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Cruz, O’Rourke Senate race raising the stakes in UH political community

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (left) and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz are being helped by UH Democrats and UH Republicans, respectively. | Via Wikimedia Commons

The tight Texas Senate race between U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke has pushed UH College Republicans and UH College Democrats to campaign heavily for their respective candidates in the weeks leading up to the election. 

According to a poll released by NBC in August, O’Rourke is 4 percentage points behind Cruz, making the Senate race the most competitive Texas has seen in years. The high stakes in this race have pushed the two organizations to knock on doors, host rallies and phone bank to give their candidates the push they need to secure victory in November.

“If Beto wins Texas, it will be the first statewide election in many years that a Democrat would win. That might mean that a shift is coming in party dominance in the state,” said Jorge Saldana, a political science professor at UH. “Swinging a state can be a big deal in Texas because it is strongly Republican. A Democratic win can lead to a national trend. Other states can say, ‘if Texas is able to elect a Democrat, then so can we.’” 

With the numbers showing a competitive race, UH Democrats have mobilized and hosted several organization rallies for Rep. O’Rourke. On the flip side, UH Republicans are campaigning more for this race than others because of its importance and elevated competitiveness.   

“(UH College Republicans) are doing more than any other club on campus,” said Political Director of the UH College Republicans William Little. “Knocking on more doors, we’re volunteering more hours, and we’re fighting harder than any other group to ensure our beliefs and our freedoms.”

The challenge for a Democrat in Texas is immense. Sen. Cruz is finishing his first term as senator after winning his Senate race in 2012 with little challenge from his Democrat opponent.  

Sen. Cruz’s then challenger, Paul Sadler, only had 5 percent of the total money raised compared to his opponent, according to the Texas Tribune. 

The Texas Tribune reported in late August that Rep. O’Rourke has outraised Sen. Cruz by almost $8 million.   

“I’m really excited that O’Rourke is looking to represent all Texans,” said political science senior Jonah Baumgarten, who is a student ambassador for Students for O’Rourke and a member of the UH Democrats. “He is committed to listening to the voters and not the corporations and PACs hoping to buy his vote. He has taken $0 from PACs and hopes to make our elections and the voting process more ethical.” 

From top to bottom, the state of Texas’ political offices are mostly held by Republicans. The governor is Republican, 93 of the 150 state representatives are Republican and 20 of 31 state senators are Republican, according to Ballotpedia. 

But UH Democrats feel that needle could shift, beginning with O’Rourke being elected.  

“Texas is quickly becoming one of the most diverse states in the country. Houston, specifically, is the most diverse city in the nation,” Baumgarten said. “It is for this reason that someone like O’Rourke has a deep understanding of the issues that affect all Texans, having visited and spoken to voters in all 254 counties in Texas.” 

In April, Rep. O’Rourke came to the University for a town hall hosted by UH Democrats. Rep. O’Rourke is in favor of publicly-funded college tuition, stricter gun regulations, pharmaceutical reform and pro-immigration legislation. 

For Little, Sen. Cruz’s knowledge of the constitution is vindicated by his past positions and education. Sen. Cruz went to Harvard Law School, where one professor there called him “off-the-charts brilliant.” 

“People should vote for Ted Cruz if they like small government and individual freedoms,” Little said. “If you don’t want the government to assign your future and fate, then Cruz is your candidate.” 

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