Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday became the latest Republican to say Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) faces a difficult fight in the Texas Senate race against Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas).
“I think Ted’s got a competitive race by all indications,” McConnell told reporters at a news conference. “We certainly expect to win Texas, but I think he does have a competitive race.”
McConnell joins a growing chorus of Republican lawmakers who have publicly acknowledged the difficulty Cruz may have keeping his seat in November in the traditionally red state.
“We’re not bluffing, this is real, and it is a serious threat,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told Politico over the weekend. “If Ted does his job and we do ours, I think we’ll be fine. But if we have donors sitting on the sidelines thinking that, ‘Well, this isn’t all that serious,’ or ‘I don’t need to be concerned,’ then that’s a problem.”
On Sunday, former Cruz campaign strategist Rick Tyler speculated that O’Rourke may pull off an upset win.
“It’s possible,” Tyler said on MSNBC. “It should be a 10- or 15-point race. It’s not. It’s a zero- to 4-point race,” Tyler said. “And Beto O’Rourke is running an interesting campaign and he’s grabbed national attention. So it’s a race.”
Republican anxiety about the race reportedly prompted Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in July to urge President Donald Trump to visit the Lone Star State to give Cruz a boost (despite previous hostility between the president and his former 2016 opponent.)
Trump announced on Twitter in late August that he would campaign for Cruz “at a major rally” in October.
Cruz has kicked his re-election campaign into high gear in recent weeks, releasing a slew of attack ads against O’Rourke. He recently claimed that Democrats are raising “millions of dollars” to make Texas “just like California, right down to tofu and silicon and dyed hair.”
McConnell on Tuesday didn’t name Texas among the “dead even” races for Senate seats he is watching in the upcoming midterms ― which he said did include Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee, Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia and Florida.
“All of them too close to call and every one of them like a knife fight in an alley, just a brawl, in every one of those places,” McConnell said. “I hope when the smoke clears we’ll still have a majority in the Senate.”