Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R) stands for re-election next year, but a big break has already fallen his way.
National Democratic Party strategists had hoped to have little in the way of intra-party competition for their favored Texas US Senate candidate, US Rep. Colin Allred (D-Dallas), but such a potential outcome ended when San Antonio area state Senator Roland Gutierrez (D) entered the Lone Star State’s Democratic primary.
There are several points to keep in mind as to why this is a primary campaign to watch. First, though a state legislator, Mr. Gutierrez actually represents more people in the state Senate than Rep. Allred does in Congress. With Texas having 31 Senators and 38 US Representatives, each upper chamber legislator represents approximately 150,000 more people than a member of the US House.
Secondly, with his hard stand for gun control, particularly after the tragic Uvalde school shooting in a county that Mr. Gutierrez represents, he appears better entrenched with the progressive left movement, the key base component in a Texas Democratic primary, than is Rep. Allred.
Furthermore, Sen. Gutierrez is part of the San Antonio Democratic establishment that the Castro brothers, US Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) and former HUD Secretary, 2020 presidential candidate, and ex-San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, headline. This political foundation at least to a degree neutralizes what may be Rep. Allred’s name ID advantage coming from the more populace DFW Metroplex while providing Sen. Gutierrez with a strong fundraising base.
The Congressman clearly enjoys an early edge in campaign resources, however. According to the June 30th Federal Election Commission financial disclosure report for second quarter 2023, Rep. Allred already holds over $5.7 million cash-on-hand in his Senate campaign committee. He now, however, will have to spend heavily just to win the party nomination in March, thus yielding Sen. Cruz a further post-primary advantage.
Furthermore, Sen. Gutierrez also represents the Del Rio community, the site of the border entry point with the most illegal crossings into the US from Mexico across the Rio Grande River. This gives Sen. Cruz a better opportunity to highlight illegal immigration as an early wedge issue in order to force his eventual general election opponent to the far left.
A recent University of Texas/Texas Politics Project Poll found that “63% of Republicans, but only 15% of Democrats say it’s extremely important for the legislature to increase border security funding.” Crucially, independents in Texas largely sided with Republicans, favoring additional efforts to control the border by a 20-point margin.
To appeal to the Democratic voters who will choose their party’s Senate nominee, both Allred and Gutierrez viciously attacked Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision earlier this summer to bolster the U.S.-Mexican border with razor wire fencing and a river buoy. Allred called the governor’s decision “inhumane and completely unacceptable” while Gutierrez branded it “criminal” and “inhumane.” This criticism may play well in the primary campaign, but it’s just as likely to be used against the eventual Democratic nominee in the general election.
Energy is another issue that will likely dog the Democratic nominee in the November election. Forcing both men to again reiterate that they support the Biden energy program means assuming unpopular positions before the general electorate to ensure winning the Democratic primary.
As the U.S.’s leading crude oil- and natural gas-producing state, Texas accounted for 42% of the country’s crude oil production and 27% of its natural gas production last year. The state’s 880,692 energy workers (2021) account for 7% of total state employment.
Yet, President Biden consistently attacks the fossil fuels industry—even going so far as to declare in 2019: “I want you to look at my eyes. I guarantee you, I guarantee you we’re going to end fossil fuels.”
Unsurprisingly, a Google search using the terms Biden’s war on fossil fuels produces nearly 7 million results (in 0.51 seconds).
Unlike Joe Biden, Allred and Gutierrez are less overtly hostile to fossil fuels but will still support the President. But the Biden administration’s unpopular energy policies—garnering a lackluster 38% national approval, and the Democratic candidates’ unwillingness to push back against those policies for fear of upsetting primary voters, are sure to command unfavorable attention in next year’s general election.
Because the Democrats are going to be embroiled in a serious nomination campaign, Sen. Cruz will come away from the March 5th primary in even stronger position for re-election. Regardless of who wins the Democratic primary, Cruz will be paired with a general election opponent poorly positioned on critical Texas issues. Moreover, the eventual nominee continues to face the daunting task of converting an electorate that hasn’t elected a Democrat to a major statewide office since 1994.
James Carter served as a deputy assistant secretary of the Treasury and deputy undersecretary of labor under President George W. Bush.
Jim Ellis is president of Ellis Insight, LLC, a national election analysis entity