Election '18

It's Official: The Texas Senate Race Is Now a Toss Up

The Cook Political Report now gives Rep. Beto O'Rourke a decent chance to pull off a win.

On Friday, the Cook Political Report dropped a bombshell: they now forecast the Texas Senate race between far-right firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic El Paso Rep. Beto O'Rourke as a Toss Up:

GOP U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz isn't terribly popular, and while that might not necessarily be a problem is a red state, Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke and his message have generated a great deal of enthusiasm among Democrats and independents, as well as Democratic donors across the country who have filled his campaign war chest. At this point, he has outraised Cruz and outspent him on television. A Toss Up rating makes both parties nervous: Republicans for obvious reasons and Democrats because it creates an expectation that they will start spending money on the race. For that matter, Republicans aren't anxious to spend money in such an expensive state either. The Club for Growth is investing in the race on Cruz's behalf, but O'Rourke has campaigned against PAC money and outside spending so having the party swoop in with millions in television advertising might well be counterproductive. O'Rourke has earned this rating, but getting the last couple of points to overtake Cruz and win the seat will be difficult though not utterly impossible.

With this ratings change, for the first time this cycle, Cook now estimates Democrats and Republicans are defending an equal number of Toss-Up Senate races: Florida, Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota for Democrats; Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee, and Texas for Republicans. This is a massive development in a Senate battleground that is extremely tilted against Democrats.

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O'Rourke has become a national icon as he has toured Texas, campaigning in every single county and outraising Cruz — a notorious GOP crusader reviled even by his own colleagues — with small-donor donations and not a cent from corporate PACs.

A Reuters poll of the race found O'Rourke leading 47 to 45 among likely voters, the first poll to ever show him ahead — although a Quinnipiac poll released just hours earlier gave Cruz a 54 to 45 likely voter lead. These wildly different numbers speak to the difficulty of gauging who will go to the polls in Texas — the state has among the worst voter turnout rate in the nation, and it remains to be seen how much Democratic enthusiasm for O'Rourke will shift those numbers.

Belatedly, Texas Republicans have realized O'Rourke poses a serious threat, but their efforts to beat him back have so far been strangely off the mark. Cruz has attacked O'Rourke for using his childhood nickname, claimed that he would bring "tofu, silicon, and dyed hair" to Texas, and even that he would "ban barbecue."

The first of three debates between Cruz and O'Rourke is scheduled for this evening at 6:00 p.m. Central Time, at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

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Matthew Chapman is a video game designer, science fiction author, and political reporter from Austin, TX. Follow him on Twitter @fawfulfan.