Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and the Democrat congressman who wants his job wasted no time celebrating their primary victories Tuesday night, taking aim at each other as soon as polls closed to set the stage for one of the most closely watched contests of the midterm elections.
Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, has already managed to energize Democrats in the traditionally red state, while Republican incumbent Cruz looks to maintain support from the conservative GOP base by blasting his opponent as a “left-wing liberal.”
In a statement following his primary win Tuesday night, Cruz said voters would have a “clear and stark choice” in November, painting O’Rourke as a Texas-style “Bernie Sanders.”
“Congressman O’Rourke is a left-wing, liberal Democrat — he is running like Bernie Sanders across the state, and the voters of Texas will have a decision of what policies and values reflect their own values,” Cruz said after easily securing the GOP nomination with 85 percent of the vote.
Cruz then released an ad targeting O’Rourke with a country jingle that warned voters, “If you’re going to run in Texas, you can’t be a liberal, man.” Cruz tweeted the clip, which played to the tune of Alabama’s “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas.”
The tweet came shortly after O’Rourke secured the Democratic nomination with 65 percent of the vote.
The ad says O’Rourke “wants to take our guns” and calls him “liberal Robert,” referring to his given first name, and says he “changed his name to Beto.”
But despite Beto O’Rourke’s uphill battle to seize Cruz’s Senate seat, he has energized Democratic voters for the first time in more than a decade, signaling a tight race come November.
For the first time since 2008, more Texas Democrats voted in the primary than Republicans, according to early voting numbers. Ahead of Tuesday’s primary, the Texas secretary of state’s office noted that 465,000 people voted in the Democratic primary, compared with about 420,000 Republicans.
When the voting booths closed, O’Rourke released a statement saying that the polls show him within “striking distance” of the “junior senator from Texas." And his fundraising can’t be ignored.
“We’ve already outraised Cruz multiple times with grass-roots donations alone, without taking a dollar from PACs,” O’Rourke said.
According to reports, O’Rourke raised nearly three times more than Cruz over the first 45 days of 2018 — with $2.3 million to Cruz’s $803,000. While Cruz does have a cash-on-hand advantage over O’Rourke, the Democratic challenger is only wavering by $1 million.
O’Rourke could have a challenge in Texas, though, when it comes to Second Amendment rights.
In an interview on CNN’s “New Day” Wednesday, O’Rourke defended his gun control stance, noting that Texas has a “great tradition and culture of gun ownership,” but that the state should take “leadership on the issue.”
“I’ve got to face my kids and my conscience and do the right thing when we have the opportunity to do the right thing,” O’Rourke said.
Cruz has already seized on O’Rourke’s gun control policy, saying he is “undermining our Second Amendment.”
“Those are wonderfully popular positions if you’re running for the Senate in New York or Massachusetts or California,” Cruz said on CNN’s “New Day.” “But this is Texas. Those are not the views of the vast majority of Texans.”
Fox News' Andrew O'Reilly and Lukas Mikelionis contributed to this report.