Cruz’s victory comes after O’Rourke had shattered fundraising records in his high-profile challenge, and could dampen Democratic hopes that the Lonestar State is shifting in their direction.
With 32 percent of precincts reporting, Cruz led O’Rourke 51 percent to 48 percent when The Associated Press called the race.
O’Rourke’s campaign galvanized Democrats — his record fundraising came despite his rejection of all political action committee money and he attracted scores of supporters to his events across the state. By putting Texas in play, the three-term congressman from El Paso forced some outside GOP groups to spend to help out Cruz, a former presidential contender. O’Rourke raised a total of $70.7 million to Cruz’s $40 million.
Democrats have contended that Texas is trending blue, noting that President Donald Trump won the state by just 9 points in 2016, the smallest margin for a GOP presidential nominee in Texas in 20 years. O’Rourke was looking to energize voters who don’t typically turn out in midterm elections, including younger voters and people of color. But he faced an uphill climb in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat statewide since 1994.
Cruz attempted to paint O’Rourke as too liberal to represent the traditionally conservative state. O’Rourke ran further to the left than other Democrats running in red states — he supports impeaching Trump, a ban on assault weapons and legalizing marijuana. His unconventional campaign featured him driving across the state, constantly using Facebook Live to communicate with voters, and mostly shirking traditional consultants and pollsters.
Cruz stressed his Republican bona fides, including his support for Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. The senator and Trump clashed during the 2016 presidential campaign but have since become closely aligned. Trump traveled to the Lonestar State to rally Cruz supporters late last month.
First elected to the Senate in 2012, Cruz has been a favorite of the right, and a thorn in the side of GOP leaders in the nation’s capital. He led an effort to strip funding for the 2010 health care law, which led to a government shutdown in 2013.
Since returning to the Senate after his unsuccessful presidential run, Cruz has sought to work more behind the scenes to influence major policy fights including last year’s failed effort to repeal the health care law.
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