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Home | Tag Archives: ted cruz

Tag Archives: ted cruz

Cruz, O’Rourke Agree to 3 Debates

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and his Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, have agreed to three debates before Election Day.

Announced Friday by both campaigns, the schedule calls for debates Sept. 21 in Dallas, Sept. 30 in Houston and Oct. 16 in San Antonio. Each event will be an hour long and vary in topic and format:

  • Dallas: Domestic policy, moderated
  • Houston: Domestic policy, “town hall style”
  • San Antonio: Half domestic policy, half foreign policy; moderated

The Dallas debate will be at Southern Methodist University, the Houston debate will be at the University of Houston and the San Antonio debate will be at a studio there.

The announcement caps a debate over debates that began in May when O’Rourke proposed six debates with Cruz, two in Spanish. Cruz, who is not fluent in the language, quickly shot down that idea and maintained he was open to debating O’Rourke but wanted to wait until closer to Election Day to talk debate details and lock in a schedule.

In July, Cruz formally responded to O’Rourke’s debate challenge, proposing five topical debates over three months in five cities. O’Rourke took issue with several aspects of Cruz’s counter-offer, including the fact all the debates would be on Friday evenings during high school football season. O’Rourke also asked Cruz if they could add a sixth debate in O’Rourke’s hometown of El Paso, and Cruz offered to swap out one of the five cities in his plan for El Paso.

While the schedule announced Friday does not feature a debate in El Paso, it does include days that are not Friday. The Dallas debate falls on a Friday, but the ones in Houston and San Antonio are on a Sunday and Tuesday, respectively.

For weeks, the two campaigns had appeared to be at a stalemate. Seeking to force O’Rourke’s hand, Cruz accepted an invitation from two Dallas media outlets to debate O’Rourke on Aug. 31 in that city — which had been part of Cruz’s proposed schedule — but O’Rourke declined to follow suit, citing continued problems with the debate negotiations. More recently, Cruz expressed doubt that debates would even happen with the two sides at loggerheads and the clock ticking until Election Day.

Early voting begins Oct. 22.

Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Report: Trump official says U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz Could Lose to U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke

President Donald Trump’s budget chief said Saturday that Republican U.S. Sen Ted Cruz could lose his seat in the November elections, suggesting that he is not likable enough, The New York Times reported.

According to the Times report, Mick Mulvaney, the leader of the Office of Management and Budget and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said at a closed-door meeting with Republican donors in New York City that he did not believe in the existence of a “blue wave” of Democrats overtaking many Republican-held seats but that Cruz may be in trouble.

“There’s a very real possibility we will win a race for Senate in Florida and lose a race in Texas for Senate, O.K.?” Mulvaney said, according to an audio recording of the meeting obtained by the Times. “I don’t think it’s likely, but it’s a possibility. How likable is a candidate? That still counts.”

Cruz, who’s held the Senate seat since 2013, is facing U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat, in the November election. O’Rourke has outraised Cruz so far, and recent polls have put the two almost neck and neck.

To further his point on a candidate’s likability, Mulvaney mentioned last year’s special election for Senate in Alabama, when Republican Roy Moore, a former judge accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls, lost to his Democratic opponent.

The story on Mulvaney’s comments was published while Cruz was holding a campaign event in Humble. Speaking with reporters afterward, he said he had not seen the articles yet and thus did not have an immediate comment.

Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.

Author: JOLIE MCCULLOUGH – The Texas Tribune

Cruz Allies Take Aim at O’Rourke Over Eminent Domain, Father-in-Law

Allies of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, are targeting his Democratic opponent, Beto O’Rourke, in a new TV ad over his support on the El Paso City Council for a plan to redevelop downtown El Paso that raised the threat of eminent domain.

The plan never went that far but fueled a contentious chapter in El Paso politics starting over a decade ago. The new TV ad from the Club for Growth — a national conservative group that recently announced a seven-figure offensive in the race — portrays O’Rourke as a puppet of wealthy developers who pushed the project, including his father-in-law, Bill Sanders.

“El Paso’s rich and powerful stay that way by controlling politicians like Beto O’Rourke,” a narrator says in the 30-second spot. “As a councilman, Beto carried water for his wealthy father-in-law, the developer behind a downtown redevelopment scheme, pushing the city to bulldoze an historic Hispanic neighborhood using eminent domain.”

The ad goes on to refer to eminent domain as a “government wrecking ball” and ends by tagging O’Rourke as “Beto the Bully.”

The O’Rourke campaign did not have an immediate comment on the ad.

Titled “Bulldozer,” the spot starts airing Tuesday in San Antonio, and the Club for Growth plans to also run it in Dallas and Houston in the coming weeks. The group’s super PAC arm, Club for Growth Action, is spending $200,000 on the ad for now.The commercial is part of an at least $1 million investment in the race that the organization announced last month, seeing a tightening race between O’Rourke and Cruz, on whom it spent lavishly in 2012.

The Club for Growth commercial involves an episode that has come up in O’Rourke’s previous races for City Council and Congress but not in the Senate contest until recently. The downtown revitalization plan was introduced in March 2006 by the Paso Del Norte Group —a private organization made up of regional business elite including Sanders — and would have impacted the historic Mexican-American neighborhood of Segundo Barrio.

While eminent domain was never used in conjunction with the project, the specter of it was controversial from the start. O’Rourke was among those on the council who at least initially wanted to preserve the option of eminent domain as a last resort and, for example, helped defeat a June 2006 motion to rule it out. A month later, as public concerns were growing about the plan, the council — including O’Rourke — voted to ban the use of eminent domain during the first year of the project.

Sanders initially said in April 2006 that he would not invest in the project to avoid creating an ethical dilemma for his son-in-law, according to El Paso Times articles from the time. Later in the year, however, he decided to invest in the plan after all, citing encouragement he received from then-Mayor John Cook, and promised any dividends would go to a downtown nonprofit.

O’Rourke appeared to cite that promise in denying there was any conflict of interest. Sanders “cannot profit from this plan, nor can I, nor can any member of my family,” O’Rourke wrote in an email to the Texas Observer for a 2007 story on the project titled, “Eminent Disaster.”

Still, opponents of the plan hounded O’Rourke as the council grappled with the issue in 2006. There was the threat of a recall petition — the signatures were never turned in — and two ethics complaints filed against O’Rourke, both of which were ultimately dismissed, the El Paso Times reported.

O’Rourke went on to easily win re-election the council in 2007, defeating a challenger who had made the project an issue. It came up again in his successful 2012 bid to defeat then-U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, whose campaign raised the potential destruction of Segundo Barrio homes in an attack ad against O’Rourke.

By the end of the decade, the plan — at least as initially conceived — had lost steam. The issue was further complicated in 2009 when Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment tightening eminent domain rules in the state.

In O’Rourke’s race against Cruz, the line of attack involving eminent domain is relatively new. Before Tuesday’s ad, it was only included on a long list of O’Rourke hits featured on a website launched last week by Texans Are, the other pro-Cruz super PAC.

On the campaign trail, O’Rourke often talks about eminent domain in the context of his opposition to President Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last year, O’Rourke introduced a bill to ban eminent domain for the purpose of the wall.

Cruz supports the wall, though he does not talk much about the use of eminent domain to construct it. Some other top Texas Republicans, such as Attorney General Ken Paxtonhave said they are OK with eminent domain for the wall.

Another super PAC, Texans Are, is also planning to spend into the seven figures on the race and its first TV ads are also set to hit the air Tuesday. One of them, seen on air in San Antonio, attacks O’Rourke over his record on border security and immigration.

“Lawless borders, reckless politician — that’s Beto O’Rourke,” a narrator says in the 30-second spot.

Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Cruz Says O’Rourke Voted Against Harvey Tax Breaks; O’Rourke Says There’s More to The Story

A new attack ad from U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s Senate campaign knocks U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, for voting against tax relief for Hurricane Harvey victims last year.

While the vote did happen, the bill was part of broader negotiations that O’Rourke said at the time prompted his vote against it.

Here’s a deeper look at the bill at the center of Cruz’s attack and O’Rourke’s defense of his “no” vote.

Cruz’s attack

The 30-second spot called “Completely Ridiculous” is currently only available online. It opens with rescue footage and shots of Cruz meeting with storm victims, while highlighting Cruz’s support in the U.S. Senate for disaster relief funding and emergency tax relief for Harvey victims.

The ad then hits O’Rourke for voting against the tax relief measure.

“Congressman Beto O’Rourke? So irresponsible that he even voted against Hurricane Harvey tax relief,” the narrator says.

O’Rourke’s defense

Almost immediately after casting his vote against that bill last year, O’Rourke began defending his decision. The bill, which was later signed into law, allowed Harvey victims to receive tax deductions on personal losses from the storm and reduced penalties for withdrawing funds from retirement accounts to cover storm-related costs. But it was a sprawling piece of legislation that also included a reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration and other small health care programs.

In a post on Medium at the time, O’Rourke said he couldn’t support the bill because it didn’t include funding reauthorization for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Community Health Centers (CHC), which were both set to expire within days of the vote.

“Without returning this legislation for further improvement, I am not confident Congress would have reauthorized these programs,” he wrote.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday after an event in Austin, O’Rourke noted that he had “voted for more than $90 billion in aid for Hurricane Harvey victims” while in Congress. But the bill Cruz is highlighting in his latest ad was not a good deal for those victims, O’Rourke said.

“As you know, that tax break was a fraction of what was afforded to those who were recovering from Superstorm Sandy in the Northeast,” O’Rourke said. “That tax break was included in FAA reauthorization that failed to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program upon which hundreds of thousands of Texas children and families depend. And so we were there for those hit by Harvey, but we were also there for those kids who need to make sure they can receive that medication, see a therapist, get to a doctor – because it’ll literally make a life-or-death difference for them.”

Though O’Rourke claims Sandy victims received bigger tax breaks than those proposed for Harvey victims in this bill, Sandy victims did not get any such federal tax breaks, according to Politifact Texas and NBC News.

Cruz highlighted and mocked O’Rourke’s claim regarding Sandy victims Wednesday evening. On Thursday, O’Rourke’s campaign acknowledged he had misspoken in referencing Superstorm Sandy – both in his blog post at the time of the vote and this week speaking to reporters. A spokesman for the El Paso Democrat said O’Rourke meant to say that the tax breaks offered to Harvey victims were less generous than those offered to victims of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

More context

The relief package at issue came to the House floor just two months after Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare failed. At the time, federal health care programs were again in the spotlight as the end of the government’s fiscal year loomed and key health programs were up against a deadline to be reauthorized. Senate Republicans were also making a last-ditch effort to repeal Obamacare while Democrats in the House and Senate were pushing for the renewal of CHIP and CHC funding, all just days before the end of the fiscal year.

“The recent debate on health care in our country has only reinforced the need for quality, affordable care,” O’Rourke wrote at the time. “That simply will not be possible without these two programs that so many children and families in El Paso rely on.”

After an initial House vote on the bill failed, it passed on a second try on a 264-155 vote. All Texas Republicans and most Texas Democrats voted in favor of the measure. Four Texas Democrats voted against it, including O’Rourke. U.S. Reps. Sam Johnson, R-Richardson, and Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, didn’t vote.

Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.

Author: ANDREW EVERSDEN – The Texas Tribune

Beto O’Rourke’s NFL Comments Have Gone Viral. Here’s How it Can Impact his Texas Race

Since 2016, Texas Republicans have been spoiling for a fight over NFL players protesting during the national anthem, confident they have a winning issue on their hands — or at least one that will fire up their voters.

That fight has now arrived in the state’s 2018 U.S. Senate race.

A video of the Democratic nominee, Beto O’Rourke, recently voicing support for the protests has gone viral, earning hundreds of thousands of social media shares and garnering praise from Hollywood celebrities and professional athletes. The Republican incumbent, Ted Cruz, and his allies have seized on O’Rourke’s position to press their long-running argument that despite the national fanfare, O’Rourke is out of step with the Texans who will actually decide the election.

There has not been any recent public polling in Texas gauging support specifically for the protests, which participating players have said are meant to bring attention to police brutality and racial injustice in the United States. But multiple University of Texas/Texas Tribune polls have provided some indications about how Texans feel about the controversy.

  • In June, with the debate over the player protests still raging, a UT/TT survey discovered a plurality of voters — 47 percent — had an unfavorable opinion of the NFL, vs. 26 percent who felt favorably about the league.
  • In October 2017, as President Donald Trump was sharply criticizing players over the protests, a UT/TT poll found more Texas voters disapproved of Trump’s handling of the situation than approved of it, 50 percent to 40 percent.
  • In October 2016, as the protests were beginning to gain attention, a UT/TT poll found that the Black Lives Matter movement, which is largely allied with the protesting players, had a poor image in Texas, with voters having an unfavorable view of it by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.

In a blog post Wednesday, UT/TT pollster Jim Henson suggested the numbers show O’Rourke’s position is anything but a clear-cut political winner in Texas.

“While it’s too soon to judge O’Rourke’s national prospects — despite the natural eagerness to discover the Next Big Thing — the response on Political Twitter illustrates that in moments like his Houston comments (and many others on a growing list), O’Rourke looks a lot like a national Democratic candidate,” Henson wrote. “Relevant attitudes in Texas, however, suggest that he still has a rough schedule to get through before he graduates to the pros.”

The political fervor over the national players protests is nothing new for top Texas Republicans, who have seized on them to varying degrees since they began in 2016. Cruz has been especially vocal, bashing the protesting players last year as “rich, spoiled athletes disrespecting the flag.”

The saga in the Senate race began Aug. 10 at an O’Rourke town hall in Houston, where the candidate fielded a question from a man who said he came from a family of veterans and found it “incredibly frustrating that people seem to be OK with” the player protests. The man asked O’Rourke: Do you find it disrespectful?

“My short answer is no, I don’t think it’s disrespectful,” O’Rourke replied, offering a preface before giving his long answer: “Reasonable people can disagree on this issue — let’s begin there — and it makes them no less American to come down on a different conclusion on this issue.”

O’Rourke went on to offer a lengthy recollection of civil rights struggles in the United States, the sacrifices Americans have made for those rights and the more recent national conversation surrounding police shootings of unarmed black men.

“And so nonviolently, peacefully, while the eyes of this country are watching these games, they take a knee to bring our attention and our focus to this problem to ensure that we fix it,” O’Rourke concluded. “That is why they are doing it, and I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up or take a knee for your rights anytime, anywhere, anyplace.”

The next weekend at a campaign stop in Corpus Christi, Cruz brought up O’Rourke’s comments while responding to a question about respect for police.

“[O’Rourke] gave a long, long answer that ended with, he quote ‘couldn’t think of anything more American’ than kneeling to protest the national anthem,” Cruz said, recalling the patriotism he said he saw during a recent tour of Texas military bases. “The contrast of every person there having that respect — you know, when Beto O’Rourke says he can’t think of anything more American, I’ve got to admit — I can. Those soldiers, those sailors, those airmen, those Marines, who fought and bled to protect the flag — yeah, that’s something more American.”

The issue appear to cool off for a few days — until Tuesday afternoon, when the website NowThisNews tweeted the video of O’Rourke’s comments, set to dramatic music and accompanied by a caption saying O’Rourke “brilliantly explains why NFL players kneeling during the anthem is not disrespectful.” The tweet quickly racked up over 100,000 retweets and got the attention of people like talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who told O’Rourke she would like to meet him, and LeBron James, who called the video a “must watch” and praised O’Rourke for his “candid thoughtful words.”

With the video ricocheting around the internet, O’Rourke continued to tackle the issue Wednesday evening at a town hall in Texas City, where the first question he got was about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. O’Rourke gave an answer that echoed his initial one, not backing away from the assertion that there was a patriotic quality to the protests.

“To peacefully, without violence, call attention to problems that we have going on in this country, so that our conscience, our eyes, our focus, are directed on those who otherwise might not have a voice … I think that is something uniquely American,” O’Rourke said.

Meanwhile, Texas Republicans continued to show Thursday morning they are happy to have the debate over kneeling during the anthem, with Cruz firing off a tweet mocking actor Kevin Bacon’s embrace of the viral video. A short time later, state party Chairman James Dickey issuing a statement calling O’Rourke’s definition of American “utterly flawed” and his comments a “slap in the face” to veterans. The episode, Dickey added, “further demonstrates [O’Rourke’s] failure to comprehend the values held by the voters of Texas while he runs tenaciously farther and farther to the left every day.”

O’Rourke clearly sees some political upside to the episode as well. As of Thursday, his campaign was running Facebook ads highlighting his viral comments on the player protests. Meanwhile, an O’Rourke campaign stop Thursday afternoon in Houston featured a surprise guest: Arian Foster, the former Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins running back who kneeled during the anthem in 2016.

Disclosure: The University of Texas 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.

Author:  PATRICK SVITEK –  The Texas Tribune

Ted Cruz Leads Beto O’Rourke by 4 points, According to NBC/Marist Poll

Just as the fall television ad wars are about to begin, a new NBC News/Marist pollof Texas registered voters shows a tight U.S. Senate race between U.S. Ted Cruzand U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso.

In a head-to-head match up, Cruz held a 4-point lead over O’Rourke. Forty-nine percent of respondents backed Cruz, compared to 45 percent who supported O’Rourke.

Six percent of respondents remain undecided. The poll has a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points.

Cruz has maintained a fairly strong favorability rating, with 49 percent of those surveyed viewing him favorably and 41 percent viewing him unfavorably.

O’Rourke is far more unknown. Forty-one percent of respondents viewed him favorably while 23 percent of those surveyed had an unfavorable view. Thirty-six percent were either unsure of their opinion of O’Rourke or hadn’t heard of him.

That there are so many remaining Texans who do not know who O’Rourke is suggests his television ad campaign strategy will be critical: He either has room to grow his support or room for Cruz’s campaign to negatively define him.

The poll also showed Texas Gov. Greg Abbott with a daunting 19-point lead over former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, similar to other public polling of the race.

Additionally, President Donald Trump is just above water in the state: 47 percent of registered voters approve of his job performance, against a 45 percent disapproval rating.

This was a live telephone poll conducted between Aug. 12 and 16. The poll was conducted prior to Tuesday, when Trump’s former longtime attorney and former campaign chairman were separately declared guilty of various crimes.

Author: ABBY LIVINGSTON –  The Texas Tribune

With O’Rourke Gaining Momentum, Cruz’s November Alarm Hits New Volume

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 and a 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 Saturday came 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 in the 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.”

Sydney Greene contributed to this report.

Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Cruz Releases First TV Ads of Re-election Bid, Including 2 Attacking O’Rourke

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.

Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Ted Cruz Leads Beto O’Rourke 49-43 in Quinnipiac Poll

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.

Author: ALEX SAMUELS – The Texas Tribune

Ted Cruz Proposes 5 Debates with Beto O’Rourke in U.S. Senate Race

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.”

Author: PATRICK SVITEK –  The Texas Tribune

Justice Kennedy’s Retirement Won’t Just Shape U.S. Supreme Court; It Could Also Reshape Texas Senate Race

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 two Texans’ 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 later argued 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 spokesman Chris 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 country are 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.

Author: CLAIRE PARKER – The Texas Tribune

Texas’ Sens. Cruz, Cornyn Likely to Play Big Roles in Picking Justice Anthony Kennedy’s Replacement

WASHINGTON – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement on Wednesday, setting off what could be one of the most contentious judicial confirmation battles in American history.

Kennedy is known as the swing vote on the high court, meaning that a conservative replacement could shift the body to the right for a generation. That could have huge implications for cases expected to make their way to the Supreme Court in coming years, including battles over the rights of businesses to make “religious refusals,” a reckoning over the issue of partisan gerrymandering and new restrictions on the right to abortion — all issues that would reverberate loudly in Texas.

The retirement is also a likely advantage for Texas in several lawsuits against the federal government currently winding their way through the federal courts system, including a case that aims to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and another challenge to the Affordable Care Act.

Both Texas senators, Republicans John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee and are all but certain to play central roles in the questioning of whoever President Donald Trump nominates to replace Kennedy.

In a Fox News interview Wednesday, Cruz praised the moment as “an historic day.”

“What the Gorsuch pick did at the very best was maintain the status quo,” Cruz said. “The Justice Kennedy vacancy, on the other hand, is an opportunity to really have a profound impact on the court that could last for decades.”

Democrats, who are still bitter that U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow a vote for the previous open seat during the Obama administration, should be expected to fight this nomination tooth and nail.

But they have little recourse. McConnell and his Republican colleagues lifted the filibuster rule during the 2017 nomination of current Justice Neil Gorsuch, meaning a simple majority is all that the GOP will need to push through the president’s nominee.

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he’d choose his next nominee from a previously circulated shortlist of Supreme Court contenders. Cruz gave an early endorsement to one of his colleagues, who appears on that list: U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.

“The single best choice President Donald Trump could make to fill this vacancy is Senator Mike Lee,” Cruz said. “I think he would be extraordinary.”

Cornyn chimed in later in the day with a news release.

“I hope the President will choose a principled, well-qualified nominee committed to upholding the rule of law and interpreting the Constitution faithfully, rather than rewriting it,” he said. “I also hope Democrats will consider whomever the President chooses on the merits and not subject the nominee to unfair, personal attacks.”

“I look forward to voting to confirm Justice Kennedy’s successor this Fall.”

Trump’s shortlist also includes one Texan, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, who was confirmed in December to a seat on the conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Willett is perhaps best known for his outspoken Twitter presence, an accountthat has quieted slightly since his nomination last summer to the federal bench. Questions about Willett’s social media accounts dominated his confirmation hearing in November, with some senators suggesting that posts Willett considered lighthearted had in fact shown bias on issues like the rights of transgender students.

He told the committee that his tweets from the federal bench would “be above the fray” and focus largely on civic education.

Over the last 30 years, Kennedy emerged as a critical centrist on an increasingly polarized court, making him an important vote on several Texas cases. He wrote for the majority in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision, a sweeping ruling that struck down Texas’ ban on gay sodomy and took 13 similar laws along with it. Two years ago, Kennedy sided with the court’s more liberal justices to strike down Texas abortion restrictions and uphold affirmative action policies at the University of Texas at Austin.

During the term that ended Wednesday, Kennedy sided with Texas in a case upholding the state’s political maps, which a district court had said intentionally discriminated against voters of color.

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.

By  ABBY LIVINGSTON AND EMMA PLATOFF – The Texas Tribune

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.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author: MATTHEW CHOI – The Texas Tribune

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