AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas Democratic voters will head to the polls in less than a year to decide which candidate they’d like to see challenge Sen. Ted Cruz in his reelection bid, but at the moment the field remains empty because no one has jumped into the race yet.
Cruz already announced his intention of seeking a third term representing Texas in the Senate, which will almost certainly clear the path for the well-known Republican to secure his party’s nomination. Chuck DeVore, the chief national initiatives officer at the conservative thinktank Texas Public Policy Foundation, said issues like border security and rising inflation could help push Cruz past any challengers during the 2024 general election.
“If you just look at the environment within which the election is going to be run, then 2024 is going to be much more favorable for Sen. Cruz and getting reelected than was 2018,” DeVore said.
He also said another factor possibly benefiting Cruz is the lack of a clear Democratic frontrunner who can draw the same national attention and fundraising firepower as former Rep. Beto O’Rourke did in 2018. Cruz ended up narrowly winning that statewide election by two percentage points.
“I think the challenge is: who else is there in the state of Texas to be able to run that would then attract all those tens of millions of dollars from all over the country?” DeVore said. “I just don’t see that lightning in a bottle being captured twice.”
However, while Democrats are waiting to see who will enter the race, they may feel some optimism about their chances based on a recent poll showing Cruz’s unpopularity among Texas voters. During its February poll, the Texas Politics Project asked people how they would rate the jobs of these six Republican leaders: Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dade Phelan, Attorney General Ken Paxton, Sen. John Cornyn and Cruz. The poll’s findings showed Cruz had the highest disapproval rating (46%) among these elected leaders, while his approval rating came in at 40%.
Joshua Blank, the research director for the Texas Politics Project, said Cruz’s poll numbers are driven by extremely negative rates of disapproval among Texas Democratic voters and marginally more negative rates of disapproval among independents compared to other statewide elected leaders.
“I think one of the advantages for any Democrat running against Sen. Ted Cruz is that he or she will not have to do much work defining Cruz for the voters,” Blank said. “Most voters know what they think about Ted Cruz, so the job becomes one of introducing themselves to the voters that they have to, but really focusing on mobilization and day-to-day campaigning.”
Potential Democratic challengers
The guessing game is already underway about who will run in the Democratic primary. According to recent reporting from The Dallas Morning News, sources said Rep. Colin Allred, a former NFL player, is asking donors about potentially getting into the race. He flipped a competitive Congressional seat in 2018 and defeated a Republican incumbent in his Dallas-area district. If Allred runs for Senate, he would follow the path forged by O’Rourke where a Texas Congressman sought a seat in the upper chamber.
Ed Espinoza, a Texas Democratic analyst, said Allred’s name is coming up a lot in conversations he’s having right now.
“He could be a very strong candidate,” Espinoza said, “and the fact that he is in Congress already means he has access to federal money, federal PACs and such that could buy in his race. You saw that with Beto O’Rourke in 2018 as well, so [Allred] is one candidate who could be very competitive.”
Espinoza said there are also rumblings in Democratic circles about whether Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner may have his eye on this office.
“Sylvester Turner is at the end of his term of mayor. He’s termed out in Houston later this year,” he said. “Not only has he represented the biggest city in Texas, one of the biggest cities in America, but he also is suddenly about to have time on his hands — not a bad launching pad for someone looking to run statewide in Texas.”
Questions remain, Espinoza said, about whether one of the Castro brothers might also enter the Senate race. Julián Castro served as secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Obama and ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, while his twin Joaquin Castro is a Democratic Congressman representing San Antonio.
“Either of those two would be strong candidates if they decide to run now,” Espinoza said. “The thing about the Castros, they’re very popular. They’re very well known, and they’re very accomplished in the state. They’re also mentioned every time a statewide race comes up, and it’s not always what they choose to do. So will this time be different? We shall see.”
None of these men responded when KXAN reached out inquiring about their future plans.
Sources connected to local Democratic politics also threw out a few other names who may be in the mix, including former State Sen. Wendy Davis and former 2020 Senate candidate MJ Hegar.
When will challengers announce runs?
Democratic candidates are already entering the races for both the California and Michigan Senate seats after longtime incumbents in those two states announced they’ll retire from office. However, Texas is not seeing that same quick action.
Espinoza expects Texas voters won’t likely find out who’s launching Senate campaigns here until the legislative session ends in May. He called that a “good mile marker” because the candidate filing period for next year’s Senate primary election begins on Nov. 11 and lasts until Dec. 11. He added that Democrats historically jump into statewide races later than Republicans do in Texas.
“Ultimately, I will say this: Democrats have been fielding much better candidates in Texas over the past 10 years. We’ve had much closer races,” Espinoza said, “so I do expect the 2024 election cycle to be a competitive one. I do think that voters deserve good candidates, and I think they’re going to get good candidates.”
KXAN reached out Friday afternoon for comment to Sen. Cruz’s office about kicking off his reelection bid, and this story will be updated once a response is shared.