Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Can Beto O'Rourke Beat Ted Cruz? The Odds Are Long

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News
El Paso Congressman Beto O'Rourke is running for the Senate seat currently held by Ted Cruz.

From Texas Standard:

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has drawn his first election challenger. Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke of El Paso announced his intention to run for the Democratic Senate nomination in 2018, after which he would likely face Cruz in the general election. O’Rourke spent the weekend holding rallies around the state to announce his candidacy.


Brandon Rottinghaus, a professor of political science at the University of Houston, says beating Texas’ junior senator will not be easy.  

“The problem for Democrats is that you’re running uphill and it’s hard to undo the structural advantage that most Republicans have,” Rottinghaus says. “I think that Ted Cruz is beatable, but Ted Cruz Republican is not beatable.”

To win, O’Rourke, or any Texas Democrat, must overcome the financial and organizational advantages Cruz and the Republican Party have in Texas.

“Beto’s going to have to raise a lot of money,” Rottinghaus says. “He can play small ball ... and he can get big crowds. But we’ve seen this before. It’s hard for a Democrat to go place to place without having a big picture strategy, and without having a lot of money to be able to cover himself on the air. Ted Cruz is going to have that.”

O’Rourke says he intends to "throw out the Democratic playbook" for his campaign. The statement reminded some observers of Sen. Bernie Sanders' strategy during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“[O’Rourke] had mentioned at some point during one of the speeches this weekend that the average contribution to his campaign is $34, so there’s a lot of similarities there,” Rottinghaus says. “I think a Democrat can use that. But a Democrat in Texas is going to have trouble still, because the infrastructure county by county, city by city, is going to have to be built from essentially zero.”

A part of O’Rourke’s strategy will be to paint Cruz, who ran against Republican orthodoxy in 2012, as a part of the establishment in Washington.

“[Cruz] is trying to play insurgent, but he’s also trying to be somebody who’s part of the system and can solve the system – a kind of great conservative hope in a Donald Trump administration,” Rottinghaus says.

O’Rourke may not be the only Democrat interested in taking on Cruz. And that could be a problem for the party. San Antonio Congressman and Democratic star Joaquin Castro is rumored to be considering entering the race.

“[Castro], the 800-pound steer in this equation,” Rottinghaus says. “If he steps in, I think we’re talking about a very different dynamic. There is, I think some value in an election that is competitive on the Democratic side of things, but I think both O’Rourke and Castro come from the same wing of the party. They’re both very moderate. But they’re grassroots-oriented, so they can definitely pull in a lot of new voters. ... I don’t think this is the right time, though. I think the party wants to have a clean win.”

Written by Shelly Brisbin.

Rhonda joined KUT in late 2013 as producer for the station's new daily news program, Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.
Related Content