and Perry as agriculture commissioner — were key to the eventual Republican takeover of Texas state government.

The loudest part of the election was the governor’s race, but the wins came elsewhere on the ballot.

Texas Democrats haven’t been able to put that formula together. They’ve certainly tried, running South Texas oilman Tony Sanchez Jr. against Perry in 2002, former Houston Mayor Bill White against him in 2010 (the year Perry beat Hutchison in a GOP primary) and Davis in 2014. The odd year out was noisy enough, with Perry facing Democrat Chris Bell and independents Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman in 2006.

None of those races got any other statewide Democrats close enough to snag a victory. But this kind of thinking is what has so many eyes on the race for U.S. Senate between incumbent Republican Ted Cruz and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, a congressman from El Paso. It’s the statewide race getting the most attention to date, both inside and outside of Texas. Cruz, after an unsuccessful run for president and an attention-seeking first term in the Senate, is a national figure. He remains popular with Texas Republicans and unpopular with the state’s Democrats — a perfect figurehead for a big political race.

O’Rourke has never run statewide, but has put together a voter-charming road-trip candidacy that has generated a lot of attention, news coverage and small donations to his campaign. It’s got a lot in common with the campaign Cruz ran as an upstart candidate in 2012.

It’ll be interesting and, perhaps, competitive. Maybe the president’s ratings will have an effect. And the rest of the people on this year’s ballot — no matter their party — will have something more than a sporting interest in the outcome.

The other Republicans on the ticket don’t want to end up like Jim Hightower or Nikki Van Hightower, the losers in those two 1990 upsets.

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Author: ROSS RAMSEY – The Texas Tribune

Report: O’Rourke Stomps Cruz in Latest Round of Fundraising

DALLAS — U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, an El Paso Democrat, once again reported raising more money than Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in what is shaping up to be an intense general election matchup, according to a campaign finance report obtained by the Dallas Morning News.

Over the first 45 days of 2018, O’Rourke raised $2.3 million — almost three times more than Cruz’s $800,000.

O’Rourke spent $2 million, while Cruz spent $1.2 million. The Morning News further reported a narrowing cash-on-hand gap: O’Rourke reported $4.9 million in cash on hand, compared to Cruz’s $6 million.

O’Rourke announced the reported numbers to a cheering crowd at a Friday night town hall in Dallas.

The Cruz campaign responded to O’Rourke’s fundraising advantage for the period by highlighting a trip that U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., made to Houston last month to raise money for several Senate candidates, including O’Rourke.

“Chuck Schumer did a great job — he came to Texas early in the year and got national liberals really excited about the chance to elect a pro-amnesty, anti-gun, pro-big government liberal to represent Texas,” Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said in a statement. “We don’t believe that’s the direction Texans want and are confident this will energize them to ensure they turn out to vote for someone who wants to keep taxes low, keep repealing regulations including Obamacare, and uphold the Texas values that have made and kept our state strong.”

Twelve days before Election Day, federal candidates are required to submit to the Federal Election Commission campaign finance reports. These records capture fundraising and spending activity between Jan. 1 and Feb. 14. O’Rourke released his fundraising numbers a week ago.

While this is a sign of momentum for O’Rourke, it’s worth considering that this race, in a state as big and expensive as Texas, could cost into the tens of millions. Moreover, Cruz is likely to have a deep well of super PAC money to help him in the fall, while O’Rourke early on in his campaign pledged to not accept corporate political action committee money.

But the margin does indicate that the Democrat is running a viable campaign, is picking up momentum and has strong supporter enthusiasm.

Both men are expected to easily win their party primaries on March 6.

Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.

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Author: ABBY LIVINGSTON – The Texas Tribune

Cruz Braces Texas GOP for Volatile Election Season Amid Democratic Enthusiasm

NEW BRAUNFELS — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is preparing Texas Republicans for a turbulent election year amid super-charged Democratic enthusiasm — including in his own re-election campaign.

Traveling the state for GOP events this weekend, Cruz portrayed an uncertain midterm environment that could go down as disastrous for Republicans if they don’t work to counteract Democratic energy throughout the country.

Cruz has spent previous election cycles airing similar warnings against GOP complacency in ruby-red Texas, but this time it hits much closer to home for him — he is facing a well-funded re-election challenge from U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso.

Addressing the Fort Bend County GOP on Friday night, Cruz warned of an “incredible volatility in politics right now,” calling Democrats “stark-raving nuts” in their opposition to Trump. He pointed to Trump’s recent State of the Union address and Democrats’ reluctance to applaud, saying the scene “underscores the political risk in November.”

“Let me tell you right now: The left is going to show up,” Cruz said, delivering the keynote address at the party’s Lincoln Reagan Dinner. “They will crawl over broken glass in November to vote.”

Cruz is feeling the heat in his own bid for a second term. O’Rourke, who has sworn off money from political action committees, outraised Cruz in the last three months of 2017, $2.4 million to $1.9 million. It was the second quarter in which O’Rourke’s haul was bigger than that of Cruz, who still maintains a healthy cash-on-hand advantage.

Speaking with reporters here Saturday afternoon, Cruz said he was “absolutely” prepared for his re-election campaign but also acknowledged O’Rourke’s fundraising prowess.

“It’s true my Democratic opponent is raising a lot of money,” Cruz said. “We’re not going to take it for granted. That’s a manifestation of the energy on the extreme left.”

Cruz spoke with reporters after headlining a rally for his former chief of staff, Chip Roy, who is running to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio. Roy — one of 18 GOP candidates in that race — started off his remarks at the rally not by discussing his congressional bid but by issuing his own warning about the Democratic push to flip red seats this year, saying it’s “real — it’s a real effort.”

“I want to talk about my election in just a minute — but we’ve got to send Sen. Cruz back with a mandate,” Roy said. “There’s nothing more than the left and frankly the establishment — on both side of the aisle in Washington, D.C. — would like more than to try to bloody up Sen. Cruz after what he has done over the last six years.”

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Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune