Ted Cruz’s performance in the 2016 presidential race, combined with increasing dissatisfaction with Donald Trump has made the 2018 Texas Senate race — a race that a Democrat hasn’t won for 30 years — the most winnable it’s been in decades.
Cruz’s craven pursuit of power, at the expense of his own personal dignity, can’t have sat well with voters. On the national stage, Cruz was so awkward and emotionless that he quickly earned comparisons to the zodiac killer. Cruz fulfilled these characterizations when he reluctantly endorsed and phone-banked for Donald Trump even after Trump called Heidi Cruz ugly and insinuated that Cruz’s father assassinated JFK.
After Cruz’s disastrous presidential campaign, any challenge to his senate seat is bound to get attention. Americans and Texans alike are sick of Ted Cruz and are jumping at the opportunity to get rid of him. Although Beto O’Rourke’s campaign announcement came at the perfect time, I had my misgivings. I thought that people would enthusiastically support any warm body that opposed Cruz, but was skeptical that O’Rourke would be able to mount a serious opposition in a hard-fought campaign. However, O’Rourke’s young campaign has a lot of potential, in no small part due to its many echoes of the Bernie Sanders campaign.
O’Rourke isn’t a socialist like Sanders — that ideology is still disqualifying in a conservative state like Texas, and is likely a big reason Sanders lost the Texas primary. But like Sanders, O’Rourke’s campaign has rejected Super PACs and corporate money. Like Sanders, O’Rourke has made efforts to appeal to traditionally conservative voters, and many of his campaign stops in his weeks-old campaign have been to deeply red small towns. Sanders’ message has been proven to work among the white working class in places such as Wisconsin, which the Democrats lost to Trump in the general election. Many of these voters are fed up with business as usual and respond positively to candidates such as Sanders that reject the status quo. O’Rourke’s rejection of PAC money is a good first step to appeal to these voters.
Another factor that may prove to be a boon to O’Rourke’s campaign is his newcomer status on the political stage. This means that even though he’s running as a Democrat, he can distance himself from the radioactive Democratic party. Several polls conducted after the election have shown the Democrats with an even worse approval rating than Donald Trump, no doubt due in large part to their continued friendliness with big business and shameful inability to oppose Trump’s policies.
Beto O’Rourke, running as a revolutionary, fresh new voice in a political climate that is sick of both Ted Cruz and establishment Democrats may have more of a chance than many realize. O’Rourke still has many roadblocks to a serious campaign to oppose Cruz, but the early feedback to his campaign has been positive. Even though most Texans heard his name weeks ago, O’Rourke is tied with Cruz in polling. As more Texans become exposed to his message, it’s not unthinkable that a #feeltheBeto campaign has a lot of potential to shock the state.
Chastain-Howley is a rhetoric and writing junior from Dallas.