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Democrat MJ Hegar enters race against Texas U.S. Senator John Cornyn

Hegar dismisses Cornyn as “that tall guy lurking behind Mitch McConnell”

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

AUSTIN (CFP) — MJ Hegar, a tattooed former Air Force fighter pilot who nearly pulled off an upset against a veteran Republican Texas U.S. House member in 2018, now has her sights on a bigger target — U.S. Senator John Cornyn.

Hegar launched her campaign to unseat Cornyn in 2020 with a video in which she rides a motorcycle and lampoons the former Senator majority whip for his close relationship with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

MJ Hegar announces her U.S. Senate bid

“He’s that tall guy lurking behind Mitch McConnell in basically every single video,” Hegar said. “He calls himself Big John, but he shrinks out of the way while Mitch McConnell gets in the way of anything actually getting done in our government.”

Cornyn’s campaign fired back at Hegar, tweeting that she was Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s “hand-picked candidate.”

“If elected, she will end all of the progress Texas has made by eliminating private healthcare, raising taxes and supporting late-term abortion,” the campaign tweeted, posting a quiz for its followers to judge how liberal Hegar is.

In 2018, Hegar, a political newcomer from Round Rock, lost by just 3 points to seven-term Republican U.S. Rep. John Carter in the 31st District, based in Austin’s northern suburbs. Carter had carried the district by 22 points in 2016.

“I didn’t win that election, but we won something bigger,” Hegar said in her announcement video. “We helped change the status quo — new voices, new volunteers, new voters, standing up to demand better.”

WATCH: Hegar’s full announcement video

Hegar, 42, spent five years flying helicopters in the Air Force. While serving in Afghanistan in 2009, she was wounded when her helicopter was shot down by the Taliban, and she was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After Hegar could no longer fly because of her injuries, she was barred by military policy from serving in other combat roles. She was part of a group of women who sued to overturn the policy, which was repealed in 2013.

Hegar launched her 2018 campaign with a video entitled “Doors,” in which she displayed her tattoos, some of which cover her war injuries. The video went viral, helping her raise more than $5 million for her race against Carter, nearly tripling his fundraising take.

Other Democrats are expected to join the Texas Senate race against Cornyn, including U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro from San Antonio.

U.S. Senator John Cornyn

Cornyn, 67, has represented Texas in the Senate since 2002 and served as the Senate majority whip, the chamber’s No. 2 position, from 2015 to 2019. He won his last re-election race in 2014 by 28 points.

While Cornyn had to face down a primary challenge in 2014, no Republicans have yet stepped forward to challenge him next year.

No Democrat has won a Senate race in Texas since 1988. However, after Beto O’Rourke nearly unseated U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in 2018, Democrats have made Cornyn one of their top targets for 2020.

O’Rourke decided to pursue the Democratic presidential nomination rather than taking on Cornyn.

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Democrat Beto O’Rourke kicks off his presidential campaign with rally in El Paso

O’Rourke says the powerful have “corrupted democracy” at the expense of the powerless

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

EL PASO (CFP) — Democrat Beto O’Rourke formally kicked off his 2020 president campaign with a speech to a hometown crowd in El Paso in which he called on Americans to show more compassion toward immigrants and take on an “unprecedented concentration of wealth and power” that he said has “corrupted our democracy.”

“This is our moment of truth, and we cannot be found wanting,” O’Rourke told supporters who crowded into a downtown street for the March 30 event. “The challenges before us are the greatest of our lifetimes.”

Beto O’Rourke formally kicks off campaign in El Paso (From KRGW via YouTube)

Among the challenges he cited were income inequality, access to health care and climate change. A recurring theme in O’Rourke’s speech was a call to take on powerful, wealthy interests, although he did not specify who those interests were or offer specifics of what he would do to counter them.

“For too long in this country, the powerful have maintained their privilege at the expense of the powerless,” he said. “Unrestrained money and influence has warped the priorities of this county. It has corrupted our democracy. It has invited the cynicism and distrust and disengagement of millions of are fellow Americans who see their very own government enthralled to those to can pay for access and for outcomes.”

In his extemporaneous speech, O’Rourke barely mentioned the man he hopes to displace, President Donald Trump, other than to accuse the president of sowing “fear and division.”

But O’Rourke, who represented a congressional district along the U.S.-Mexico border for six years, drew a sharp distinction with Trump on the issue of immigration, saying immigrants and asylum seekers “are our fellow human beings who deserve to be treated like our fellow human beings.”

“We will find security not through walls, not through militarization. We will find security by focusing on our ports of entry that connect us to the rest of the world so we have a better idea of who and what is coming here,” O’Rouke said.

He also called for legal protection for young people brought into the country illegally by their parents and creating a pathway to citizenship “to bring millions more out of the shadows and on to a path to contribute their maximum potential to the success of this country.”

O’Rouke had announced his White House run via video in mid-March and made a series of appearances in the key early caucus state of Iowa. Saturday’s rally in El Paso, followed by similar rallies in Houston and Austin, marked the formal start of his campaign.

O’Rourke, 46 — whose given name is Robert but who goes by a childhood Spanish nickname, Beto — served three terms in the U.S. House representing metro El Paso before launching a campaign to unseat Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in 2017.

Given little chance when the race began, O’Rourke’s campaign caught the imagination of liberal activists around the country, allowing him to raise more than $80 million and put what had been considered a safe seat in jeopardy.

In the end, Cruz won by 215,000 votes, but O’Rourke’s showing was the best by a Democrat in a Texas Senate race in 30 years. He decided to pass up the opportunity to take on Texas’s other Republican senator, John Cornyn, in 2020 in order to pursue a presidential bid.

After his initial announcement, O’Rourke raised more than $6 million in the first 24 hours. The quarterly reporting period for fundraising closed March 30, and O’Rourke is expected to lead the pack among Democratic 2020 contenders when fundraising figures are posted.

O’Rourke is the third Southern candidate to enter crowded 2020 Democratic field, following another Texan, former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, and Richard Ojeda, a former state senator and unsuccessful congressional candidate from West Virginia.

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Former Texas U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke running for Democratic presidential nomination

Campaign for White House launched four months after O’Rourke came up short in U.S. Senate race

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

EL PASO (CFP) — Saying that the United States faces a “defining moment,” former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke has announced he will seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, launching a national campaign just four months after losing a U.S. Senate race in Texas.

“The challenges that we face right now — the interconnected crises in our economy, our democracy and our climate — have never been greater,” O’Rourke said in an announcement video posted on social media. “They will either consume us, or they will afford us the greatest opportunity to unleash the genius of the United States.”

O’Rourke and wife Amy in announcement video
Click photo to watch video

O’Rourke, who raised more than $80 million dollars in his unsuccessful bid to unseat Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in 2018, promised to run “the greatest grassroots campaign this country has ever seen.”

“This is going to be a positive campaign that seeks to bring out the very best from every single one of us, that seeks to unite a very divided country,” he said.

In his announcement video, O’Rourke did not mention President Donald Trump by name, but he did draw a sharp contrast between himself and the president on Trump’s signature issue, immigration.

“If immigration is a problem, it is the best possible problem to have, and we should ensure that there are lawful paths to work, to be with family and to flee persecution,” he said.

Asked about O’Rourke’s announcement, Trump made light of the Texan’s propensity to use his hands as he speaks.

“I think he’s got a lot of hand hand movement. I’ve never seen so much hand movement,” Trump told reporters at the White House, “I said, ‘Is he crazy, or is that just the way he acts?'”

After posting his kickoff video, O’Rourke traveled to Iowa, which will hold the first caucuses in the 2020 election calendar. A formal campaign kickoff is scheduled for March 30 in his hometown of El Paso.

O’Rourke, 46 — whose given name is Robert but who goes by a childhood Spanish nickname, Beto — served three terms in the U.S. House representing metro El Paso before launching his campaign to unseat Cruz in 2017.

Given little chance when the race began, O’Rourke’s campaign caught the imagination of liberal activists around the country, allowing him to outraise Cruz and put what had been considered a safe seat in jeopardy.

Trump, who had a famously frosty relationship with Cruz when they competed for the White House in 2016, came to Texas to campaign for the senator as the race narrowed.

In the end, Cruz won by 215,000 votes, but O’Rourke’s showing was the best by a Democrat in a Texas Senate race in 30 years.

O’Rourke’s decision to pursue the presidency is good news for Texas’s other U.S. senator, Republican John Cornyn, who had already begin preparing for a challenge from O’Rourke in 2020.

O’Rourke is the third Southern candidate to enter crowded 2020 Democratic field, following another Texan, former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, and Richard Ojeda, a former state senator and unsuccessful congressional candidate from West Virginia.

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Decision ’18: Democrats fail to make major breakthrough in the South

Republicans sweep U.S. Senate and governor’s races; Democrats make a net gain of at least 9 seats in the U.S. House

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

(CFP) — The big, blue wave that Democrats hoped would carry them to a breakthrough in the South crashed into the Republican’s big, red wall in Tuesday’s midterm elections.

Republicans won the high-profile governor’s race in Florida and held a lead in Georgia, easily defended U.S. Senate seats in Texas and Tennessee and appear to have ousted Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson in Florida.

Joe Manchin

The lone bright spot for Democrats in statewide races was in West Virginia, where U.S. Senator Joe Manchin held his seat.

Democrats did flip at least nine Republican-held U.S. House seats, ousting three incumbents in Virginia and winning a seat in South Carolina and another in Oklahoma that they had not won in more than 40 years. Three seats are still too close to call, with Republicans leading in two of them.

However, Republicans carried two-thirds of the 30 seats that Democrats had targeted across the region, including seven seats in Florida and Kentucky’s 6th District, where Democrat Amy McGrath failed to oust U.S. Rep. Andy Barr despite spending $7.8 million dollars.

Brian Kemp

Ron DeSantis

Republicans won all nine of the governor’s races in the South, including Florida, where Republican former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis defeated Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Georgia, where Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp was leading former State Rep. Stacey Abrams by 60,000 votes with some mail-in ballots left to be counted.

Abrams has refused to concede.

“Votes remain to be counted. Voices waiting to be heard,” she told supporters early Wednesday morning. “We are going to make sure that every vote is counted because in a civilized nation, the machinery of democracy should work everywhere for everyone.”

Gillum and Abrams were hoping to become the first African-American governor in their respective states and end 20-year droughts in the governor’s office.

In addition to victories in Florida and Georgia, Republican governors were re-elected in Texas, Arkansas, Alabama and South Carolina, and GOP candidates kept open seats in Tennessee and Oklahoma.

Of the seven U.S. Southern Senate races, Republicans won four and the Democrats two, with one race in Mississippi heading to a November runoff, which amounts to a net gain of one seat for the GOP.

Beto O’Rourke

Ted Cruz

The most high-profile race was in Texas, where Democratic U.S. Senator Beto O’Rourke ran a spirited race to try to oust Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. But in the end, Cruz won 51 percent of the vote to 48 percent for O’Rourke.

In Florida, Republican Governor Rick Scott defeated Nelson, who was trying for his fourth term. Scott’s win means that Florida will have two Republican senators for the first time in 100 years.

Republicans also defended a seat in Mississippi, where U.S. Senator Roger Wicker won easily, and in Tennessee, where Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn defeated Democratic former Governor Phil Bredesen by an surprisingly large 55 percent to 44 percent margin.

In Virginia, Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine won 57 percent to 41 percent for Republican Corey Stewart.

In a special election in Mississippi to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of former U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith, Cochran’s temporary replacement in the Senate, advanced to a November 27 runoff against Democrat Mike Espy, a former congressman who served as agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration.

Hyde-Smith and Smith both came in at 41 percent,short of the majority they needed to avoid a runoff. Republican State Senator Chris McDaniel came in third at 17 percent.

In the U.S. House races, the most high-profile casualty was 11-term Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, who lost his Dallas-area House seat to Colin Allred, an attorney and former NFL player.

 

Comstock

Brat

Other Republican U.S. House losers were Dave Brat in the suburbs of Richmond; John Culberson in Houston; Barbara Comstock in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.; Carols Curbelo in Miami; and Scott Taylor, in the Hampton Roads area of southeastern Virginia.

In Miami, Democrat Donna Shalala, who served as health secretary in Bill Clinton’s administration, won an open seat that had been held for 30 years by retiring U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Two of the night’s biggest surprises came in Oklahoma City, where Republican Steve Russell was defeated by Democratic newcomer Kendra Horn, and in the Low Country of South Carolina, Democrat Joe Cunningham held a slender lead over Republican State Rep. Katie Arrington, who had ousted the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, in the Republican primary.

Arrington

Cunningham

Republican incumbent Rob Woodall led by 4,000 votes in the Atlanta suburbs, and in the Charlotte area, Republican Mark Harris held a small lead over Democrat Dan McCready.

The news was not as good for Karen Handel in suburban Atlanta, who trailed her Democratic challenger, Lucy McBath, by 2,100 votes after all of the precincts had reported.

Handel won that seat just last year in a special election that became the most expensive House race in U.S. history, in which more than $50 million was spent.

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Election Preview: Four Southern U.S. Senate races are key in battle for control

Republicans are defending seats in Texas and Tennessee; Democrats in Florida and West Virginia

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — With the balance of power in the U.S. Senate hanging in the balance, voters in four Southern states will decide hotly contested races in Tuesday’s midterm elections.

Republicans are defending seats in Texas and Tennessee that have turned out to be much more competitive than expected in two very Republican states. Meanwhile, Democratic incumbents are defending turf in Florida and West Virginia, states which President Donald Trump carried in 2016.

Another Senate seat is up in Virginia, where Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine is favored to win re-election. Both seats are up this year in Mississippi, and Republican candidates are favored to hold both.

In Texas, Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz is seeking a second term against Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a race in which the challenger has sparked the imagination of Democratic activists around the country.

Cruz, who came in second to Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, was heavily favored for re-election at the beginning of 2018. But O’Rourke — trying to take advantage of a changing political electorate in fast-growing Texas, including more younger and Latino voters — has made the race competitive, even though Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in 30 years.

O’Rouke has raised more than $70 million for the race, the largest haul of any Senate candidate this cycle, according to Federal Election Commission records. Cruz has raised $40 million.

Despite Cruz’s often contentious relationship with Trump during the 2016 presidential primaries, which famously included Trump dubbing him “Lyin’ Ted,” the president has gone all out for Cruz in this race, even traveling to Houston for a campaign rally.

In Tennessee, Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn is vying with former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen for a seat which opened after the retirement of U.S. Senator Bob Corker, one of Trump’s strongest critics in Congress.

After first rebuffing calls for him to run after Corker announced he was leaving the Senate, Bredesen changed course last December and jumped into the race, giving Volunteer State Democrats a shot at capturing the seat behind the candidacy of a popular two-term moderate.

But Blackburn has fought back by trying to tie Bredesen to national Democratic leaders who are unpopular in Tennessee, in particular Hillary Clinton and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

Republicans currently have  a slim one-vote majority in the Senate. However, because Democrats are defending more seats this cycle than Republicans, it is unlikely they can capture a Senate majority — and depose Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader — without winning in either Texas and Tennessee.

In Florida, Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson is facing off against Republican Governor Rick Scott, who has served as the Sunshine State’s chief executive for the past eight years.

Nelson, who first arrived in Congress during the Carter administration, is a proven vote-getter seeking his fourth term. Scott’s two wins for governor were narrow, although his approval ratings have ticked up during the final year of his administration.

Florida is more evenly divided than either Texas or Tennessee, generally sending one senator from each party to Washington since the 1980s. Trump’s win in Florida in 2016 was by a single point, compared to a 9-point win in Texas and a 26-point win in Tennessee.

In West Virginia, Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin was seen as particularly vulnerable given Trump’s 40-point win in the Mountaineer State. But Machin kept himself in contention by avoiding criticism of the president and supporting him on a number of high-profile issues, including both of Trump’s Supreme Court picks.

Manchin may have also benefited from the Republicans’ selection of a standard-bearer — State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who grew up in New Jersey, has only lived in West Virginia since 2006 and spent nearly a decade as a Washington lobbyist.

The folksy Manchin, a West Virginia native who served as governor before being elected to the Senate, has made much of that contrast. Morrisey has responded much the way Blackburn has in Tennessee — by trying to tie the incumbent to liberal establishment Democrats.

In Mississippi, both Senate seats are up this year due to the retirement of former U.S. Senator Thad Cochran. One race is a special election to fill the remainder of Cochran’s term; the other is for the seat occupied by Republican U.S. Senator Roger Wicker.

While Wicker is heavily favored over his Democratic challenger, State House Minority Leader David Baria, the special election features a three-way race in which candidates from all parties will compete and a runoff held between the top two vote-getters if no one captures a majority.

The special election is a three-way contest between Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, Cochran’s temporary replacement; Republican State Senator Chris McDaniel, who lost a bitter primary against Cochran in 2014; and Democrat Mike Espy, a former congressman who served as secretary of agriculture in the Clinton administration.

Depending on how evenly the Republican vote is divided, the top GOP candidate could face Espy in a November 27 runoff. But polls have showed Hyde-Smith with a wide lead over McDaniel, which could be enough for her to win the seat outright on Tuesday.

Although McDaniel was a vocal supporter of Trump in 2016, the president snubbed McDaniel and endorsed Hyde-Smith, who had been a Democrat until 2010. McDaniel has charged that Trump was “forced” into making the endorsement by Senate Republican leaders.

In Virginia, Kaine is facing Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, who served as Trump’s Virginia coordinator in 2016.

When he kicked off his campaign in July 2017, Stewart vowed to “run the most vicious, ruthless campaign” that he could against Kaine. However, public polling in the race has shown that strategy has failed to gain traction, and Kaine enjoys a wide lead.

See ChickenFriedPolitics.com’s latest ratings for hot U.S. Senate races

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Texas U.S. Senate debate: Cruz, O’Rourke clash on immigration, energy policy, taxes and Trump

Final face-off comes with President Donald Trump poised to head to Texas to campaign for Cruz

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
Watch full debate on Twitter

SAN ANTONIO (CFP) — Meeting to face-to-face for the second and likely last time, Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and his Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, sparred over immigration and border security, energy, health care, abortion, tax cuts and, no surprise, President Donald Trump, who is about to bring his rally roadshow to Texas on Cruz’s behalf.

O’Rourke and Cruz meet in Oct. 16 debate (Courtesy KENS)

Throughout the October 16 debate in San Antonio, Cruz painted O’Rourke as an extremist beholden to “left-wing national activists” who supports “socialized medicine” and whose views are out of step with most conservative Texans.

O’Rourke, in turn, accused Cruz of being “all talk and no action” and more interested in his national political ambitions and the welfare of corporate interests than representing the people of his state in the Senate.

The sharpest exchanges came when Cruz charged that O’Rourke supported a plan to impose a $10-a-barrel tax on oil, which he said would negatively impact the state’s oil and gas industry, and the congressman insisted that the senator was mischaracterizing his record.

“This is what you can expect over the course of this debate. Senator Cruz is not going to be honest with you,” O’Rourke said. “He’s going to make up positions and votes that I’ve never held or have never taken. He’s dishonest. It’s why the president called him ‘Lyin’ Ted,’ and it’s why the nickname stuck, because it’s true.”

Cruz fired back, saying “it’s clear Congressman O’Rourke’s pollsters have told him to come out on the attack.”

“If he wants to insult me and call me a liar, that’s fine. But John Adams famously said that facts are stubborn things,” said Cruz, who added that he would ”post proof of O’Rourke’s oil tax vote on his website. The explanation on Cruz’s website states that O’Rourke refused to support a resolution opposing President Barack Obama’s proposal for increasing the tax on oil.

Cruz also said O’Rourke, if elected, would push for Trump’s impeachment, which would lead to “two years of a partisan circus shutting down the federal government in a witch hunt on the president.”

O’Rourke retorted that it was “really interesting to hear you talk about a partisan circus after your last six years in the United States Senate.”

Cruz also touted his work on the tax cut bill recently passed by Congress, saying it had brought marked improvement to the Lone Star State’s economy.

“Texas is booming. We’ve got the lowest unemployment we’ve had in 49 years,” he said. “We’re seeing record growth.”

But O’Rourke, who opposed the tax cut plan, said it would add $2 trillion to the deficit. He said he supported a partial raise in the corporate tax rate, which could be used to improve universal access to health care through expanded access Medicare and Medicaid.

Cruz dismissed O’Rourke’s health care plan as “socialized medicine” and said income tax rates would have to be tripled  to pay for it. He also noted his consistent support for repeal of Obamacare, although he pushed back when O’Rourke charged that he wanted to take away coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions mandated in the current health care law.

On abortion, Cruz said O’Rourke was on “extreme pro-abortion side” by not supporting restrictions on late-term abortions and supporting taxpayer funding of abortions through Medicaid. He also said the congressman would push for confirmation of “left-wing judicial activists who impose their own policy positions from the bench” on issues such as abortion and gun control.

O’Rourke did not back away from his support for legal abortion, telling the debate audience that would only vote to confirm Supreme Court justices who will support a woman’s right “to make her own decisions about her own body.”

The candidates also differed on Trump’s proposed physical border wall on the U.S-Mexico border, with Cruz in support and O’Rourke in opposition.

“No wall is going to solve legitimate security concerns,” O’Rourke said, calling for increased spending on customs infrastructure to improve the flow of goods and people across the border.

Cruz responded that O’Rourke “not only opposes a wall … he wants to tear down the ones we have.”

The candidates’ second encounter in San Antonio is the last scheduled debate between them before the November 6 election.

Cruz, 47, was elected to the Senate in 2012 on his first try for political office. In 2016, he made an unsuccessful run for the Republican presidential nomination, carrying 12 primaries and caucuses and finishing second in the delegate count behind Trump.

O’Rouke, 45, has represented metro El Paso in the House since 2013, after serving on the El Paso City Council. Although he is Irish and his given first name is Robert, he was nicknamed “Beto” — a Spanish nickname for Robert — from childhood.

His campaign has excited the Democratic base, drawing large crowds and media attention in a state that hasn’t seen a competitive Senate race in 30 years.

O’Rourke has also raised a staggering $51 million for the race, including $38 million in the last quarter, which set an all-time quarterly record for fundraising by a Senate candidate. Cruz has so far raised $35 million for the entire race.

Still, the odds against a Democrat in Texas are daunting. A Democrat has not won a Senate race since 1988; Republicans have won the last nine Senate races by an average margin of 19 percent.

The last five public polls in the race have shown Cruz with a lead, but none of those leads have been outside the poll’s margin of error, which indicates that the race is still too close to definitively say either man has a lead.

Despite an often contentious relationship between Cruz and Trump during the 2016 presidential race, the White House has announced that the president will travel to Houston on October 22 for a campaign rally with the senator.

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Poll: U.S. Senator Ted Cruz has a lead over Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke

New Quinnipiac survey finds Cruz up by 9 points, more than the margin of error

AUSTIN (CFP) — On the eve of the first debate in the Texas U.S. Senate contest, a new poll of likely voters shows that Democratic hopes — and Republican fears — of a competitive race this November may be overblown.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz

A Quinnipiac University poll, released Sept. 18, found that Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz had a lead of 54 to 45 percent over his Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke , a statistically significant lead in a poll with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

An August poll by Quinnipiac had found Cruz’s lead within the margin of error and his support under 50 percent. However, that was a survey of registered voters, rather than likely voters; likely voter polls are designed to weed out respondents who are unlikely to vote.

The poll found that women and voters who classify themselves as independents were evenly divided between the two candidates. But men favored Cruz by 15 points, and he led by 34 points among white voters.

O’Rourke’s support is stronger among Latinos, where he leads Cruz by 9 points, and among African Americans, where he leads by 94 points.

The biggest hurdle for O’Rourke may be that Cruz is viewed favorably by most likely voters in Texas, with 53 percent approving of his job performance, according to the poll.

His approval numbers are better than those for President Donald Trump, who is viewed favorably and unfavorably by 49 percent.

Cruz and O’Rourke are scheduled to meet in their first debate on Friday, Sept. 20.

Cruz, 47, was elected to the Senate in 2012 on his first try for political office. In 2016, he made an unsuccessful run for the Republican presidential nomination, carrying 12 primaries and caucuses and finishing second in the delegate count behind Trump.

O’Rouke, 45, has represented metro El Paso in the House since 2013, after serving on the El Paso City Council. Although he is Irish and his given first name is Robert, he was nicknamed “Beto” — a Spanish nickname for Robert — from childhood.

His campaign has excited the Democratic base, drawing large crowds and media attention in a state that hasn’t seen a competitive Senate race in 30 years.

O’Rourke has also raised $23.6 million for the race, according to the latest Federal Elections Commission reports, slightly more than Cruz. The last time Cruz ran, in 2012, he outraised and outspent his Democratic opponent by a 2-to-1 margin, on his way to a 16-point victory.

Still, the odds against a Democrat in Texas are daunting. Republicans have won the last nine Senate races by an average margin of 19 percent.

Despite an often contentious relationship during the 2016 presidential race, Trump has announced that he would be “picking the biggest stadium in Texas we can find” for a rally for Cruz in October. No date has been announced.

The Texas race is one of six Southern states with open seats in 2018; the others are Virginia, West Virginia, Florida, Tennessee and Mississippi, where both seats are on the ballot.

Four of those races are shaping up to be potentially competitive — Florida and West Virginia, which are currently held by Democrats, and Texas and Tennessee, held by Republicans.

Democrats need to make a net gain of two seats to take control of the Senate.

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