HOUSTON (KXAN) — Incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz was right all along, “There are more conservatives than liberals in Texas.” NBC News is projecting Sen. Ted Cruz will win re-election, beating Congressman Beto O’Rourke.
Despite an enthusiastic and well-funded challenger, Sen. Cruz was able to motivate and move his supporters to the polls, building his stilts high enough to weather any “blue wave” in Texas.
When asked week after week by reporters about his chances against three-term Congressman O’Rourke. He would repeat his good news: “there are more conservatives than liberals in Texas.”
After running an unsuccessful bid for president in 2016, Cruz returned to run a Texas-focused campaign, airing long and consistent ads promoting his work during Hurricane Harvey – the storm that devastated Houston and Southeast Texas.
Cruz and his allied super PACS also spent millions defining O’Rourke as a politician from the far-left – for gun control, lax on border security and desiring government-run health care — out of touch from most of Texas.
O’Rourke disagreed and vented throughout the final days of the campaign about tricks, tactics and statements he believed were out-right falsehoods. In one famous case, repeating the “Lyin’ Ted” nickname given to Cruz by President Trump in a televised debate.
“It stuck,” said O’Rourke, “because it’s true.”
However, O’Rourke never fully responding to the onslaught of “contrast” ads Cruz and his allies ran on TV and online across the State. That television and digital strategy worked in conjunction with a Republican “Get out the Vote” effort, eventually winning the election for the incumbent.
Texans decided on policies en masse that Sen. Cruz ran on, additional resources to secure the border, limited restrictions on guns and a free-market model of health care.
Those consultants and pollsters came in for Cruz. The Republican campaign knew more about the facts on the ground, what messages worked and where they needed to mobilize and how.
The clearest example of his tactical advantage was when O’Rourke was recorded on video responding to a question about football players who protest by kneeling during the national anthem. Politico later reported the question was asked by a worker from the Cruz for Senate campaign. While O’Rourke gave a lengthy answer, he ended by implying there was nothing more American than protesting.
The “nothing more American” phrase was recorded and played back to Texans in ad after ad, to give Texans an idea that this Democratic upstate just didn’t jive with mainstream Texas views and values.
That same video helped O’Rourke launch to national fame.
First elected to Congress in 2012, the same year as Cruz, O’Rourke struggled to differentiate himself from the pack of the Democratic minority members.
Twenty months ago, he was the earliest Democrat to volunteer to run statewide. He would do it like no one had ever done it before, he said, without money from political action committees, pollsters and consultants. He decided to run a positive campaign, a promise that eventually limited his response to consistent negative ads.
O’Rourke drove to each one of the 254 counties in Texas and streamed it online constantly. His out-of-the-box way of campaigning made him a popular figure among the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. He tapped into Democratic hatred for President Trump and Sen. Cruz and raised more than $70 million by individual donations. He used that money to launch an unprecedented outreach effort to find people who never voted before.
O’Rourke did not find enough.
Republicans were able to mobilize their supporters in the base of the Republican Party and carry the day across the state for another election.
A silver lining for Democrats, however, is the lower margin of the Republican victory. This election proved a Democrat could be competitive in Texas if an incredible amount of money, effort and people mobilized. Will that competition lead to a more centrist focused Republican party in the style of the Bush presidents? Or will Republicans continue to have a blank check to push any policy the GOP lawmakers agree on?
We will find out as Sen. Cruz once again goes to Washington and Republicans continue their firm grasp on the Texas legislature.