U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, narrowly defeated Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke Tuesday evening in what appeared likely to be one of the closest U.S Senate races in Texas in decades.
With more than 60 percent of precincts reporting in Texas, Cruz had a four-point lead over O’Rourke. While Cruz had a strong showing across most of rural Texas, O’Rourke narrowed the margin by winning urban counties and coming within striking distance in some Texas suburbs.
Delivering his victory speech, Cruz cast the race in dramatic terms, saying it was not about either candidate but a “battle of ideas” and a “contest for who we are and what we believe in.”
“This was an election about hope and about the future of Texas,” Cruz said, “and the people of Texas rendered a verdict that we want a future with more jobs and more security and more freedom.”
Cruz thanked O’Rourke, saying he “poured his heart” into the campaign and “worked tirelessly,” making sacrifices as a father. Acknowledging that “millions across this state were inspired by his campaign,” Cruz appealed to O’Rourke’s supporters, saying he wanted to represent them too.
But Cruz did not hold back about the challenge he said he faced.
“We saw an assault that was unprecedented,” Cruz said. “We saw a $100 million race with Hollywood coming in against the state, with the national media coming in against the state. But all the money in the world was no match for the good people of Texas and their hard work.”
O’Rourke took the stage later in in the evening to address a crowd of several thousand supporters at a baseball stadium in El Paso.
“I just now had the opportunity to talk to Senator Cruz… to congratulate him on his victory, and wish him well going forward,” O’Rourke said. “I am as inspired, I’m as hopeful as I have ever been in my life, and tonight’s loss does nothing to diminish how I feel about Texas and this country.”
“I’m so fucking proud of you guys,” O’Rourke declared, during a speech that was being broadcast on national cable networks.
O’Rourke, who some have speculated could be a potential presidential contender, was vague about his future plans, though he has dismissed that theory. He concluded his speech – and his campaign – with a simple farewell: “We will see you out there, down the road.”
“They made it close”
The two candidates’ Tuesday night speeches followed a three-hour rollercoaster for those watching results trickle in, as Cruz and O’Rourke repeatedly traded narrow leads.
At about 9:25 p.m., Cruz’s supporters at his Election Night party in a Houston hotel broke out in cheers and a chant of “Cruuuz!” as Fox News called the race for him. “We want Ted!” supporters shouted as they moved closer to the stage, hoping to hear from the victor.
It was a dramatic shift from shortly before 9 p.m., when Cruz’s chief strategist, Jeff Roe, took the stage to address concerned supporters looking at returns that showed O’Rourke in reach of a historic upset. Roe told them “everything’s good” and said the campaign expected Cruz’s lead to grow once the results in more rural counties came in.
“Anybody that’s really clenched — you can release a little bit — it’s OK,” Roe said, suggesting he nonetheless expected to be “in for a little bit of a night.”
The mood at the O’Rourke election night party in El Paso was upbeat well into the evening. But the mood quickly soured once it became clear that most news outlets had called the race in favor of Cruz.
“I’m very surprised. I’m very disappointed,” said 80-year-old Olivia Lara, an O’Rourke supporter who said she votes in every election. “He worked so hard. It’s very sad for El Paso.”
Cruz supporters acknowledged being spooked as the first early vote results came in, giving O’Rourke a lead.
“At first I was a little worried, but we knew that after the big cities were done, that the rural counties would pull us in,” said Mike Diaz, a 39-year-old engineer from Cypress.
As for the closer-than-usual margin of victory for a statewide Texas Republican, Diaz and other Cruz backers chalked it up to financial firepower that O’Rourke brought to the race.
“It was a good, hard-fought battle, but they dumped so much money and so much advertising — they made it close,” Diaz said.
The race between Cruz and O’Rourke emerged in recent months as one of the hottest in the country during this midterm election season, as O’Rourke, a relatively unknown congressman just two years ago, cobbled together the most competitive statewide campaign by a Texas Democrat in over a decade. As Election Day drew closer and polls suggested a tightening race, Democratic hopes abounded that O’Rourke was cracking the code: energizing long-beleaguered Texas Democrats, expanding the electorate and putting himself in position to be the first of them to win statewide office in over two decades.
After making little secret of his intentions for months, O’Rourke entered the race on the last day of March 2017, announcing his campaign alongside his wife in El Paso. He laid down some early markers, promising to run a positive campaign, not accept PAC money and eschew pollsters and consultants.
For a period, the prospect of a competitive primary loomed as U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio considered a run as well. But about a month after O’Rourke launched his bid, Castro passed on a run, giving O’Rourke a relatively clear shot at the nomination.
O’Rourke immediately got to work on an ambitious goal: visiting all 254 counties of Texas. That push defined much of the first half of his campaign as he racked up thousands of miles holding town halls throughout the state, building the case that he would be the senator who would show up for all of Texas.