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Texas midterm elections: Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz rely on non-voters and Hispanics to win crucial Senate race

Chris Riotta

With just three weeks until one of the most significant midterm elections for Texas in generations, a palpable energy can be felt coursing through the state particularly over the Senate race between Beto O’Rourke and Republican incumbent Ted Cruz.

Texans on both sides of the political aisle have become increasingly motivated to vote in November thanks to a slate of local issues and national controversies; from health care access — Texas is the most uninsured state in the country — to Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, which led to the separation of migrant families at the US-Mexico border.

For Democrats across the reliably red state, support for progressive candidates has been steadily building throughout 2018. Democratic voter registration has doubled; the party’s senatorial candidate, Mr O’Rourke, has broken fundraising records and put Mr Cruz on the defensive during their final debate Tuesday night in San Antonio.

However, the statewide Republican base has become electrified following Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation battle. The fervour appears to be pushing back against a possible blue wave threatening the reliably red US senate seat: whereas Mr O’Rourke and Mr Cruz were in a statistical dead heat earlier this summer, the incumbent has pushed forward by seven per cent in the latest polls.

The fate of the upcoming elections in Texas likely rests in the hands of two key demographics: non-voters and Hispanics.

Mr O’Rourke is banking on first-time voters and Texans who typically sit out of the state election cycle to flock to the ballots come November. He visited all 254 districts during a 34-day trek spanning 7,000 miles in an attempt to meet with voters often ignored by his party during campaign seasons.

Meanwhile, Mr Cruz could secure a narrow victory thanks to Texas Hispanics, 37 per cent of whom support his re-election, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. While his Democratic opponent holds a commanding lead among Hispanics, the senator maintains loyal support from conservatives within the voting bloc who were raised in a Catholic culture that disavows of abortions.

Beto O'Rourke and Ted Cruz take part in a debate for the Texas US Senate, Tuesday, 16 October 2018, in San Antonio (AP)

He’s repeatedly highlighted the El Paso Democrat’s record on abortion access in recent weeks, including his voting against a bill in Congress that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks.

Many folks across the state don’t consider abortion a top issue when discussing what’s motivating them to vote next month; but throughout Texas, the topic is one that remains incredibly controversial in 2018, and could prove to be the wedge that divides Mr O’Rourke from the state’s independents and centrist Democrats.

During a Monday night event in San Antonio, Mr O’Rourke was confronted by a heckler who accused him of approving of abortions, causing the candidate to engage with the female agitator in a tense exchange. The incident served as a clear reminder for the Democrat and his progressive audience that many hearts and minds have not been changed when it comes to the issue of abortion for a number of decades in Texas, and that they likely won’t budge in time for the election.

Perhaps the only thing that’s clear when looking at the polls is that it can be virtually guaranteed each candidate will see their support fluctuate between now and Election Day.

What’s more, the president has decided to get involved, despite fiercely battling Mr Cruz for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 and insulting his wife on social media at the time.

“Ted Cruz has done so much for Texas, including massive cuts in taxes and regulations - which has brought Texas to the best jobs numbers in the history of the state,” he tweeted Wednesday, a day after the Texas senatorial debate. “He watches carefully over your 2nd Amendment. O’Rourke would blow it all! Ted has long had my Strong Endorsement!”

Mr Trump plans to campaign for the senator in Houston later this month, though it remains unclear whether his contribution will aid Mr Cruz or hamper his chances of garnering further support among Hispanics in the state who strongly disapprove of the president’s zero tolerance policy along the border.

Mr Cruz has supported his agenda since the 2016 election, however, the senator wrote legislation to reunite separated migrant families before the president signed an executive order walking back components of his policy.

With the election around the corner and Mr Trump now injecting himself into the race, things are once getting again getting personal.

After repeatedly avoiding direct criticisms of his opponent along the campaign trail, Mr O’Rourke has now sharpened his attacks against Mr Cruz in a final attempt to take over the senate seat that hasn’t been held by a Democrat since 1994.

Asked about Mr Cruz plans to campaign with the president, the Democrat told reporters after a Tuesday night speech, “To me it demonstrates that Senator Cruz put his political ambition, his prospects in the next election, ahead of anything else, including those he is sworn to represent here in Texas”.

He added, “The president’s policies — these trade wars that he’s entered into — hurt no state more than Texas, yet Senator Cruz is going to go on the campaign trail with him … Texas has lost its voice in the US Senate in Senator Cruz.”

Mr Cruz appears ready and willing to fight back, accusing his opponent of siding with “liberal extremists” during this week’s debate. “The people of Texas, and I will say, especially the Hispanic community, we don’t want to see taxpayer-funded, Medicaid-funded abortions,” he said.

From the vast stretches of borderlands, to the high northern plains and everything in between, the Lone Star state is ready for an old-fashioned Texas showdown in November; one that will ultimately shape the future of the region for generations to come. The only question remaining now is who will be left standing when the dust settles.