El Paso Democratic Congressman Planning to Challenge Senator Cruz in 2018

The 2018 political season is officially underway in Texas, as U.S. Rep Beto O'Rourke (D-El Paso) will announce on Friday that he will challenge first term U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

O'Rourke, 44, is a non traditional Texas Democrat.  A former punk rock musician and high tech company founder, O'Rourke recently made national news in his free wheeling 'road trip' with San Antonio Republican Congressman Will Hurd which they broadcast on Periscope and which received coverage from coast to coast.

But Rice University political analyst Mark Jones says O'Rourke begins the campaign with a big disadvantage. 

 He has almost zero name recognition across the state, and being from El Paso won't help.

"Outside El Paso and Hudspeth Counties, nobody in the state outside of political activists have any idea who he is," Jones said.

And in a huge state like Texas with multiple large, and very expensive, media markets, gaining that name recognition will be an expensive proposition, and money is still hard to come by for Texas Democrats."

But O'Rourke he amount that it would take to adequate fund a Senate race in Texas, would fund a half dozen Senate races in other states," Jones said, adding that the currently struggling national Democratic party will probably prefer to put its money on endangered Democratic Senators, especially in states won by Donald Trump, rather than bet on a long shot candidate in still reliably red Texas.

But Jones says Trump has thrown out the political rule book, and it is uncertain what the President might be up to next summer, when the Texas political race heats up.

"If the Trump Presidency implodes completely, next summer we may be talking more seriously about O'Rourke's chances," Jones said.

But O'Rourke may not even make it to the general election. San Antonio Congressman Joaquin Castro has made no secret of the fact that he is exploring a race against Cruz, and, in a statement Wednesday, Castro indicated he isn't backing down.

"Its no secret Joaquin is heavily weighing a Senate run," Political Director Matthew Jones said.  "He will continue to have these discussions with his family, friends, and supporters across Texas.  He plans to make his decision in the coming weeks."

Although Cruz remains very popular among movement and evangelical conservatives, many Trump backers in Texas may turn away from the Senator, who refused to strongly endorse Trump at last year's Republican convention, while emerging as Trump's leading challenger for the nomination.

Another stumbling block for Cruz may be weariness with the Republicans in general.  The GOP has held a two decade stranglehold on Texas politics, and, historically, long stretches of 'one party rule' in a state frequently lead to voter fatigue and help the emergence of the other party.  

Helping that momentum may be problems within the party, as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick continues to push an increasingly unpopular 'bathroom bill' in the Legislature, and Attorney General Ken Paxton faces a possible criminal trial on securities fraud allegations.

Also, opposing Barack Obama for eight years provided a lot of fuel for Texas Republicans.  With a Republican now in the White House, that energy level may wane.

But Texas remains a strongly Republican state, and the chances of any Republicans right now have to remain slim.


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