Beto O’Rourke is trying to unseat Ted Cruz—and he just might do it

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You still may not have heard of him, but Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D) is making a huge name for himself as the progressive Texas Democratic Party candidate. O’Rourke easily won the Democratic primary with over 60 percent of the vote. Now, in advance of November’s Senate election, O’Rourke is a mere 4 points behind incumbent Ted Cruz (R-Tx.), according to an August NBC News/Marist Poll

The poll found Cruz with 49 percent support compared to O’Rourke’s 45 percent and 6 percent of voters still undecided. It’s been over two decades since a Democrat won a statewide race in Texas, but O’Rourke thinks he has a serious shot. As it turns out, Texas voters do too.

Who is Beto O’Rourke?

beto o'rourke Beto O'Rourke/Flickr (CC-BY-ND)

O’Rourke has been in Congress for three terms, representing a district in El Paso. Since announcing his candidacy, the 45-year-old has stuffed a war chest that almost rivals Cruz’s. In the first month-and-a-half of 2018, O’Rourke brought in nearly triple what Cruz raised: $2.3 million to Cruz’s $803,000, according to FEC filings reported by the Texas Tribune. And he’s done it without taking money from political action committees.

When the FEC filings came out, Cruz’s team issued a statement attempting to lump O’Rourke in with the Democratic party establishment. A Cruz spokeswoman told the Tribune “Chuck Schumer did a great job—he came to Texas early in the year and got national liberals really excited about the chance to elect a pro-amnesty, anti-gun, pro-big government liberal to represent Texas.”

But O’Rourke prides himself on being a counterculture figure. He played in a punk band with one of the founding members of At the Drive-In and Mars Volta. That distinction led Rolling Stone to title their profile of the challenger “Ted Cruz’s Punk Rock Problem.” And he uses punk rock metaphors at every opportunity. During a recent town hall, he told a constituent that as a teenager he started playing punk music because “we were rejecting…corporate rock-’n’-roll.” Moments later, he added,we in this campaign are rejecting corporate politics, literally rejecting corporate donations filtered through PACs, the special interests, and yes, the party bosses.” He even made an appearance at South by Southwest on Saturday.

Can Beto O’Rourke win Texas?

Cruz is still leading in the polls but the Democrat is closing the gap. A widely-cited January poll put O’Rourke behind by only eight points.

The congressman is fighting a common fight that plagues young politicians: people just don’t know who he is. One recent poll showed that around 40 percent of voters don’t know who he is. The only recent publicity that he’s enjoyed came in a viral moment when he trekked across the country with Republican Will Hurd.

A Texas politics wizard told NPR that O’Rourke’s massive war chest will probably make him a familiar face with constituents, but added “it’s still a Republican state. It would take a lot of things to fall in place, but that said, up to this date O’Rourke has a lot of things going for him.”

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Democrats are extremely energized in the Donald Trump era and O’Rourke is pushing to get voters to show up to the polls. In deep red Alabama, minority voters propelled Democrat Doug Jones into office. But Jones’ opponent was an accused pedophile and some Texans even seem to like Ted Cruz, a recent Morning Consult poll gave him a 50 percent approval rating.  

If O’Rourke wins, it will be a huge upset and President Trump will be at least partially responsible; he has a lousy approval rating in the Lone Star State. Democrats are working overtime to get young voters into the polls. One Democratic group, Mad Dog PAC, even put up a billboard of Ted Cruz’s face with the message “nobody likes Ted Cruz,” quoting popular Texan George W. Bush.

New South Dallas Billboard off 175.

Posted by DFW for Beto on Thursday, February 22, 2018

O’Rourke most recently went viral for a video from his campaign trail in which he addresses the NFL protesters kneeling during the national anthem.

He’s gaining traction not only in the polls, but in public opinion. If the Texas Congressman keeps up the incredible momentum, incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz could be making a run for his money.

Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.

Alex Thomas

Alex Thomas

Alex Thomas is a journalist based in Washington, D.C.