Texas is still Texas.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has held off a spirited challenge from Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) to hang onto his seat for another term. Cruz led O’Rourke 51 percent to 48 percent with 80 percent of precincts reporting. Multiple networks have called the race.
O’Rourke’s campaign captured the hearts and the imaginations of liberals nationwide, helping him raise a stunning $70 million for the race. And he made major inroads in suburban pockets of Texas that usually lean GOP, forcing Cruz to run hard to stay ahead. It was enough for him to come much closer than Democrats have for a generation — but it wasn’t enough to flip the Senate seat.
Cruz came into the election with some major vulnerabilities. Many of the state’s GOP-leaning moderates had never warmed up to his hard-charging right-wing politics, some of his old base was still furious at him for his nasty primary fight with President Trump, and his polarizing persona and policy views fired up Democrats like no other local Republican could.
O’Rourke stepped up to the challenge of trying to become the first Democrat in nearly three decades to win a major statewide race in a state that’s slowly trending closer to purple. Trump won Texas by 9 points, down from Mitt Romney’s 16-point margin there in 2012.
And while Cruz’s team long expected a tough challenge, O’Rourke’s eye-popping fundraising and movement-like campaign put the fear of God into them.
Cruz worked hard to rebrand himself, highlighting his work helping his hometown of Houston recover after Hurricane Harvey, while attacking O’Rourke for his more liberal views. A late ad attacked O’Rourke for using the phrase “the new Jim Crow” when talking about criminal justice reform, claiming he’d attacked police officers.
And O’Rourke’s progressive crusade proved to have its limits. His calls for single-payer health care and support for impeaching President Trump may have cost him some moderate GOP voters who don’t like Trump or Cruz, but weren’t willing to vote for such a liberal candidate. From the primary through Election Day, O’Rourke struggled to get Hispanic voters to turn out for him in big enough numbers to match the enthusiasm of white liberals around the state.
And his refusal to follow normal campaign procedures was a double-edged sword. Rejecting corporate money likely helped him boost support from the national donor community, but refusing to use polling and make professionally produced TV ads (or even air attack ads until the race’s closing weeks) may have hurt his cause.
Cruz led in every public poll of the race and headed into election day confident of a comfortable win. The race was much closer than his team expected, and likely cost Republicans other down-ballot races in the state. But Texas’ strong Republican lean was enough for him to hang on for another term.