Ex-punk rocker to challenge Cruz for Senate
The Democrats have a nearly impossible task ahead of them in 2018 if they want to take over the Senate. The current makeup of the Senate is 52 Republicans, 46 Democrats, and two independents who caucus with the Dems. There are 34 seats up for grabs in 2018, but only 9 of those are Republican. Of the 25 Democrats running, 10 are from states taken by Donald Trump in 2016. They need to flip three seats to win a majority in the Senate.
You would think the DNC would be working overtime to find candidates who have a chance of winning. But in Texas, where Senator Ted Cruz will be running for re-election, one of the leading Democrats is a former punk rock guitarist who wants to legalize pot and whose views on illegal immigration are 180 degrees opposite the president's.
To say Beto O'Rourke is a far-left liberal congressman from El Paso just doesn't capture how far out of the mainstream in Texas he is. With Cruz incredibly well funded and being relatively popular, and other leading Democrats in the state shying away from running, O'Rourke may be offered as a sacrificial lamb in a race he may lose by 30 points.
The third-term congressman and fluent Spanish speaker is the kind of rising political star Democrats hope can help begin turning deep red Texas blue, aided by a booming Hispanic population and state politics pushed even farther right by Trump and Cruz. He first made a name for himself playing guitar for Foss, an El Paso punk rock band that included drummer Cedric Bixler-Zavala, who went on to play for the Grammy Award-winning act The Mars Volta.
Those bands are not exactly household names, although being an old fuddy-duddy who hasn't followed popular music for a couple of decades, I may be mistaken in wondering is this the best celebrity candidate they could come up with.
"The Trump factor. He's the gift that keeps on giving to Democrats in Texas," said the state's Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa. "It's energizing the base and changing the whole dynamics of electoral politics here, and that's what these two guys see."
It's hard to imagine any Democrat taking Texas by storm, much less toppling Cruz, who added to his national stature running for president while remaining popular in most GOP circles back home. A Democrat hasn't won statewide office in Texas in 23 years, the nation's longest losing streak by a political party.
Still, O'Rourke insists Cruz is beatable and there are some positive signs for Democrats, who in November swept down-ballot races in Harris County, which includes Houston, and made notable gains in other fast-growing areas. Trump still beat Hillary Clinton in Texas by 9 percentage points — but that was the first time a Republican didn't carry the state by double digits since 1996.
Castro hasn't tamped down speculation he too will run for Senate and would be favored over O'Rourke. Both have crisscrossed the state, engaging top donors and party activists. Hinojosa says he's assuming Castro will run with help from his twin brother, Julian, the former San Antonio mayor who was President Barack Obama's Housing and Urban Development Secretary.
On resume alone, O'Roruke [sic] would seem an unlikely choice, but he has been an underdog before.
O'Rourke was elected to the El Paso City Council at age 32 but remained virtually unknown outside his hometown until the 2012 Democratic primary, when he ousted eight-term Rep. Silvestre Reyes, a former House Intelligence chairman.
His El Paso district is strongly Democratic, making general elections since then an afterthought. The dynamics will be far different in a Senate race: Even if O'Rourke survives a dogfight primary, beating Cruz would be far tougher.
O'Rourke would offer Cruz a target-rich environment. While it's true that the Hispanic population of Texas is expanding, Cruz (a Cuban-American) has shown he can attract a significant portion of the Hispanic vote. He won 35% of Hispanics in his 2012 Senate race and will probably win more in 2018. There are a large number of Hispanics in Texas who fear illegal immigration as much as anyone. Cruz's message resonates with them and, along with a unified Republican party, should make any leading Democrat in the state think twice about running.
If the Democrats can't do any better at candidate recruitment than this, it will be a long night for them on November 6, 2018.