The Origins and Implications of a Possible O’Rourke Victory

The Senate race in Texas between incumbent Republican Ted Cruz and upstart State Representative Beto O’Rourke is tightening. Of the five polls taken in the state since August 12th, four place O’Rourke within striking distance of Cruz, and one places him slightly ahead of Cruz. The Cook Political Report, an established nonpartisan newsletter that rates Congressional races, recently shifted the race’s rating from “Lean Republican” to “Toss-Up.” This news comes in the wake of whispers that this midterm is shaping up to become a wave election — an election where one party is poised to overwhelmingly overtake one or more chambers of Congress. This Democratic “blue wave” has been embraced by the Resistance — those who are strongly opposed to Trump. But how is Texas, a historically deep red state, seemingly ready to elect a Democrat to federal office for the first time since 1994? And what would an O’Rourke victory mean nationally?

Well, to answer the first question, we must first take a look at the incumbent: Ted Cruz. The junior senator from Texas has often been described as the least likable in Congress by members of both parties. For example, former Republican presidential hopeful Lindsey Graham once said, “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you,” and former Democratic Senator Al Franken jested, “He’s kind of a toxic guy in an office, the guy who microwaves fish.” In addition to his well-documented dislikability, during Cruz’s presidential run in 2016, there were a number of theories, memes, and jokes made about his seemingly abrasive, uncharismatic demeanor. A website,, spread like wildfire, mocking his impersonal manner. However, even despite this perception, Cruz was the man just trailing behind President Trump in 2016, winning 11 states — more than any candidate other than Trump himself.

So, if Cruz has managed to dodge this bad press in the past, then why is it possible he’d lose this time around? The answer is rather simple: O’Rourke is a candidate that is seemingly ready to reach across the aisle and work with the president, and he has made it a point to active voters of both parties in all of Texas’ counties. While maintaining his progressive views on immigration, healthcare, and criminal justice reform, he’s designed an effective litmus test for when to work with the president: if it benefits Texans. Additionally, O’Rourke has held hundreds of town hall meetings and spoke with thousands of voters on his road trip around his home state, which spanned all of Texas’ 254 counties.

The belief that Ted Cruz is out of touch, coupled with Beto O’Rourke’s ability to gain the support of voters of both parties, allows for the possibility of an O’Rourke win.

Though, if he did win, what would it mean nationally? This race has become closer than either party ever anticipated. Super PACs aligned with Cruz have recently began dumping millions of dollars into Texas to muddy the waters. President Trump has given Cruz his “complete and total endorsement,” and is expected to stump in Texas on Cruz’s behalf. Cruz has embraced President Trump’s endorsement, despite the fact that the president has accused Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz, of assassinating John F. Kennedy, insulted Heidi Cruz (Ted Cruz’s wife), and accused Cruz of being a liar of a multitude of occasions. This has led to unease in some Texas voters, and may determine whether the president’s endorsement is always to the candidate’s benefit going forward.

Additionally, an O’Rourke win, coupled with Democrat Doug Jones’ surprise win in Alabama, will more than likely demonstrate to Democrats that not all red state races should remain virtually uncontested, as they have in the past. Even if O’Rourke loses, it’s likely going to be by a small margin, which may still be considered a win by Democrats, due to the unexpected closeness of this race.

This race is a possible strategic skeleton for how Democrats should act in a post-Trump era. Will Ted Cruz’s attachment to President Trump be his downfall? Will Beto O’Rourke’s charisma and bipartisanship secure him a senatorship? We can’t know the answers to these questions until November, but regardless of the outcome, analysts will use this race as a case study for Democratic success (or near success) in a deep red state for years to come.

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