Sen. Gutierrez appears to be getting set to challenge Ted Cruz

Very interesting.

Sen. Roland Gutierrez

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a San Antonio Democrat who has become a fierce champion of the families impacted by the Uvalde school shooting, is likely to run against Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2024, The Texas Tribune has learned.

One source close to Gutierrez said he is “very likely” to run, while another said there is “no question he is seriously looking at it.” Gutierrez is not expected to make any announcements about the race until after the current legislative session, which ends late next month.

Gilbert Garcia, a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News, first reported Wednesday morning that Gutierrez is “nearly certain” to run.

The two sources close to Gutierrez declined to be named because they were not authorized to publicly discuss his deliberations. Gutierrez also declined to comment.

Cruz’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, is also considering running against Cruz, who has shifted focus to his reelection campaign in recent months after flirting with another presidential bid.

Gutierrez has served in the Texas Senate since 2021 after previously serving over a decade in the House. His Senate seat is not on the ballot again until 2026, meaning he would not have to give it up to challenge Cruz next year.

The Uvalde massacre happened inside his district, killing 19 children and two teachers, and Gutierrez has dedicated himself this legislative session to trying to address it despite GOP leaders’ resistance to considering any new gun restrictions. He has held several news conferences with families of victims and clashed with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick over the issue on the Senate floor.

Gutierrez got his biggest victory yet Tuesday when a House committee held a hearing on a slate of gun bills, including one that would raise the minimum age to purchase certain semi-automatic rifles.

This kind of comes out of left field. Sen. Gutierrez has been mentioned in various “who could run against Cruz” stories, but mostly in passing, in the “other names that have been mentioned” category in articles that focused on Julian Castro or Colin Allred. Indeed, in at least some stories in which Allred is touted as the likely candidate, Sen. Gutierrez isn’t mentioned at all. I don’t think there’s one correct way to road test a possible candidacy, but it’s fair to say that if this is for real, Gutierrez took a different path than Allred has.

That’s assuming Allred is still a potential candidate. We’ve discussed all the reasons why it would make more sense for him to stay put, at least until Texas becomes Democratic enough to not have to run as a distinct underdog. It’s one thing to give up your safe Congressional seat for an odds-against shot at Ted Cruz when you know you’ll be the nominee. It’s another thing altogether if you have to win a primary against a strong opponent first. The fact that Gutierrez, like Royce West in 2020, can run without ceding his current position is a big advantage for him. I won’t say this will put an end to the Allred speculation industry, but it certainly changes the calculus.

It must be noted that at this point in time, Allred has a significant financial edge over Gutierrez. I’ve got a Q1 Congressional finance reports post in the works, and Rep. Allred has about $2.3 million on hand after raising over $500K. Sen. Gutierrez has $309K on hand as of January, and can’t do any more fundraising until the session is over. If there are special sessions, that also puts his fundraising on hold. It would not be a surprise to see him get a surge of donations in whatever post-session days of May and June there are, but he has a ways to go to catch up.

Anyway. Sen. Gutierrez would be a fine candidate. He has been true to his word to be an advocate for Uvalde on sensible gun control measures, and that would surely be a centerpiece of his campaign against Cruz. As is always the case, I will want to hear the words from his own mouth before I commit to the belief that he’s running, but this is a strong clue.

There was a Trib story from a couple of weeks ago about the 2024 Senate race, mostly focused on Cruz, that I had in my drafts but hadn’t published. I’ve repurposed that post for this one, and you can find the original beneath the fold. Note the absence of any mention of Sen. Gutierrez in the piece, or at least in what I had highlighted from it.

We’re gonna keep on talking about it, this time more on the Ted Cruz of it all.

Not Ted Cruz

Six years ago, Ted Cruz was vulnerable. He was widely derided as Congress’ least likable Republican senator — by members of his own party. And in his home state, he was facing off against a barnstorming Democratic opponent so formidable that he was drawing GOP voters across the aisle.

Today the conservative iconoclast still elicits the strong emotions and frequent ire for his bombast and penchant for division. He still remains unafraid to buck his own party leadership when he feels it’s being insufficiently conservative. But as he gears up for his second reelection bid in 2024, Cruz is facing a different political terrain than he did in 2018.

He’ll run with more power in the Senate and more name recognition around the country. Trumpism has elevated combative lawmakers in Cruz’s mold within the GOP. And as his party has taken rightward turns over the past decade, Cruz steadily polls as one of the most popular figures among Texas Republicans.

“Everybody comes here as a novice, and we all learn as we serve in this body,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas’ senior Republican senator. “I think like all of us, he’s grown into his responsibilities.”

The question for Texas Democrats is how will they fare without the star power and fundraising prowess of Beto O’Rourke, who let Democrats come within three percentage points from winning statewide office in his bid against Cruz for the first time in decades. Both Republicans and Democrats say they have forces working in their favor this election cycle.

Republicans won’t be running in a midterm election year with their party’s president at the top of the ticket, as was the case in 2018 when Democrats swept across the country in a show of discontent with the White House. (However, former President Donald Trump could still animate Democratic voters again if he’s the Republican nominee.) Meanwhile, Democrats say their base is still motivated by events like the overturning of Roe v. Wade that helped them beat the odds in minimizing their losses in last year’s midterm elections.

O’Rourke hasn’t made any indication that he’ll run. He didn’t answer the Tribune’s attempts for an interview, and his former campaign staff said they don’t know his plans. Operatives in both parties stressed the El Pasoan’s unique, prodigious talent as a major factor in 2018. O’Rourke’s three high-profile runs for higher office left behind robust statewide infrastructure for future Democratic candidates, but a new Democrat will also have to recreate a cultural wave and innovative strategy to replicate O’Rourke’s near win, operatives in both parties said.

I can say with some confidence that Beto will not be running for Senate next year. Beyond that, the main difference between this story and previous examples of the genre is the aforementioned focus on Cruz. If you want to read more about that, go ahead and read the rest. Otherwise, you get the idea.

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