There are few politicians more widely disliked than Ted Cruz, the junior Republican Senator from Texas. Former House Speaker John Boehner said he’s “never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.” Senator Lindsey Graham joked that “if you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate…nobody would convict you.” New York Congressman Peter King said, “I’ll take cyanide if he ever got the nomination.” And given that all these quotes come from members of his own party, you can only imagine what Democrats must say about him.
Given his litany of low points since joining the Senate – a filibuster against Obamacare where he read Green Eggs and Ham, receiving the blame for the 2013 government shutdown, a presidential campaign where Republicans somehow found Donald Trump more likable than he, and most embarrassingly, smearing the Democrats as “the party of Lisa Simpson” while forgetting that in one of the series’ most infamous episodes, Lisa succeeds Donald Trump as President – it should be easy to defeat this freak in 2018.
But then again, Cruz hails from Texas, a state that Democrats have had difficulty winning for forty years now. The last time it voted blue in a presidential election was when Jimmy Carter swept the South in 1976; it hasn’t had a Democratic governor since Ann Richards, who lost in 1994 to George W. Bush; and the last Democratic Senator was Bob Krueger, who served for six months in 1993 before being replaced by Kay Bailey Hutchinson. In fact, Democrats have lost in 123 consecutive statewide races in Texas since 1996.
What’s more, despite a rapidly growing population of POC, Texas suffers from a huge partisan gap between the electorate there and the electorate of the US overall. As Harry Enten wrote in FiveThirtyEight two months ago, if the entire adult population of the US leans slightly right, then the Texas population leans even more to the right. The more white an electorate is, the more Republican it’s likely to be. Non-Hispanic whites made up 47% of all Texas adults in 2016 but accounted for 61% of the Texans who voted that year. The only other states with as big a gap were California and Arizona. And this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the Draconian voter ID laws and gerrymandering that have prevented college students and POC from making their way to the polls year after year.
Based on all this, you might think there’s no reason to have any optimism in Texas this year. But we’ve been riding a blue wave since the elections in Virginia and New Jersey last November, even surfing it through deep-red Alabama and through a Pennsylvania county which went heavily for Trump in 2016. And just today, Texas Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who’s challenging Cruz for his Senate seat, announced that he has raised $6.7 million so far this year, giving him a war chest of nearly $14 million.
You read this correctly – the Democrats now have $14 million – in Texas.
Now you may be thinking that $14 million isn’t such a big deal, given that presidential campaigns regularly cost over a billion dollars, and that Democrats spent more than $20 million to win in Georgia’s sixth congressional district last year. But again, this is Texas, where it’s rare for any Democrat to raise this much. The last Democrat to even come close was David Alameel, who in 2014, self-financed a campaign of $10 million to defeat senior Senator Jon Cornyn, and lost. Unlike Alameel, O’Rourke has not had to rely on self-financing for his campaign: he has done it almost entirely through small donations, having pledged not to accept contributions from super PACs. It is a new record for Texas politics, and he may even break it as the race goes on.
Cruz still has the advantage here, with far more name recognition than O’Rourke. Although he has yet to release his fundraising totals for the quarter, he is assumed to have slightly more on hand than O’Rourke, and Real Clear Politics still believes the race is likely his to lose. However, much of Cruz’s name recognition is negative, and analysts believe much of O’Rourke’s fundraising haul comes from anti-Cruz sentiment because again, searching for people who say nice things about Ted Cruz is more fruitless than searching for street parking in New York City.
If I were Cruz, I’d be quaking in my boots right now, as karma may have come to tap him and his party on the shoulder. Since Trump’s inaugural, Democrats have been winning in places we shouldn’t have had any business winning, let alone competing in. We should give the president some credit: he did say that if he were elected, we’d win so much that we’d be sick of winning. Well, I’m not sick of winning yet, and I doubt I will be for a while.
For information about donating to O’Rourke’s campaign, click here.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.