You've probably heard about the “blue wave” that’s forecast to sweep U.S. elections this November. Some expect it to flip dozens of congressional seats from red to blue, turning control of the U.S. House over to Democrats. And there’s even a slight chance that Democrats could win enough seats to take control of the U.S. Senate.
Even here in deep-red Texas, talk of the wave has spilled over into some races that would've once be considered unwinnable for a party that hasn't won statewide since 1994.
The top race is the relatively close one between Republican Senator Ted Cruz and his Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke. But as you go down the ballot, you’ll find several races that just two years ago were automatic wins for incumbents.
Now, they're not so automatic.
So how do all these close races change this election? What will be different in terms of how campaigns are being run?
First off, Democrats are fielding candidates in every congressional race – which hasn't always been the case. And many of those candidates have been able to raise money and run campaigns, with resources to advertise, hold events and organize block-walks and phone banks – a change in pace compared to the last couple of decades, when Democrats were typically unorganized and underfunded.
All that action from Democrats means Republican incumbents, who haven’t needed to campaign in years, now have to ask their constituents for support. And no matter the outcome, any campaign that includes a vigorous debate of the issues is better for voters, Texas and the country.
But, in any close race, things can get ugly. And Republican incumbents – with lots of money to spend – have quickly pivoted to negative messaging in a handful of races. (Keep in mind, if Democrats were in control of Texas politics, you’d likely seeing them doing the same thing.)
There's no race in which this is more apparent than Cruz's campaign against Democratic challenger O’Rourke.
From the moment O’Rourke won the Democratic nomination, Cruz’s campaign went on the attack, albeit in a playful way. The campaign hit radio with a song about O’Rourke, knocking the El Paso Democrat’s liberal bent and his birth name: Robert Francis O'Rourke.
FIRST LISTEN: our new 60-second statewide radio ad introducing our liberal opponent, Congressman Robert O’Rourke, to Texas voters.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) March 7, 2018
Other efforts from the Cruz campaign and supporting political action committees have focused on O’Rourke’s DWI arrest in the 90s, and a charge of criminal trespassing that O’Rourke says comes from an attempt to hop a fence on the University of Texas at El Paso campus.
And on the campaign trail, while Cruz leads events with basic boilerplate GOP ideals, he also spends time mocking and accusing O’Rourke of everything from wanting to take away your guns to wanting to ban barbecue.
The Cruz campaign also made headlines in Austin this week for sending a fundraising letter in an envelope that arguably looks like an official jury summons from Travis County. It’s a tactic Cruz has used in other parts of the state already this summer, and even in Iowa a couple of years ago shortly before the GOP caucus.
Received this for my 88-year-old grandma. Says it's a summons from Travis County, but is actually asking for money for @tedcruz . Did your campaign authorize this? Is this even legal? Shame on you. That's one more @BetoORourke voter. pic.twitter.com/NcFoOCvjFj
— Sean Owen (@sean_r_owen) September 16, 2018
In the end, the ripple of Texas' blue wave may have a minimal impact on the Texas Legislature and congressional delegation. But it’s made several historically automatic wins for incumbents into a real race – a feat in and of itself. That's led to stronger challengers, which brought a better debate on the issues and has given voters real choices when the head to the polls; in other words, democracy.