Ted Cruz ramps up campaign against well-funded Beto O’Rourke
Ted Cruz is girding for a fight like no other he has ever faced.
While the Houston area Republican went toe-to-toe for the presidency with Republican heavyweights like Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio two years ago and had to overcome being outspent 2-to-1 in a GOP primary to win a seat in the U.S. Senate, his re-election campaign suddenly offers something Cruz has never faced.
In Democrat Beto O’Rourke, Cruz is for the first time facing a major general election opponent who has built a passionate following and will be better funded than any Texas Republican has ever faced in a U.S. Senate race. O’Rourke’s campaign is expected to report raising more than $15 million for the race so far - more than any Democrat has ever amassed for a Senate race in Texas. That’s more than Cruz spent on his first campaign for the Senate in 2012.
It’s with that backdrop, the 47-year-old on Monday took to the microphone at a country bar called the Redneck Country Club in Stafford to declare what most already knew.
“I’m here to announce my campaign for re-election to the United States Senate,” Cruz told more than 1,000 supporters.
Cruz leaned heavily on a new campaign slogan: “Tough as Texas.” That phrase was featured on dozens of banners and television screens as Cruz talked about the Lone Star State coming together after Hurricane Harvey and after the deadly shooting in Sutherland Springs.
To illustrate his point, Cruz brought in heroes from both events. Just an hour after throwing out the first pitch of the Astros home opener 15 miles away, Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale was in the crowd dawning the same Astros jacket he wore at Minute Maid Park. Cruz lauded McIngvale for opening his furniture stores as shelters during Harvey.
Also at the kickoff was Stephen Willeford, the Sutherland Springs resident who confronted the shooter who murdered 26 people at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, likely stopping more from dying that day.
“That’s Texas, that’s who we are,” Cruz said after telling the stories of both men.
Cruz never mentioned O’Rourke directly, but painted his re-election as part of a grand battle going on in Washington.
“Right now there is great battle waging in Washington between two very different visions of America. There are some who embrace a big government liberal vision of higher taxes, more regulations, more Obamacare and more government, less freedom,” Cruz said from the Redneck Country Club, the same place that hosted him during the 2016 presidential primary on Super Tuesday when he won GOP primaries in Texas and Oklahoma.
Cruz painted his side as Texans who want less taxes, fewer regulations and “government to get the heck of our backs.”
While Cruz didn’t bring O’Rourke at the event, he and the El Paso Democrat were exchanging plenty of jabs on social media as both questioned the others travel schedules and who has been Beaumont more - where Cruz started his campaign earlier on Monday.
O’Rourke’s campaign started the exchange on Snapchat when it noted that Cruz visited all 99 counties in Iowa during his presidential campaign and then questioned if Cruz has listened to Texans in Beaumont as much. Cruz fired back quickly on Twitter saying he’s been in Beaumont four times in the last year, including three since Harvey hit and noted that O’Rourke lost Jefferson County in the Democratic primary to Edward Kimbrough.
O’Rourke presents Cruz with a challenge bigger than social media sparring. While Cruz is still favored by most political experts to win re-election, O’Rourke’s fundraising is something Texas has never seen from a Democrat running for the Senate. With more than $15 million raised, O’Rourke has already received $5 million more than any Democrat has ever had for a U.S. Senate race in Texas.
O’Rourke said the money allows him to continue his whirlwind travel in Texas and get his message on the airwaves to build up his name identifation in Texas. While Cruz is almost universally know, O’Rourke is largely unknown according to early polling in the race.
“It helps us reach the 28 million people in Texas,” O’Rourke said in an interview with the Chronicle.
Cruz’s campaign has not announced their new fundraising totals yet. Campaigns must release their numbers later this month. O’Rourke campaign released his figures early in hopes of countering Cruz’s kickoff event.