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UPDATE: Donald Trump’s Houston Rally with Ted Cruz Moved to Bigger Venue

President Donald Trump’s rally Monday in Houston with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has been moved to a bigger venue.

Originally set to take place at the NRG Arena, the event will now be held at the Toyota Center, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale announced in a tweet Thursday afternoon, describing the demand for tickets as “HUGE and unprecedented.” The Toyota Center can hold about twice as many people as NRG Arena — roughly 10,000 versus 19,000.

Trump set expectations high set two months ago, when he announced he would come to Texas in October to hold a rally with Cruz at the “biggest stadium we can find.” Neither NRG Arena nor the Toyota Center are among the state’s largest venues.

The rally is set to begin at 6:30 p.m., and is set to also feature remarks from Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Beto O’Rourke Swings Harder at Ted Cruz in Second Debate

SAN ANTONIO — In the lead-up to the U.S. Senate debate here Tuesday night, Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke heard from supporters who wanted him to take a more aggressive stance toward Republican incumbent Ted Cruz.

It appears O’Rourke listened.

Over the hourlong event, the El Paso congressman took a series of harsher-than-usual swings at Cruz — including a couple of blows evocative of the senator’s battle with Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race.

“He’s dishonest,” O’Rourke said of Cruz at one point. “That’s why the president called him Lyin’ Ted and it’s why the nickname stuck because it’s true.”

“It’s clear Congressman O’Rourke’s pollsters have told him to come out on the attack,” Cruz shot back. “So if he wants to insult me and call me a liar, that’s fine.”

Trump, who is coming to Houston on Monday for a rally with Cruz, fueled a number of contentious exchanges during the debate at the studios of KENS 5, the CBS affiliate in San Antonio. Early on, O’Rourke accused Cruz of not being able to stand up to the president for Texans, while Cruz went on to dismiss the idea O’Rourke would be able to work with the president after expressing support for his impeachment. And “Lyin’ Ted” was not the only Trump-style insult aired in the debate, with O’Rourke telling Cruz multiple times that he was “all talk and no action.”

As O’Rourke hammered Cruz as more interested in his political career than representing Texas — “Ted Cruz is for Ted Cruz,” the challenger said at one point — Cruz pressed his long-running case that O’Rourke is captive to the activist left and too liberal for Texas. He also repeatedly cast O’Rourke as a key agitator if Democrats take Congress for the next two years under Trump.

“You want to talk about a shutdown?” Cruz said after O’Rourke raised Cruz’s leading role in the 2013 government shuttering. “With Congressman O’Rourke leading the way, [there’ll be] two years of a partisan circus and a witch hunt on the president.”

O’Rourke offered a deadpan response, telling Cruz it is “really interesting to hear you talk about a partisan circus after your last six years in the Senate.”

Cruz’s campaign argued O’Rourke’s more hostile performance was a reaction to recent spate of polls that show Cruz expanding his lead.

“When you’re down 10, you better do something, right? You better change the conversation,” Cruz strategist Jeff Roe told reporters after the debate. “When an unconventional candidate becomes conventional, that’s typically when they get split like a cantaloupe, and I think that’s what we’ll see.”

Cruz and O’Rourke, who first debated Sept. 21 in Dallas, may have sparred for the last time before Election Day when they took the stage in San Antonio. A debate that had been planned for Sept. 30 in Houston was postponed amid the battle over Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, and it has not yet been rescheduled.

After the debate, O’Rourke was set to head to the Rio Grande Valley to participate in a CNN town hall Thursday in McAllen. Cruz declined to appear back-to-back at the event but has since sought to turn it into another debate.

Early voting begins Monday.

Read related Tribune coverage

Authors:  PATRICK SVITEK AND MATT ZDUN –  The Texas Tribune

Ted Cruz Leads Beto O’Rourke in New Poll by Nine Points

WASHINGTON — A new poll released Thursday morning showed Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has stabilized his lead over his Democrat challenger, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso.

Fifty-four percent of Texans backed Cruz, while 45 percent backed O’Rourke in the latest Quinnipiac University poll.

As for each candidate’s images, 52 percent of Texans surveyed had a favorable view of Cruz, with 44 percent viewing him unfavorably. O’Rourke, however, was slightly under water in how Texans viewed him: 45 percent of respondents had a favorable view of O’Rourke, compared to 47 percent who view him unfavorably.

A September poll from the same outfit showed the same margin: a nine-point Cruz lead. While at times Quinnipiac had this race within the margin of error over the last year, the Cruz lead has stabilized in this and other polls to the high single digits.

This most recent poll was conducted Oct. 3-9.

The poll also took a snapshot of Texas’ gubernatorial race, showing Republican Gov. Greg Abbott with a prohibitive lead over his Democratic rival, former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, 58 percent to 38 percent.

Strikingly, while Valdez and O’Rourke have consolidated support among African Americans, Abbott and Cruz garnered sizable Hispanic support. Cruz had the backing of 37 percent of Hispanic respondents while nearly half of Hispanics surveyed — 46 percent — supported Abbott.

Sixty-two percent of Texans viewed Abbott favorably while 32 percent of Texans had an unfavorable view of the governor. In contrast, Valdez — an underfunded candidate — is still largely unknown for this point in the cycle. Thirty-one percent of Texans had a positive view of Valdez and 29 percent had an unfavorable view of her.

The poll surveyed 730 likely voters, 730 using cell phone and landlines. The margin of error was 4.4 percent.

Author: ABBY LIVINGSTON – The Texas Tribune

Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke Debate Tonight at 5 p.m. Watch Here

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke are set to square off on the debate stage for the first time Friday evening in Dallas.

The 6 p.m. (5 p.m. Mountain) event at Southern Methodist University is the first of three hourlong debates, and it comes as polls continue to show a tight race between Cruz and O’Rourke, an El Paso congressman. On Friday morning, the Cook Political Report changed its rating of the race from “Lean Republican” to “Toss Up.”

The Dallas debate is being presented by SMU, NBC 5/KXAS and The Dallas Morning News. It will be broadcast live on NBC 5/KXAS, its website and the Dallas Morning News’ website as well. The Texas Tribune will feature the livestream of the debate on this page.

The topic of the debate is domestic policy, and it will be moderated by NBC 5 political reporter Julie Fine and Dallas Morning News political writer Gromer Jeffers. Both candidates will stand at podiums before a 240-person audience.

The next two debates are scheduled for Sept. 30 in Houston and Oct. 16 in San Antonio. Early voting begins Oct. 22.

It was only a week ago that O’Rourke and Cruz had announced an agreement to hold three debates, capping weeks of negotiations between their campaigns.

O’Rourke first challenged Cruz to six debates in May, and while Cruz maintained he was open to debating his opponent, he did not formally respond until July. That is when Cruz proposed five topical debates over three months in five cities.

Among the issues that O’Rourke had with Cruz’s proposed debate schedule was every one fell on a Friday evening during high school football season. That will remain true for the Dallas debate, while the other two debates they ultimately agreed to are set for different days.

Disclosure: Southern Methodist University 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:  – The Texas Tribune

Ted Cruz Leads Beto O’Rourke 54 to 45, New Poll Says

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, leads his Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke by 9 percentage points among likely voters, according to a new poll from Quinnipiac University.

Released Tuesday, the survey found Cruz with 54 percent support and O’Rourke, an El Paso congressman, with 45 percent. Only 1 percent of those polled were undecided.

“The Texas U.S. Senate race between Sen. Ted Cruz and Congressman Beto O’Rourke, and Democratic hopes for an upset win there, have boosted talk of a Senate takeover,” Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said in a news release. “These numbers may calm that talk.”

It’s the first time Quinnipiac has released a likely voter survey in the Senate race. Quinnipiac previously polled registered voters three times, finding Cruz ahead by 6 points in August, 11 in May and 3 in April.

Quinnipiac also surveyed the governor’s race in the most recent poll and continued to find a much less competitive contest, with Republican Gov. Greg Abbott leading Democratic opponent Lupe Valdez by 19 points.

In the Senate race, Quinnipiac found Cruz has a higher favorability rating than O’Rourke does. Fifty-two percent of likely voters said they like Cruz to 43 percent who said they do not, while the split was a more divided 43-42 for O’Rourke.

Quinnipiac also asked likely voters about President Donald Trump — and they were evenly split, with 49 percent approving of the job he is doing and 49 percent disapproving. Trump is set to visit the state next month to rally for Cruz.

The latest Quinnipiac survey was conducted from Sept. 11 to Sept. 17 and reached 807 likely voters using live interviews on landlines and cell phones. The margin of error was plus-or-minus 4.1 percentage points.

Author:  PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

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.

 

**Update

KCOS-TV, Channel 13. will carry the first debate Friday, September 21st @ 5pm.

 

 

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

Beto O’Rourke Says He’ll Start Airing TV Ads With Money Raised off Ted Cruz’s attack ads

Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, is set to start airing TV ads in his race against Republican incumbent Ted Cruz.

O’Rourke’s campaign told supporters Monday that it has placed a “$1.27 million media buy” and voters will start seeing “positive TV ads” in 20 Texas markets this week. The dollar amount represents how much O’Rourke, an El Paso congressman, raised two weekends ago in response to Cruz’s first round of TV ads, three of which targeted the challenger.

“Texans in all 254 counties of our state are proving that together, we will be the big, bold, confident answer to the small, petty, negative attacks that are coming our way,” O’Rourke said in a statement.

Whether O’Rourke would air TV ads in the race — and if so, how extensively — has been something of an open question for months. He has expressed ambivalence about the effectiveness of TV ads nowadays and talked about investing heavily in a field operation instead.

In July, O’Rourke released his first ad, a minute-long montage of his travels across the state as livestreamed on Facebook. The spot has been appearing only online.

O’Rourke’s campaign did not immediately say what the content of the TV ads would be other than that they would be positive.

Cruz’s first TV ads came out Aug. 3. O’Rourke’s campaign sought to counter them with a $1 million fundraising drive over the following weekend and ended up exceeding the target by that Sunday night, raking in $1,274,528.

Author: PATRICK SVITEK – 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

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