Sen. Ted Cruz Slams Rep. Beto O'Rourke as ‘left Wing Liberal,' Shrugs Off anti-Trump Anger

WASHINGTON - The fight between Sen. Ted Cruz and challenger Beto O’Rourke pits a tea party darling who used his first term to run for the White House against a dynamic three-term congressman hoping to snap his party’s 25-year losing streak in Texas.Both are expected to clear the primaries on Tuesday with little resistance, and even before polls closed, Cruz was framing the race as a bid by “angry” Bernie Sanders-style liberals to attack Texas’ conservative values.“Congressman O’Rourke is a left-wing liberal Democrat,” said Cruz, who only recently began mentioning his rival by name, in a call with Texas reporters. “It is true that the extreme left is angry and energized and they hate the president.... But the good news is there are more conservatives than there are liberals in Texas.”Texas Republicans haven’t lost a statewide election since 1994, but President Donald Trump looms over the midterm elections, and even in Texas, some voters will use their ballots to signal dismay with him and punish his most ardent defenders, among them Cruz.“I don’t think it’s a slam dunk,” said Jennifer Duffy, who tracks Senate races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “Yeah it’s Texas, but the environment is bad even in Texas,” she said adding that Trump “is going to be the third candidate on the ballot in a way that is very real way....Cruz might have to work for this one.”Cook ranks the race “likely Republican.” So does CNN, a recent downgrade from “Solid Republican.”Republicans hold a narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate. But the 2018 playing field remains favorable for them nationally. Of the 26 seats Democrats are defending, 10 are in states that Trump won -- and half of those, he won by double digits. Trump won Texas, though by a smaller margin that recent GOP nominees.Texas hasn’t had a Democrat in the Senate since 1993, when Lloyd Bentsen resigned to serve as treasury secretary under Bill Clinton. Kay Bailey Hutchison ousted a Democratic appointee who kept the seat warm for five months. Cruz won the seat in 2012 when she retired, besting former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a primary upset.“It is inconceivable to me that Senator Cruz loses in the fall,” said GOP strategist Rob Jesmer, former executive director of the party’s Senate campaign arm, the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “That being said, I think we are heading into a very challenging environment in the fall and that could result in a more competitive race than Texas Republicans are used to.”On issues, the choice for voters is stark.Cruz is among the most conservative members of the Senate. O’Rourke has positioned himself as more of a moderate, though support for legalizing marijuana - not that he emphasizes that issue - is one of many stances that open him to attack.They largely agree on support for free trade and NAFTA. But they diverge on Obamacare, immigration policy, border security, and taxes. Cruz resists any erosion of gun rights for “law abiding citizens.” O’Rourke supports restrictions on high capacity magazines and assault-style weapons."I am not remotely afraid to debate left-wing liberal socialists," Cruz said in committing to debate his rival, noting that he faced off three times with Sanders on CNN over the past year, "and the values of Texas are not the values of Congressman O'Rourke or Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or Chuck Schumer."Cruz, 47, was educated at Princeton and Harvard Law School. He clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist, worked in the Justice Department after the George W. Bush campaign in 2000, and served as Texas’ chief appellate lawyer under Gov. Greg Abbott, then the attorney general.O’Rourke, 45, is also an Ivy Leaguer, with a BA from Columbia. After six years on the El Paso City Council, he won three terms in the House. He’s giving up a safe seat to challenge Cruz.In the primaries, Cruz faced Houston energy lawyer Stefano de Stefano, Christian TV producer Bruce Jacobson Jr., accountant and self described moderate Mary Miller, and former La Marque mayor Geraldine Sam.O’Rourke faced Sema Hernandez, who described herself as a “progressive Berniecrat,” and retired postal worker Edward Kimbrough.Fundraising overviewO’Rourke has raised more than $8.7 million since declaring his candidacy last March, and outraised Cruz in three of the last four filing periods.In the first six weeks of 2018 alone, O’Rourke raised $2.3 million, compared to Cruz’s $800,000 haul - a wake-up call for Republicans who had assumed that Texas would remain a dependable fortress.O’Rourke did this while shunning PAC money, endearing himself to grassroots Democrats but potentially hobbling himself for the fall.“It’s a talking point that people will nod their head to and appreciate, but if he took PAC money, he could get his message out to lots more people, and that’s more important,” said GOP strategist Brendan Steinhauser, who ran Sen. John Cornyn's 2014 race and has strong ties to tea party activists.He said $10 million is the minimum to “run any semblance of a statewide campaign” against Cruz, but $25 million is more realistic and, in his view, shunning PAC money is a “big mistake.”Cruz starts the general campaign with a far bigger warchest: $6 million, more than $1 million more than the challenger's as of mid-February.Neither nominee expects much financial aid from their national parties, though outside groups on the right and left could pour money into Texas if they smell opportunity.The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is mostly focused on defending 26 seats this year, and Texas has roughly 20 media markets. The NRSC likewise will get more bang for the buck in states where TV time is cheaper.“It could be surprisingly close,” said GOP strategist Alex Conant, predicting a win for Cruz. “Republicans want to make the campaign about tax reform: We cut your taxes, Democrats will undo that. Democrats’ message is just: They’re going to be a check on Donald Trump.”Cruz advantagesCruz enters the race with near universal name recognition, and not just inside Texas.Even before he ran for president he’d become a polarizing figure, engineering a budget showdown in 2013 over demands to defund Obamacare that led to a 16-day government shutdown.That was one of many crusades that cemented the affection of conservatives and made him, for the left, a reviled adversary.O’Rourke, by contrast, opened this campaign unknown beyond his El Paso base, far from the vote-rich regions around Dallas and Houston and rarely a springboard to higher office.He has barnstormed the state for months, stopping in small and medium-sized cities that statewide Democratic candidates have neglected for years, drawing surprisingly large crowds - though retail scale politics has limits in a state so vast.“O’Rourke has surpassed every expectation” in terms of attracting funds and attention, Duffy said.O’Rourke is no doubt fresh and “looks like a Kennedy,” Steinhauser said. Many voters might like that he advocates for term-limits and “doesn’t sound like a pre-packaged candidate.” But, he said, Cruz would have to make a dramatic mistake to alienate GOP voters, which means the Democrat’s chances hinge on “huge turnout” among Democrats.And Cruz has a team of advisers seasoned by the 2012 campaign and the presidential effort, plus “He’s got a lot of loyalists on the ground who are seasoned grassroots activists, and who knocked on thousands of doors, actually millions over the course of his campaigns.”Trump factorRepublicans profess little concern for Cruz’s prospects. But what they refer to euphemistically as a tough environment, Democrats call the “Trump factor.”O’Rourke warns that Trump is dangerously volatile. He denounces the president’s immigration policies as heartless and his border wall as a boondoggle that would mainly serve to antagonize a key trading partner.Cruz has tied himself unabashedly to the divisive president and said Tuesday night that he welcomes Trump's support.“That,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, “is fueling a lot of opposition to him by folks who might not have supported Democratic candidates in the past but are sick and tired of the way the Republican Party is turning a blind eye to [Trump’s] incompetence, the corruption, and his playing footsie with the Russians.”Much could hinge on whether millions of young immigrants are deported because Trump scrapped the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program - a scenario that could fuel an unprecedented Hispanic voter surge.“The right wing of the Republican Party is pushing him to deport these kids. If he does that, it spells the demise of the Republican Party in Texas,” Hinojosa predicted.But the Trump connection is hardly the only indictment that O’Rourke and fellow Democrats will push against Cruz.“There’s a reason why this guy is the most unpopular in the United States Senate. He has done nothing. He has no record of achieving anything in the 5-½ years he’s been there,” Hinojosa said, calling him a grandstander disliked by Senate colleagues and voters alike. “We’ve got plenty of ammunition to use against him.”  Continue reading...

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