AUSTIN (KXAN) – Democratic voters in Texas will head to the polls in less than a year to decide which candidate they would like to see challenge Sen. Ted Cruz in his re-election bid, but the field remains empty right now because no one has jumped yet in competition.
Cruz has already announced his intention to seek a third term representing Texas in the Senate, which will almost certainly pave the way for the well-known Republican to secure his party’s nomination. Chuck DeVore, head of national initiatives at the conservative thinktank Texas Public Policy Foundation, said issues like border security and rising inflation could help Cruz outpace any challenger during the 2024 general election.
“If you just look at the environment in which the election will take place, 2024 will be much more favorable for Senator Cruz and he gets re-elected than 2018,” DeVore said.
He also said that another factor that could benefit Cruz is the lack of a clear Democratic favorite who could garner national attention and the same fundraising firepower as former Rep. Beto O’Rourke in 2018. Cruz finished to narrowly win the statewide election by two percentage points.
“I think the challenge is, who else is there in the state of Texas that can run that would then attract all those tens of millions of dollars from around the country?” Devore said. “I just don’t see that lightning in a bottle caught twice.”
Still, while Democrats are waiting to see who enters the race, they may be feeling some optimism about their chances based on a recent poll showing Cruz’s unpopularity among Texas voters. During its February poll, the Texas Politics Project asked people how they would rate the jobs of these six Republican leaders: Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dade Phelan, Attorney General Ken Paxton, Senator John Cornyn and Croce. The poll results showed that Cruz had the highest disapproval rating (46%) among these elected leaders, while his approval rating was 40%.
Joshua Blank, the director of research for the Texas Politics Project, said Cruz’s poll numbers are driven by extremely negative disapproval rates among Texas Democratic voters and slightly more negative disapproval rates among independents than other leaders. elected statewide.
“I think one of the benefits for any Democrat running against Sen. Ted Cruz is that he won’t have to do a lot of work to define Cruz for voters,” Blank said. “Most voters know what they think of Ted Cruz, so the job becomes one of introducing yourself to the constituents you need to, but really focusing on mobilizing and campaigning on a day-to-day basis.”
Potential Democratic challengers
The guessing game is already underway about who will run in the Democratic primary. According to a recent report from The Dallas Morning News, sources said Rep. Colin Allred, a former NFL player, is asking donors to potentially enter the race. He flipped a competitive seat in Congress in 2018 and defeated an incumbent Republican in his Dallas-area district. If Allred runs for the Senate, he will follow the path O’Rourke blazed, where a Texas congressman sought a seat in the upper house.
Ed Espinoza, a Democrat analyst in Texas, said Allred’s name is popping up a lot in the conversations he’s having right now.
“He could be a very strong candidate,” Espinoza said, “and the fact that he’s in Congress already means that he has access to federal money, federal PACs and the like that they could buy in his run. You also saw it with Beto O’Rourke in 2018, so [Allred] he is a candidate who could be very competitive.”
Rep. Colin Allred, D-Texas, speaks during a news conference introducing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday, June 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Espinoza said there are also rumors in Democratic circles that Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner may have his eye on this office.
“Sylvester Turner is at the end of his mayoral term. He’s called to Houston later this year,” he said. bad stepping stone for someone trying to race across the state of Texas”.
FILE – Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner speaks during a news conference November 6, 2021 in Houston. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner revealed Wednesday, November 2, 2022 that he underwent surgery and six weeks of radiation therapy over the summer for bone cancer in his jaw over the summer. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke, archive)
Doubts remain, Espinoza said, whether even one of the Castro brothers could enter the Senate race. Julián Castro served as secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Obama and ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, while his twin brother Joaquin Castro is a Democratic congressman representing San Antonio .
“Either of these two would be a strong candidate if he decides to run now,” Espinoza said. “The thing about the Castros is that they are very popular. They are very well known and are very skilled in the state. They also get mentioned whenever a statewide race comes up, and that’s not always what they choose to do. So this time will be different? We will see.”
Rep. Joaquin Castro, left, of D-Texas, speaks to a group of Elizabeth Warren supporters as his brother, Julian Castro, right, former secretary of housing and urban development, looks on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, as campaigning for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, in Denison, Iowa. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
None of these men responded when KXAN reached out inquiring about their future plans.
Sources connected to local Democratic politics also tossed out a few other names that could be in the mix, including former state senator Wendy Davis and former 2020 Senate nominee MJ Hegar.
When will the challengers announce the races?
Democratic candidates are already bidding for Senate seats in California and Michigan after longtime incumbents in those two states announced they would retire from office. However, Texas isn’t seeing the same quick action.
Espinoza expects Texas voters likely won’t find out who is launching Senate campaigns here until after the legislative session ends in May. He called it a “good mile marker” because the submission period for next year’s Senate primary election starts on Nov. 11 and runs through Dec. 11. He added that historically Democrats jump into statewide races later than Republicans in Texas.
“Ultimately, I will say this: Democrats have fielded much better candidates in Texas over the past 10 years. We’ve had much closer races,” Espinoza said, “so I expect the 2024 election cycle to be competitive. I think voters deserve good candidates and I think they will get good candidates.”
KXAN reached out Friday afternoon for comment to Sen. Cruz’s office about launching his re-election bid, and this story will be updated once a response is shared.