Free speech issues rise in race for Senate

Texas

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the November midterm election nears, the race for Senate between incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Beto O’Rourke is intensifying.

“This senate race is very high profile, which is why you’re seeing incumbent Senator Cruz using anything he can to try to define his opponent before he’s able to,” said Johnathan Silver of the Austin-American Statesman.

In an edited social media video of O’Rourke at a town hall in El Paso, the Cruz campaign posted a clip that seems to show the Democrat supporting burning or desecrating the American flag.

O’Rourke did not directly answer the question if he supported flag burning. However, O’Rourke has historically supported non-violent protests in the past, according to Gardner Selby of Politifact Texas. The post earned a rating of false on the Politifact Truth-O-Meter test. But the video is still up on the Cruz campaign’s website.

“They (the Cruz campaign) insisted that because the question was about the burning and desecrating of flags, that something in the answer had to be about that,” Selby said. 

This latest attack comes shortly after Cruz criticized O’Rourke for supporting athletes who protest racial injustice by kneeling during the National Anthem.

With issues of free speech getting new attention in the race, John Moritz of USA Today Network noted that Cruz supported unpopular speech in remarks before the Senate Judiciary Committee last year.

“The First Amendment is not about opinions that are right or reasonable,” Cruz told the committee, during a hearing about censorship on college campuses. “The First Amendment is about opinions that you passionately disagree with and the right of others to express them,” Cruz said.

“You might even think that it would be him and not O’Rourke coming to Kaepernick’s defense in the Take a Knee movement because he says we must accept and defend unpopular speech,” Moritz said.

That’s not likely to happen. What’s more probable is that voters will see more posts and ads playing up the divisions caused by unpopular speech.

“Cruz does not want O’Rourke to get past the ceiling where he’s at, maybe it’s 45 or 46 percent.” Moritz said. “He does not want those moderate voters and independent voters to find O’Rourke, in any way, acceptable.”

A recent poll by NBC News/Marist found O’Rourke trailing just 4 points behind Cruz. 

Texas early voting begins Oct. 22 and election day is Nov. 6. 

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