O'Rourke gets tough in U.S. Senate battle
in Texas, but is it too late?
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[October 18, 2018]
By John Whitesides
(Reuters) - It was no more Mr. Nice Guy for
Falling behind in the polls and running out of time, the Democratic
contender for the U.S. Senate went on the attack against Republican
incumbent Ted Cruz in a raucous debate in Texas on Tuesday night,
calling him dishonest and resurrecting President Donald Trump's campaign
nickname, "Lyin' Ted."
Cruz fired back repeatedly, casting O'Rourke as out of touch with the
values of Texas voters during a free-swinging debate that turned
personal over divisive issues such as healthcare, climate change and the
possible impeachment of Trump.
"Senator Cruz is not going to be honest with you. He is going to make up
positions and votes that I've never held," O'Rourke said during the
debate in San Antonio.
O'Rourke used the nickname that Trump gave Cruz during the 2016
Republican presidential campaign. "He's dishonest," O'Rourke said. "It's
why the president called him 'Lyin' Ted,' and why the nickname stuck."
It was a change in strategy for O'Rourke, who has been hesitant to
attack Cruz while portraying himself as a post-partisan, Kennedy-esque
figure who could bring Texans together.
But with polls showing him slipping farther behind just three weeks
before the Nov. 6 election, and six days before early voting starts in
Texas, O'Rourke had to do something.
"You have to paint in bold colors if you want people to remember what
you are saying," said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern
Methodist University in Dallas. "But I don't think it changes the
dynamics of the race."
Cruz noted the more aggressive stance from O'Rourke and pointed to his
fading standing in the polls.
"It's clear Congressman O'Rourke's pollsters have told him to come out
on the attack," Cruz said.
Texas is seen as one of the Democrats' best chances to gain a
Republican-held U.S. Senate seat in November. Democrats must pick up two
seats nationwide to seize a Senate majority that would allow them to
block Trump's agenda and exercise oversight of his administration.
Trump said he watched the debate, and weighed in on Twitter on Wednesday
morning with strong praise of Cruz for securing cuts in taxes and
regulations and protecting gun rights. "Beto O'Rourke, who wants higher
taxes and far more regulations, is not in the same league with Ted
Cruz," Trump said.
O'ROURKE NEEDS A COMEBACK
O'Rourke will need a comeback in conservative Texas, which has not
elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994. A poll average
compiled by Real Clear Politics gives Cruz a lead of 7 percentage
points, and a CNN poll published on Tuesday gave Cruz a similar margin.
[to top of second column]
U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke poses for pictures after a debate with U.S.
Senator Ted Cruz (not shown) at the KENS-5 Studios in San Antonio,
Texas, U.S., October 16, 2018. Tom Reel/San Antonio
Express-News/Pool via REUTERS
The Democrat's uphill campaign has attracted national attention and a
flood of financial donations. O'Rourke set a Senate record for a single
three-month period with $38 million in third-quarter donations, more
than triple the haul for Cruz.
Cruz has made gains in Texas by hammering O'Rourke as out of step
with Texas voters because of his liberal stances, including his
support for universal healthcare, a path to citizenship for illegal
immigrants, and some gun-control measures.
He kept up those attacks during the debate, saying O'Rourke had
repeatedly showed his willingness to align himself with the
Democrats' liberal wing over the needs of Texans.
"Every time there is a choice between left-wing national activists
and the people of Texas, he goes with left-wing national activists,"
O'Rourke countered that Cruz was ineffective and self-serving in the
Senate, more interested in his political career than in helping
"Ted Cruz is for Ted Cruz," he said, adding the senator's
re-election campaign was "based on fear."
Cruz said O'Rourke was eager to begin impeachment proceedings
against Trump that would lead to a partisan circus. O'Rourke shot
back: "It's really interesting to hear you talk about a partisan
circus after your last six years in the U.S. Senate."
Cruz will get help next week when Trump will be top billing at a
Houston campaign rally for Cruz and other Texas Republicans.
O'Rourke criticized Cruz for his unwillingness to stand up to Trump
on a range of issues, and said he had failed to stop the president
from pushing trade tariffs that would hurt Texas farmers and
"You are all talk and no action," he told Cruz.
(Editing by Richard Pullin, Jeffrey Benkoe and Frances Kerry)
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