Texas Democrats take aim at Ted Cruz's Senate seat

It was a Friday night and it was pouring rain in Dallas. The Texas Theater, most known for being the place where police captured Lee Harvey Oswald more than 50 years ago, is now a hipster hangout. The place was packed, not for an indie film or local band, but a politician you've probably never heard of — Beto O'Rourke, the congressman from El Paso and a fourth-generation Texan. 

The Democrat is hoping to unseat someone you definitely know: the senator and former presidential candidate Ted Cruz. While no political watchers expect an upset in November, the enthusiasm generated in this race and others in Texas may be a harbinger of the election atmosphere this fall.

First, the money. Although Cruz has raised more money overall, O'Rourke has beaten Cruz, handily, in the last two reporting periods. In the first part of 2018, O'Rourke rose $2.8 million to Cruz's $800,000.

U.S. Representative Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) campaigns in Houston, Texas U.S. November 11, 2017.  REUTERS/William Philpott - RC155B415260

Texas is a solid red state, but huge Democratic turnout for early voting is raising eyebrows, as is big money raised by at least one candidate: Rep Beto O'Rourke, the Democratic challenge to Sen. Ted Cruz.  (REUTERS)

And, as O'Rourke likes to point out, his campaign doesn't accept political action committee money.

Cruz is quick to offer an explanation. 

"You’re right," Cruz told Fox News outside an event in El Paso. "My opponent has raised a lot of money. And it doesn't hurt that (New York Sen.) Chuck Schumer brought his liberal buddies with him and they would love to see the state of Texas have an anti-gun, pro-amnesty, liberal Democrat represent them."

Money is one thing. Turnout is another. At least when it comes to early voting in this Texas primary, Democratic turnout has doubled over the last midterm primary. 

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, pauses as he delivers a speech to 2014 Red State Gathering attendees, Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, in Fort Worth, Texas. Possible presidential candidate Cruz predicts Republicans will retake the Senate this year and that "2016 will be even better." (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Sen. Ted Cruz did admit his opponent has raised 'a lot of money.'  (AP, File)

Still, political watchers are not expecting a huge shakeup. After all, Texas is solidly red. 

"Maybe a couple seats in the U.S. House will go from Republican to Democrat," said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. He said most of the impacts would be on state legislative races. 

Still, Jillson cautioned Republican incumbents like Cruz should not to get complacent. 

"I think incumbents always ought to run nervous, particularly in the age of Trump," he said.

What this Democratic enthusiasm means for states outside of Texas remains to be seen. 

As for O'Rourke, he's crisscrossing the state, determined to visit every county in Texas (there are 254). O'Rourke said one county he visited hadn't seen a Senate candidate from either party, since fLyndon B. Johnson. He said he's felt welcome, from Democrats and Republicans alike. 

"There's just something really amazing going on in Texas right now, " O'Rourke told Fox News during his stop in Dallas. "I just feel very lucky that I'm a part of it."