Update: Ted Cruz won re-election in Texas.
Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke is trying to mount one of the biggest upsets of the 2018 midterm elections with a long-shot bid to unseat conservative Sen. Ted Cruz.
There’s no doubt that O’Rourke has made the race more competitive than any Democrat has been able to in a statewide Texas race in more than two decades. But all the polls have still shown Cruz as the favorite to win. Going into Election Day, O’Rourke trails by roughly 6 points. Vox has live Texas election results, powered by Decision Desk, below.
Two years ago, O’Rourke was a virtually unknown third-term Congress member from El Paso. Now he’s become an almost unavoidable figure, drawing media attention from Stephen Colbert and Ellen DeGeneres and becoming the subject of President Donald Trump’s tweets.
It’s easy to see why O’Rourke, in particular, is spooking Texas Republicans. In a state with a beleaguered Democratic Party, O’Rourke hasn’t hired a political consultant or pollster on his campaign; he brags that he’s not taking any money from PACs and maintains a progressive platform even in the most conservative parts of the state. His campaign still raised over $70 million this cycle, more than double what Cruz pulled in.
Over the past two years, O’Rourke has been driving through every Texas county trying to energize Democrats to come out in droves. In the process, he has transformed from a long-shot candidate with a robust social media presence to a long-shot Democratic celebrity holding 55,000-person campaign rallies with country music singer Willie Nelson. He’s being compared to John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama, and Democrats are already talking about a potential O’Rourke 2020 presidential bid.
On almost every front, he sits in direct stark contrast to Cruz. On policy, Cruz has defended his record against gun control, dedication to repealing Obamacare, and stance against giving young unauthorized immigrants a path to citizenship.
But even in Republican-heavy Texas, O’Rourke has campaigned as though he were running for election in a Democratic state; he’s called for Medicaid expansion, argued for an assault weapons ban, pushed for universal pre-K, and decried the GOP tax cuts. He supports the DREAM Act, which gives a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children, have gone to college, or served in the military.
He’s certainly struck a nerve — with Cruz in particular. The once safe Republican senator has gone on the attack, painting O’Rourke as an extremist lefty trying to bring California to Texas. In many ways, the strategy has been working. O’Rourke has become an increasingly polarizing figure in the polls and has never been able to surmount Cruz’s lead.
That said, there’s definitely enthusiasm for him; more people in Texas voted early in 2018 than the total number who turned out in the 2014 midterms. And O’Rourke, who has been running a campaign more about mobilizing Democratic voters than persuading moderate Republicans to support him, has bet that the more people who vote in Texas, the more Democratic the state will become.
Election Day will be a test of that theory.