Does Colin Allred stand a chance against Ted Cruz in Texas?
Three-term Democratic House member, a former NFL player, is running in a state that’s reliably Republican
Should Sen. Ted Cruz be worried about his reelection prospects? History says “no.”
After all, the last Democrat to win a Senate election in the Lone Star State was Lloyd Bentsen, who was reelected in 1988. Democrat Bob Krueger served about six months after Bentsen resigned to become secretary of the Treasury, but he lost a special election to fill the rest of Bentsen’s term to Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison.
It has been about 35 years since Texas Democrats have won a Senate race, and they haven’t done much better in elections for governor. Ann Richards was the last Democrat elected governor, in 1990.
A quick look at the other statewide elections and the partisan makeup of the state Legislature confirms the obvious: Texas has become reliably Republican. Sure, there are Democratic pockets of strength, but the state is red, not purple.
But Texas is changing. Can it change enough to give Democratic Rep. Colin Allred a serious chance next year to knock off Cruz, a two-term Republican?
Partisan changes in a state can occur slowly (as in the case of Delaware) or quickly (as in the case of West Virginia). Most changes are slow, reflecting demographic shifts over time.
Candidates are important, but even good candidates usually can’t overcome a state’s partisan bent, if it is strong enough. This is particularly true in elections for federal office.
That’s why I was skeptical about Democrat Amy McGrath’s prospects against entrenched Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell in the 2020 Kentucky Senate race.
I also didn’t buy into the Democratic “Dream Team” in Texas argument in 2002, where gubernatorial nominee Tony Sanchez, lieutenant governor hopeful John Sharp and Senate nominee Ron Kirk were supposed to be real threats to the state GOP. They really weren’t.
But 2024 could be different in Texas.
The demographics of Texas have been changing for years as the suburbs have grown, and then-Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s surprisingly strong run against Cruz in 2018, when the challenger lost by 215,000 votes out of 8.3 million votes cast (50.9 percent to 48.3 percent), almost automatically makes next year’s Senate contest worth watching.
The state’s rural areas remain solidly conservative and Republican, but the cities and their fast-growing suburbs are changing the face of the state.
Still, it’s important to remember that Cruz’s weak performance in 2018 took place in a bad GOP year, with a controversial Republican (Donald Trump) in the White House. When O’Rourke ran for governor in 2022 against incumbent Republican Greg Abbott, O’Rourke lost by 11 percentage points and almost 1 million votes.
So, while Texas is becoming more competitive, it’s not there yet, at least not statewide.
Fundamentals tell you only so much about a state or congressional district, however. As I’ve noted often, the candidates really do matter.
How did Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez get elected in 2022 in Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, a clearly conservative and Republican district? It was in play only because Gluesenkamp Pérez was a strong candidate and Republican Joe Kent wasn’t.
How did Republican Scott Klug win and hold a Madison, Wisconsin-based district during the 1990s that should have sent a Democrat to Congress? Klug was a strong campaigner and an excellent member of the House.
How did Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial election in 2022 turn from a closely watched competitive contest to a Democratic blowout? The Democrat, Josh Shapiro, was a strong nominee and campaigner, while the GOP nominee was a crackpot.
Candidates matter. A lot. Just ask Mitch McConnell.
And in the case of Texas, Allred is an excellent candidate who is likely to run a strong, well-funded campaign. His initial campaign video was terrific.
Allred’s opponent, incumbent Cruz, has a list of credentials that prove his smarts (an undergraduate degree from Princeton and a law degree from Harvard), and he has lots of political, campaign, and governmental experience.
He’s strongly conservative, and that means something in a state like Texas.
Biden a liability?
But Allred is a three-term congressman who played football for Baylor University and then professionally for the Tennessee Titans of the NFL. He earned a law degree from the University of California, Berkeley, after his football career ended.
Allred, who represents part of the Dallas suburbs, is articulate and personable. His positioning as a moderate Democrat is also an advantage, though he could face a primary for his party’s Senate nomination.
In contrast, Cruz is angry and confrontational. During the race for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, Cruz responded to Trump’s attacks by calling the eventual Republican nominee “a sniveling coward,” “a pathological liar” and “a serial philanderer.” Then, Cruz endorsed Trump.
With an unpopular Republican in the White House, Allred would have a good chance of upsetting Cruz. But Biden could turn out to be a huge liability next year for Allred, and the challenger will need to run a near perfect race to oust Cruz. Still, given Cruz’s personality and style, that’s not impossible.