Could a Democrat actually beat Ted Cruz this year?

It's the truest test of the strength of a Democratic wave. Plus, stranger things have happened

Published January 25, 2018 6:45AM (EST)

Ted Cruz (AP/Evan Vucci)
Ted Cruz (AP/Evan Vucci)

The 2018 midterm election cycle is already shaping up to be an interesting one. Since President Donald Trump assumed office, elections have been constantly trending Democratic. Though the biggest upset wins came in Alabama and Virginia, Democrats have been winning big on the local level in places they shouldn't have won, like Oklahoma. And Oklahoma. According to most polls, Democrats are in a position to either win a lot of seats or hit the jackpot in November.

So it's not too far off to think that — just maybe — even Ted Cruz's Senate seat is in jeopardy.

A liberal political action committee, End Citizens United, commissioned the left-leaning pollster Public Policy Polling (PPP) to run a poll on Texas Republican Ted Cruz. PPP found that 45 percent of respondents said they'd vote for Cruz, but 37 percent said they'd vote for Cruz's likely Democratic, Beto O'Rourke, whom End Citizens United endorsed in June. That eight-point margin — even with only 757 Texans responding — is another reason for Democrats to cheer. After all, Alabama polls had Roy Moore ahead by that much a few months before he lost the election. Granted, Moore's loss may not have happened without news stories about his efforts to date underage girls and alleged groping of a 14-year-old in particular.

After Alabama, Texans took note of the blue wave, according to Chris Evans, the O'Rourke campaign's communications director. Evans told Salon that, after Jones' win, more people became aware of the O'Rourke campaign. Jones' win, mixed with an aggressive campaign tour of deep blue and deep red areas — and avoiding the national talking points when it comes to Texas — is why the O'Rourke campaign thinks that there's a good chance the first-term senator could be unseated.

However, Cruz isn't a popular senator in his home state. According to PPP, 49 percent of his own constituents polled held an unfavorable opinion of him. That's even bleaker when you consider that forty percent of respondents self-identified as Republican, while 36 percent identified as Democrats. Most people — 61 percent — didn't have an opinion of challenger O'Rourke, who is currently serving his third term in the House of Representatives.

There's other news that should worry the Cruz campaign.

Forty-eight percent of Texans polled agreed with the statement "Ted Cruz is more responsive to his big campaign donors". Only 33 percent believed Cruz was more responsive to "ordinary Americans." And when respondents were told that O'Rourke was "not taking a dime from political action committees or special interest groups" while "Cruz has accepted $1.3 million from corporate PACs," the Democratic challenger's standing skyrocketed to overtake Cruz, 43-41. 16 percent remained unsure.

"Senator Ted Cruz has sold out Texans for the special interests at every opportunity. What this poll shows is that this is an issue that is critically important to Texans," End Citizens United spokesperson Anne Felman told Salon. "Senator Cruz is the personification of Big Money and has benefitted from millions in corporate and special interest money throughout his campaigns."

Polling trends overall haven't been on Cruz's side. His single-digit lead over O'Rourke follows the release of a poll by the Cruz campaign earlier this month that showed the Republican beating his Democratic challenger by 18 points.

In the end, this Texas race may come down money. According to Open Secrets, Cruz had $5.7 million on hand as of September 2017; O'Rourke trailed with $2.9 million.

"What should be deeply troubling for Cruz is the fact that while Cruz has near universal name ID, most voters are still getting to know Beto (61 percent don't have an opinion of him)," Feldman told Salon in an email. "But once they become familiar with his record, he gains tremendously in the polls."

"This is not a place an incumbent wants to be 10 months out from Election Day," Feldman added.

The notion of a "Blue Texas" has been something of a pipe dream for Democrats and progressive activists. The party has always seemed to be one or two elusive election cycles away from winning statewide. But, since the last national election, a large chunk of the electorate has gotten fired up. Tens of millions of Latinos and Hispanics live in the state, and, thanks to Trump's anti-immigration and racist rhetoric, activists are predicting that a great electoral awakening will take place.

“If Ted Cruz is looking a Dreamer in the eye and saying he should be deported, that sticks out," Evans said.

"We are all organizing for the 2018 midterm elections because we want the elections to be the biggest turnout this country has ever seen," Paola Mendoza, a filmmaker and artistic director for the Women's March, told Salon recently.

"Midterm elections seem to be dependent upon turnout, and you're seeing that people are turning out," Juan Guzman, policy and advocacy manager with United We Dream told Salon.

By Jeremy Binckes

MORE FROM Jeremy Binckes

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2018 Midterms Blue Texas Democrats Ted Cruz Texas