© 2024 Allbritton Journalism Institute
Ted Cruz
“If you look at my record of authoring and passing bipartisan legislation, it has been tremendously impactful for Texas,” Sen. Ted Cruz told NOTUS. Shawn Thew/AP

Democrats Like Ted Cruz, Says Ted Cruz

One of the Senate’s most famous conservatives launched the “Democrats for Cruz” coalition as part of his reelection bid. Democratic lawmakers are amused.

When NOTUS asked Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez if Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is a bipartisan lawmaker, she laughed — and she wasn’t the only one.

Cruz has been known as a firebrand and a bomb thrower since he joined the Senate in 2013. He has now launched “Democrats for Cruz,” a coalition meant to showcase his bipartisan support and credentials ahead of his November election against Democratic challenger Colin Allred.

“I am a principled conservative, and I am not afraid of a fight. But if you look at my record of authoring and passing bipartisan legislation, it has been tremendously impactful for Texas,” Cruz told NOTUS.

“One can walk and chew gum at the same time,” he added.

Some see Cruz’s new bipartisan push as evidence that Texas is changing.

“I think he and a lot of other people are coming to the realization that Texas may not be as reliably red as it has been in the past,” said Beth Cubriel, a lobbyist who formerly served as executive director of the Texas state Republican Party.

“I think that his margin of victory last cycle was maybe a little bit too close for comfort, and I think he’s got a good story to tell, and I’m glad to see that he’s reaching out and telling it,” she added.

Texas’ population has grown significantly in the past few years — by nearly half a million in 2023 alone — which many Republicans have pointed out changes the dynamic in the state.

Cruz is still leading in most polls for November. But in Cruz’s last election, the margins were close: He beat challenger Beto O’Rourke in 2018 by about 215,000 votes in a race in which more than 8 million were cast. Only a small percentage of Cruz voters — 8% — identified as Democrats in exit polls. And about 400,000 voters didn’t vote for Cruz that year even though they voted for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

“Texas is obviously still a red state, but as we can see, in 2018, Senator Cruz won reelection by a slim margin,” said Derek Ryan, a Republican political consultant in Texas who maintains a database of voters in the state. “It’s in his best interest to find pockets of voters wherever he can.”

Ryan said young voters provided a huge boost for O’Rourke in 2018, and Cruz could be looking to take back some of the moderates Allred is targeting. This, many members of the GOP point out, is just typical campaigning. People may have reacted to hearing Cruz attempt to do it, given his reputation, but it’s not anything out of the ordinary.

“Good governance isn’t sexy. What’s sexy on both sides is flamethrowing,” Chad Wilbanks, also a former executive director for the Republican Party of Texas, said. “But come general election time, you want to highlight some of the nonsexy things that you’ve done in Congress because that’s important.”

Cruz has been highlighting some of his bipartisan efforts, one of the most recent being his work with Rep. Henry Cuellar of Laredo to expedite the permitting process for bridges across the Rio Grande. The Cruz campaign’s “Democrats for Cruz” announcement highlighted endorsements from four Democrats.

Cruz’s allies don’t think his effort signifies any dampening of the power of the Texas firebrand or Tea Party movement.

“No, I think he’s, you know, in cycle,” Rep. Chip Roy said.

But to his critics, the line between hard-right conservative and bipartisan seems difficult to walk after years of culture wars and Tea Party behavior.

“Honestly, my response would be my laughter,” said Rep. Veronica Escobar when asked about Cruz being bipartisan. Escobar now holds the El Paso seat vacated by O’Rourke.

“That challenge didn’t wake him up to the fact that Texas voters want leadership and governance instead of performance,” she said. “He should be scared, frankly.”

Casey Murray is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.