Texas voted to send incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz back to Washington for a second six-year term on Tuesday, rejecting underdog Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke in an exceedingly close race. MSNBC called the race for Cruz at just past 10:14 p.m. ET, with ABC and CBS calling the race not long after.
Conventional wisdom and polling throughout the race suggested Cruz would keep his seat, but O’Rourke’s nationally supported campaign, which pulled in close to $70 million, including $38 million in one quarter on the back of individual donations, gave Texas Democrats their best shot in decades at winning a statewide race in Texas.
Although Cruz spent much of the campaign trailing O’Rourke in campaign fundraising, he relied on his existing base of support and Texas’ historically conservative leanings to carry the race over the line. Cruz was initially dismissive of his opponent; the Texas GOP, for example, ran with a bizarre media campaign that really only served to make O’Rourke look cooler.
But as the election loomed, Cruz doubled down on the Trump administration’s party line on immigration, stoking xenophobic fears about the migrant caravan and attempting to link his opponent to bad-faith smear campaigns. Trump himself came to Texas to curry support for his one-time opponent in the 2016 primaries. Cruz faithfully contorted himself into a doting fan of the president, who had previously insulted multiple members of his family and coined the “Lyin’ Ted” moniker before recently deciding that Cruz was now “Beautiful Ted.”
O’Rourke’s campaign, which eschewed corporate PAC money to reinforce his commitment to campaign finance reform, nevertheless captivated Democratic voters across the country. Throughout the election cycle, O’Rourke traveled to every county in Texas, meeting with constituents in a seemingly never-ending series of town hall events and stump speeches, which his campaign documented on social media. Several moments, like O’Rourke’s “Baba O’Riley” air-drumming and skateboarding in a Whataburger parking lot went viral, as did his thoughtful answer to a question about NFL players protesting police brutality during the national anthem.
O’Rourke trailed Cruz in the polls for the entire race leading up to the election, although he often came within a single-digit margin in various polls. And although he ultimately came up short, O’Rourke’s insurgent campaign against one of the Republican Party’s most visible—and almost universally reviled—figures could very well still forecast the beginning of the end of the GOP’s dominance in Texas.
But on this Election Day, it wasn’t enough, and America will get another six years of Ted Cruz. Lucky us.