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Meet the Democratic frontrunners hoping to unseat Texas Sen. Ted Cruz

Congressman Colin Allred, left, and State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, right, on stage during a U.S. Senate Democratic Primary debate hosted by the Texas AFL-CIO on January 28, 2024.
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
The Texas Newsroom
Congressman Colin Allred, left, and State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, right, speak during a U.S. Senate Democratic primary debate hosted by the Texas AFL-CIO on Jan. 28.

For many Texas Democrats, 2024 will be the year when they’ll finally unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

But first, voters have to decide on who the party will run against Cruz, who is seeking his third term. With early voting underway, Texans who vote in the Democratic primary will see nine names in the U.S. Senate contest.

Right now, the frontrunners are State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, and Congressman Colin Allred, D-Dallas. And while the two are favored by Democratic voters, recent polling from the Texas Politics Project shows either candidate would have an uphill battle beating Cruz.

Congressman Colin Allred

Allred has been in Congress since 2019. He’s a former professional football player and current lawyer who’s focused on voting rights.

On the campaign trail, he’s talked about health care and jobs, and has also focused on abortion rights.

In an interview with The Texas Newsroom late last year, Allred talked about the four Texas counties that have implemented rules prohibiting people from using their roads if traveling to get an abortion.

“Are we going to go into some kind of dystopian future where we are going to be pulling women over at the state line and asking them, ‘What’s the nature of your travel, ma’am?'’” Allred said. “Does that sound like freedom to anyone? I know it doesn’t to me.”

If elected to the U.S. Senate, Allred has said he’ll vote to codify Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark U.S. Supreme Court abortion decision.

“I have voted twice in the House … to codify Roe v. Wade. We couldn’t get it through the Senate,” said Allred at a Texas AFL-CIO candidate debate last month. “If I'm in the Senate, we will.”

At times, though, Allred has taken controversial stances — ones that have put him at odds with his Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill.

For instance, he doesn’t support a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas War.

“A ceasefire without conditions would mean that all these hostages — over 100 — that Hamas still holds, would remain hostages,” Allred said. “It would also mean that Hamas stays in power so they could do this again at a later date.”

Allred has also received heat for a recent vote in Congress. He was one of three Texas Democrats who voted with Republicans to denounce “the Biden administration’s open-borders policies.”

Allred said it was a tough vote for him, but he saw it as a reflection of whether or not he stood for the status quo.

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez

But for Gutierrez — Allred’s main opponent for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate — Allred's support for that border resolution is unacceptable.

“It is wrong to throw Joe Biden under the bus, a president that has done so much for our working families, the unions of these United States, just for political expediency,” Gutierrez said from the AFL-CIO debate stage. “It is wrong.”

Gutierrez, an immigration lawyer, has positioned himself as the most progressive candidate in the nine-person race.

He’s been in the Texas Legislature since 2008. Of all those years, 2022 was arguably his hardest in office. That year a gunman entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde — part of his district — and killed 19 kids and two adults. Many more were injured.

Gutierrez often talks about the shooting while campaigning.

“I’m running for the United States Senate so we don’t see another child get killed like that again,” Gutierrez told a group of about 50 supporters at a campaign stop in Austin earlier this month.

He’s calling for a federal ban on assault weapons, and for a law raising the minimum age to purchase a semi-automatic weapon from 18 to 21.

Gutierrez has also used the campaign trail to highlight other big issues, like his support for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas War.

He’s said that “you cannot bring justice to 1,200 people by killing 30,000.”

He also wants a single-payer health insurance system, like Medicare for All — something Allred is not supportive of.

For Gutierrez, this progressive stance is what could make him the right fit to beat Cruz in the general election in November.

He said people are tired of Cruz’s politics.

“It is the politics of people like him, that care more about a goddamn dollar than people, that have got us where we are in this state for the last 30 years,” Gutierrez said. “They’ve screwed us over on everything — on education, on health care, on women’s reproductive rights, on gun violence. And yes, they’ve even screwed us over on this border issue.”

An uphill battle to November

If there’s one thing both Gutierrez and Allred agreed on, it’s that U.S. Senator Ted Cruz is beatable.

They point to 2018, the last time the Republican incumbent was on the ballot. Cruz beat Democrat Beto O’Rourke by just two points in that election.

But the latest polls also show Cruz easily beating both Gutierrez and Allred.

According to the Texas Politics Project, among potential Democratic primary voters, 52% said they’d vote for Allred and 14% said they’d vote for Gutierrez.

However, in a one-on-one faceoff, the Texas Politics Project poll shows Cruz ahead of both Allred and Gutierrez by 14 points.

One other thing to note: Because there are nine Democrats running in Texas’ U.S. Senate primary, it’s unlikely either Gutierrez or Allred would get the required 50% plus one to win the nomination outright.

Most likely, the pair will face off again in the May 28 runoff election.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is the former Texas Capitol reporter for The Texas Newsroom.
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