For much of the past year, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz did not acknowledge Beto O'Rourke’s name — or even, for a while, the fact that he had a Democratic opponent for re-election.
That abruptly changed Tuesday evening, when Cruz convened severa
l state reporters for a conference call in the final hours before polls closed in the state’s primaries.
“Tonight’s election marks the beginning of the general election,” Cruz said. “In November, the voters of Texas will have a clear and stark choice for the United States Senate. Congressman O’Rourke is a left-wing, liberal Democrat — he is running like Bernie Sanders across the state, and the voters of Texas will have a decision of what policies and values reflect their own values.”
For the next several minutes, Cruz proceeded to lay out a detailed case against O’Rourke, portraying him as dramatically out of step with most Texans when it comes to at least three issues: guns, immigration, and taxes. Alluding to certain bills O’Rourke had authored, Cruz spoke with the ease of an incumbent who knew his challenger’s record well — and was more than ready to start wielding it.
For Cruz, it was a remarkable escalation in his approach to O’Rourke, signaling a new chapter in the race — and not just because the two formally secured their party’s nominations Tuesday night. According to unofficial returns, Cruz easily fended off four little-known challengers with 85 percent of the vote, while O’Rourke got an underwhelming — but still successful — 62 percent against two rivals.
Cruz did not let up on O’Rourke as the returns came in, releasing a radio ad featuring a country music song ridiculing the El Paso congressman.
“If you’re going to run in Texas, you can’t be a liberal man,” a singer croons in the ad, which also jabs at O’Rourke for going by “Beto” — a nickname dating back to his childhood — when his real first name is Robert.
Cruz's call and the ad punctuated a period of increasing hostility against O'Rourke that began last month, when he reported raising nearly three times more than Cruz over the first 45 days of 2018, $2.3 million to $803,000. Furthermore, O’Rourke whittled down Cruz’s cash-on-hand advantage to just over $1 million.
O’Rourke has been taking the new level of incoming in stride. In an interview after Cruz’s call Tuesday evening, the El Paso congressman largely declined to fire back.
“All I can tell you is I’ve been listening to the people that I want to represent in Texas in almost every county across the state,” O’Rourke said. “I’m making their priorities my priorities.”
O’Rourke did allow one jab at Cruz, noting that Texans have a choice in November between a challenger who has been holding town halls throughout the state for almost a year and an incumbent who spent a chunk of his first term running for president. “Which of the two are going to have a better idea of what’s going on in Texas?” O’Rourke asked.
To be sure, Cruz is still the favorite in November as he seeks a second term. Texans have not elected a Democrat to statewide office in over two decades — and it's been even longer since they sent one to the U.S. Senate.