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Tuesday, October 27, 2020
Opinion Richard Connor: Rafael? Robert? Ted? Beto? Names aside, it’s a contest

Richard Connor: Rafael? Robert? Ted? Beto? Names aside, it’s a contest

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Rafael Cruz is suddenly worried about Robert O’Rourke taking his U.S. Senate seat.

That would be Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who wants to send Cruz back to Texas after the mid-term elections.

O’Rourke likes to suggest that Cruz should have been spending more time here all along, since he found time when running for president to visit all 99 counties in Iowa prior to the Hawkeye State’s presidential caucuses in 2016.

Many folks these days seem to want to talk about who is more ethnic based on the candidates’ fondness for changing their first names. Yes, Ted is Rafael and Beto is Robert.

So what?

So. Nothing.

More significant is that O’Rourke has raised more money for the Nov. 6 election than Cruz has. O’Rourke, 45, and Cruz, 47, both have youth on their side and they should be able to walk a lot of streets. O’Rourke has already visited all of Texas’ 254 counties.

It has been reported that O’Rourke raised over $10 million in the last quarter. Of course, he will need that and more. Hard to beat an incumbent.

But even those in the heart of the Republican Party are concerned that Cruz could lose.

“There’s a very real possibility we will win a race for the Senate in Florida and lose a race in Texas for the Senate, OK?” said Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director who also heads up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “I don’t think it’s likely, but it’s a possibility. How likable is a candidate? That still counts.”

Reporting on a recent visit by Cruz to a Houston private club that caters to the oil and gas crowd, The New York Times mentioned the senator’s “likability” factor – or lack of it:

“Yet, being ‘likable’ is something Mr. Cruz has struggled with for most of his life. Growing up in Houston in the 1970s and 1980s, Mr. Cruz spent his elementary-school and junior-high years as a ‘geeky kid’ and ‘the unpopular nerd’ who was lousy at sports, he writes in his 2015 biography, A Time for Truth.”

Then there is the story of one of his Harvard roommates who once had a blog devoted to commenting on how arrogant, obnoxious, self-serving and overly-ambitious Cruz was when in college.

This all reminded me of Fort Worth’s own part of this tale.

Cruz was here and having lunch in a private club dining room to meet with a well-connected Fort Worth executive.

“What’s up?” Ted was asked.

Cruz explained he was at the club asking this fellow to raise money for him in his presidential run.

“Can’t help you,” said the man.

“What?” said a chagrined and incredulous Cruz.

“No, I can’t,” said the man. “See all these folks in the dining room who you could easily assume would support you? There’s a big problem. They don’t like you.”

All this makes you wonder if someone not naturally warm and fuzzy should get closer to the voters or stay further away in the run-up to the fall election..

Can Ted Cruz become more likable? That’s the question.

President Donald Trump has been enlisted to come to Texas to help spark the Cruz campaign. It’s not certain if that visit will help or hurt. As rivals in the 2016 Republican primaries, Trump and Cruz fired off insults at each other on a daily basis. Trump took to calling Cruz “Lyin’ Ted.” When Cruz spoke at the Republican Convention that nominated Trump for president he refused to endorse his tormentor.

Now they are friends.

Well, that’s politics, and maybe blind ambition.

O’Rourke is free-wheeling and liberal, liberal, liberal – every bit as liberal as Cruz is conservative, maybe more so. He wants to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, enthusiastically supports unions and supports just about every program President Barack Obama initiated.

Texas has become a “red” state and that’s an understatement. The last Lone Star State Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate was Lloyd Bentsen in 1988.

But with its surging ethnic population, Texas looks like a sure bet to turn blue sometime soon if – and that’s a big if – Hispanics, blacks and, equally important, young voters turn out at the polls.

Perhaps this election cycle will not be the one when the red-blue tide decides to turn. O’Rourke’s chances of pulling off what most observers would consider a monumental upset depend entirely on his ability to mobilize young and minority voters to turn out in record numbers.

Most polls have him trailing Cruz by single digits, which is a monumental surprise in its own right since the incumbent – and most political soothsayers – probably viewed O’Rourke as little more than a nuisance candidate when he announced he was entering the race.

Ultra-liberals have staged some upsets this year, the most recent example being Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s surprising victory in the Florida Democratic Party’s gubernatorial primary.

Back in July, when the Texas summer and the Beto bandwagon were both heating up, I questioned all the attention O’Rourke was getting in the national press. Often, that does not equate to popularity at home. You may recall that Gov. Ann Richards was a rising star nationally when George W. Bush unceremoniously ended her reign in Austin.

Skeptical about O’Rourke’s popularity here in Texas, I conducted my own informal poll by counting yard signs. I did not see many signs touting O’Rourke, even though several readers said I did not look hard enough.

Fair point.

So I looked harder. My September yard-sign poll in Fort Worth revealed far more O’Rourke signs than Cruz signs.

Even more telling for me was the 18-year old woman who asked me how to register to vote and then was studying the statewide ballot. I am a betting man and would wager that O’Rourke has the inside track with at least with one young voter.

There’s no way of telling if it’s a trend or an anomaly but as of now the Senate race shapes up this way: O’Rourke 1, Cruz 0.

Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at rconnor@bizpress.net

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