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Cruz '92 secured another six years in the Senate during the midterm election in Texas. Courtesy of Michael Vadon via Wikimedia Commons

In a race closely watched both nationally and by University students, Senator Ted Cruz ’92 of Texas narrowly edged out Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke by 2.6 percent to retain his seat in the U.S. Senate.

According to news outlets heading into Election Day, the race was essentially a “toss up.” Cruz’s victory set off strong emotional reactions on all sides of the political spectrum within both the United States and the University.

When results from Texas started trickling in on Election Day, Henry Barrett ’22 — a former staffer for O’Rourke’s campaign — was feeling cautiously optimistic.

“Going into Election Night, I, alongside many other people, had hope … in Congressman O’Rourke’s chances of winning,” Barrett said.

O’Rourke ran a competitive grassroots campaign, visiting all 254 counties in the state and setting records for fundraising in a Senate race without accepting any money from political action committees (PACs), which represent special interests and corporations.

Even though O’Rourke was ultimately defeated, Barrett said that he felt he and his fellow Texas Democrats had not been demoralized.

“I don’t know how the future of the Texas Democratic Party will play out,” Barrett said. “There are still very many strong, younger candidates out there.”

Ben Gelman ’22, a Democrat from Texas, also voiced his disappointment with the outcome of the race, but said he was not surprised.

“All of the polls said that it was going to be close — that [Ted Cruz] was going to win, and that’s exactly what happened,” Gelman said.

Still, Gelman said he holds much hope for the political future he wanted for Texas, believing that O’Rourke had made some headway in the race.

“[O’Rourke] had a better chance than any Democrat in my recent memory. That’s exceptionally good in Texas, but you shouldn’t expect him to win,” Gelman said, citing Texas’s strong ties to traditionally Republican values as the cause.

Sebastian Quiroga ’22, a former intern for the Texas GOP, said he was surprised to see the race come down to the wire, as he had been expecting a 5–7 point victory for Cruz.

However, he never saw O’Rourke as having reasonable shot at victory.

“There were certain issues, that were so far left, that are just not electable in the state of Texas,” Quiroga said. “You cannot say that you want to vote to impeach Donald Trump and run for office in the state of Texas and expect to win. You also cannot say that you want to abolish [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], in a state like Texas that loves law enforcement, and expect to win. So, for me, a lot of what [O’Rourke’s] campaign was about was posturing himself for a Presidential run.”

Quiroga considered the Senate race to be O’Rourke’s first attempt at proving he can win over typically conservative voters. However, he added, “For him, the goal has always been to win the Democratic ticket in 2020. I don’t think he was very serious about winning Texas.”

He noted, however, that he sees the tight margin as representing the possibility of change coming to Texas politics.

“I think if you are on the right, you should be concerned. There are shifting tides. Texas is no longer a certainty to be red,” he said.

The next step for Texas’s conservative politicians, to Quiroga, is figuring out what issues are important to Texans and finding ways to express their alignment with Texans on those issues.

Students from Texas, however, were not the only ones following this race.

For politics professor Christopher H. Achen, Cruz’s victory was expected, but O’Rourke’s defeat by less than three percentage points came as a surprise.

“This election shows that with a substantial nationwide swing to the Democrats, a charismatic Democrat like O’Rourke can be very competitive in Texas,” he wrote in an email to The Daily Princetonian.

Achen added that midterms typically challenge the party in power and often are not “very predictive” of the next presidential race.

Looking ahead to Democrats’ bid to reclaim the White House in 2020, Achen said, “Much depends on whether the Democrats nominate … someone who can reduce the Republicans’ enormous margins among less-educated whites, especially males and rural voters.”

Whig-Clio co-president Justin Wittekind ’21 from California expressed strong concerns about voter registration during Texas’s midterm elections.

“The Republican Party in Texas has made it hard both to register and to vote in the state,” he wrote in an email to the ‘Prince.’ “They have no concern for having full participation in the election.”

This issue has also been echoed on news networks such as CNN, which have cited instances of voter suppression around the country.

Kion Bruno ’22, who closely followed races near his home state of Connecticut, was still intrigued by the campaign in Texas.

“It seemed as though, if anyone could really pose a threat, [O’Rourke] was doing the right things to do so,” said Bruno, who described himself as someone who leans “very slightly conservative.”

On election night itself, Bruno was studying, so he wasn’t able to pay attention to the minute-by-minute returns coming in. But when he did get a notification on his phone about Cruz’s victory, he, too, wasn’t surprised.

“It seemed like it would be a decently close race — but it’s Texas and Cruz is the incumbent, so at the end of the day he really is the one that’s expected to hold the seat,” Bruno explained.

Bruno said he felt that Cruz did not have a great deal of support on campus and that students were more likely to support O’Rourke. 

American Whig-Cliosophic Society Vice President Aoife Bennett ’20, who is from New York, highlighted that there has not been a lot of political change since Democrats have been in power. However, she believes that the lack of political change persists in Texas as well, which has typically remained a red state in an increasingly polarized political climate.

Yet, despite the trend of polarization in the United States, Bennett said she felt reassured that some balance was restored with the Democrats in the House

“It is essential to remember that Democrats now have the House, so even though it might feel like this was even more of an indication that things are going wrong, I view it as things beginning to change — just slowly,” she said.

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