Democrat congressman announces challenge to Sen. Ted Cruz

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Photo Credit: Maria Luisa Santos | Senior Videographer

A Democratic congressman from El Paso, Beto O’Rourke, announced Friday he will challenge incumbent U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 as an underdog opponent to a national conservative leader. 

O’Rourke, currently in his third term representing District 16, stopped by Austin to gain momentum among Texas Democrats after announcing his run for senator in his hometown of El Paso. Championing better veteran services, affordable health care and term limits, O’Rourke said Saturday the race against Cruz in a red state will be challenging.

“1988 was the last time this state sent a Democrat to the Senate,” O’Rourke said to his supporters in Austin. “We’re going to decide 2018 is our year.”

Former U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen was the last Democrat to represent Texas in the Senate after his reelection in 1988. Cruz, in his third term as senator, gained strong support among Republicans for his presidential bid in 2016. O’Rourke, a technology entrepreneur and former musician, may also see competition from potential challenger U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, a high-profile Democrat from San Antonio.

O’Rourke said President Donald Trump’s immigration orders, which Cruz supports, are fear mongering and distracting. 

“Not a single terrorist, terrorist plot, or terrorist organization has ever used the Mexico border with Texas or the United States to do harm to anybody in this country,” O’Rourke said. “Despite all of that, we’ve got our president talking about military-style roundups in our communities.”

O’Rourke said he will not support his campaign through PAC funding but rather through grassroots tactics. O’Rourke said he will fight to keep the Affordable Care Act after Cruz said last month Republicans must attempt to repeal it again.

O’Rourke also said his bipartisan goals include raising funding for veteran services and placing term limits, saying he would commit himself to a two-term limit.

“Letting (senators) get reelected forever until they die or retire of their own volition, that’s not a democracy,” O’Rourke told the Daily Texan.

Joshua Blank, manager of The Texas Politics Project, a polling project within the College of Liberal Arts, said O’Rourke must garner more attention from
Texas Democrats.

“Representative O’Rourke is really a non-entity at this point,” Blank said. “Given the Texas Democratic Party has been relatively absent in most recent races, in a lot of ways having some in-fighting would actually revitalize the party.”

Government professor David Prindle said O’Rourke has a slim chance of winning since Texas Democrats have a low voter turnout. Prindle said O’Rourke should try to connect Cruz to Trump.

“Ted Cruz is probably the most hated man in the Senate,” Prindle said. “The only possible strategy I can see for O’Rourke is, if by election day 2018, Donald Trump is hated and O’Rourke can manage to tie Cruz to Trump.” 

Government and economics senior Samantha Minkowitz, and College Republicans vice president, said she is doubtful Texas will elect a Democrat over Cruz.

“I support Ted Cruz,” said Minkowitz. “I think he is incredibly smart, articulate and knowledgeable. I believe that Texas will remain red, at least for the foreseeable future.”

Hiram Garcia, an international relations and global studies sophomore, interned for O’Rourke in 2015. Garcia, who is from El Paso, said O’Rourke’s grassroots campaign sets him apart.

“He spends a lot of his extra time just talking to everyday, regular people,” Garcia said. “He’s just a really nice guy.”