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Rating change: Allred puts Texas Senate race on the battleground

Democrats have a shot against Cruz, but winning will be tough

The rating for Sen. Ted Cruz’s reelection race in Texas is shifting from  Safe Republican to Battleground.
The rating for Sen. Ted Cruz’s reelection race in Texas is shifting from Safe Republican to Battleground. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

ANALYSIS — Democrats have lost more than 100 consecutive statewide races in Texas over the past 30 years, so on the surface it doesn’t make sense to move the 2024 U.S. Senate race in their direction. But the contours of the race have changed.

Texas is still a Republican state, and its transition to swing status has been slower than some have predicted. And yet this cycle’s U.S. Senate race will be part of the fight for the majority in 2024. Democratic Rep. Colin Allred’s recent entry gives Democrats a credible challenger against GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in a cycle where Democrats are desperate for takeover opportunities. 

Allred’s initial message looked intentionally personal, rather than partisan. The Dallas-area congressman is trying to contrast himself as a courageous, bipartisan leader versus a self-interested, partisan incumbent. Democrats know if the race boils down to mere partisanship, Allred will lose like all of those before him. But Cruz’s polarizing profile gives them an opening to win a race that would be more difficult against Texas’ other senator, Republican John Cornyn

The Inside Elections rating of the race is therefore changing from Solid Republican to Battleground, with more traditional ratings categories (Toss-up, Tilt, Lean, Likely) coming later this summer. Allred’s entry has also landed Cruz on CQ Roll Call’s 10 most vulnerable senators list. 

The rating change is significant because the initial Senate battleground consisted entirely of states that Democrats currently hold, including West Virginia, Montana, Ohio, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Virginia, as well as independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s seat in Arizona. 

It was the first time in recent memory that one party did not have a single vulnerable Senate seat on the initial battlefield, which includes any seats not rated as Solid Republican or Solid Democratic. In initial ratings from Inside Elections and The Rothenberg Political Report going back to the 1994 cycle (when the Rothenberg Report started releasing formal ratings), each party has had at least two vulnerable seats. 

The addition of Texas to the battlefield gives Democrats a legitimate takeover opportunity, albeit a difficult one

The last time Democrats were elected statewide was in 1994, when Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock and Supreme Court Justice Raul Gonzalez won reelection. The last high-profile Texas Democrat to win statewide was Ann Richards, when she was elected governor in 1990. And the last Texas Democrat to win a U.S. Senate race was incumbent Lloyd Bentsen in 1988. 

At a minimum, Republicans will be forced to spend time on Cruz’s reelection race and may end up having to spend money, depending on Allred’s fundraising and how the race develops. That would divert resources from Republican efforts against Democratic senators. Democrats could use a takeover victory to offset a loss in West Virginia, Montana, Ohio or elsewhere.

Republicans need a net gain of two seats for the Senate majority but can control the Senate with a net gain of a single seat and a presidential victory, as the vice president could break tie votes. 

President Joe Biden is unlikely to win Texas in his reelection race, but he lost the Lone Star State to President Donald Trump by just 5.6 points in 2020, so Allred may not have to face an insurmountable pull from the top of the ticket.

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.

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