A brief update on the Democratic Senate primary

Just a couple of thoughts.

Not Ted Cruz

If money is any indication, the crowded contest to challenge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz next year is Democrat Colin Allred’s to lose.

The congressman from Dallas has set campaign fundraising records and outpaced his closest primary competitor by roughly $10 million. Allred has ignored the seven other Democrats in the race and focused squarely on Cruz, pitching himself to voters as a pragmatic and bipartisan alternative who proved he can beat an incumbent Republican when he flipped the congressional seat he holds in 2018.

“We’ve generated support around the country because folks realize I’m battle-tested, I know how to win in tough races — but I also know how to bring people together,” Allred said.

But state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a San Antonio Democrat seen as Allred’s closest rival, has been turning up the heat on the former professional football player he calls too moderate and too hesitant to throw political punches.

Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde and has focused his campaign on curbing gun violence after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, has staked out a series of positions to Allred’s left. He is calling for “Medicare for All” while slamming Allred for supporting border barriers and refusing to back calls for a cease-fire in Israel’s war with Hamas.

“The other candidate, he’s so afraid to talk about these things because he thinks he’s going to back himself out of his moderate world,” Gutierrez said. “We’re not in those times anymore. I know he loves to talk about bipartisanship, but that’s not what this is about anymore. Our world and our country and our state are on fire.”

It’s an effort to generate some competition in a race that so far has attracted little attention from Texas voters — even as national Democrats have made clear they plan to pour significant resources into the state to unseat Cruz, whom they view as one of the very few potentially vulnerable Senate Republicans on the ballot next year. Cruz fended off Beto O’Rourke in 2018 by just 2.6 percentage points.

Political scientists say a more competitive primary could give Texas Democrats a much-needed boost heading into a difficult general election match after years of disappointing results in statewide races.

“There are very interesting X factors in Gutierrez’s candidacy that potentially make this a lot more interesting race than it’s been so far, but that also suggest it could get more interesting once people start paying attention,” said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

“Gutierrez’s strategy in particular is to set himself up as the more progressive, combative candidate, versus a more complacent, process-oriented alternative — a safe alternative,” he noted.

In no particular order:

– I really would have liked to hear more about that “national Democrats have made clear they plan to pour significant resources into the state to unseat Cruz” bit. There are a lot of potential ancillary benefits to putting campaign cash into Texas – like, say, maybe winning a couple of Supreme Court seats. I’d like to know what might be in store, as this sort of thing can often mean a lot less than it sounds.

– This is a two-person race. I have no idea what Carl Sherman thinks he’s doing. Mark Gonzalez would be an interesting candidate given more time and money, but I don’t think he’ll have enough of either to make an impression. It will either be Sen. Gutierrez and Rep. Allred in a runoff, or Rep. Allred will win outright; the former is much more likely.

– Rep. Allred has a huge lead with money, and it sounds like he’ll have plenty more if he prevails in the primary. I’d suggest he budget at least two million of the cash he has now to introduce himself, carpet-bomb Cruz, and get people fired up.

– Sen. Gutierrez has been great on Uvalde and putting Republicans in an uncomfortable spot in relation to that, though nearly all of it has been well below the radar. Best he can do is keep that up and aim for earned media.

– I’m not ready to have Discourse about primary turnout and What It All Means. I will point to the turnout from 2018 as often as I need to in order to remind people that there’s no real connection between March turnout and November turnout. And yes, it will be capital-D Discourse.

– The year 2018 will be invoked a lot, partly because it was the last time Ted Cruz was on the general election ballot, partly because of how close Beto came to beating him, and partly because we love a parallel for as long as it is a parallel. 2018 was obviously a good year for Dems, who were super fired up about Trump. The dynamic is very different this year, in no small part because Trump is on the ballot (unless the Colorado way spreads) and not as an incumbent. I’d like to think this race starts out as something like “Ted Cruz up by three”, but it’s unwise to make such an assumption on so little data. Every election is unique. We don’t know in which way this one will be just yet.

– Did I mention that 2018 primary turnout was weak? And that Beto didn’t really take off until after the primary? I have now.

I think that’s it. I’m already looking forward to the January finance reports.

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One Response to A brief update on the Democratic Senate primary

  1. C.L. says:

    Re: “He is calling for “Medicare for All” while slamming Allred for supporting border barriers and refusing to back calls for a cease-fire in Israel’s war with Hamas.”

    This what I don’t get. Neither Benjamin Netanyahu or the leaders of Hamas give a rat’s ass what Ted Cruz, Roland Gutierrez, or Colin Allred’s political positions are or whether they’d tilt their thump up or thumb down on any Israel/Palestine vote and I, as a voter fully understand that Cruz/Gutierrez/Allred’s call for a cease-fire or call for increased hostitilies is ultimately meaningless….because, ya know, Netanyahu and Hamas just don’t care what a US Congressman or Senator wants. If Allred isn’t vocal about his position on the conflict, I’m hoping it’s because he’s more concerned about his (TX) constituent’s needs.

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