President Donald Trump announced Friday that he will travel to Texas to campaign for the re-election of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, his onetime political nemesis whose tightening race with Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke is grabbing national attention with 9½ weeks to go until Election Day.
Trump tweeted that he envisioned a “major rally” for Cruz, a Republican seeking a second six-year term as the state’s junior senator.
“I’m picking the biggest stadium in Texas we can find. As you know, Ted has my complete and total Endorsement,” Trump wrote before proclaiming O’Rourke as a looming disaster for Texas who is weak on gun rights, crime, border security and the military.
O’Rourke, who represents the El Paso area in Congress, sought to quickly capitalize on the president’s news, firing off an urgent fundraising request to “help us fight back.” A similar response after Cruz launched a series of attack ads last month netted the Democrat $1.27 million in one weekend.
As news of the planned Trump visit spread, Texas Democrats reminded voters that Trump and Cruz have a complex history, particularly as they scrapped for votes in the 2016 presidential primaries, when Trump belittled the Texan as “Lyin’ Ted” and questioned whether a grainy 1963 photo linked Cruz’s father to assassin Lee Harvey Oswald not long before President John F. Kennedy was killed.
Democrats also resurrected Trump tweets from 2016 that labeled Cruz a “total fraud” and that asked, “How can Ted Cruz be an Evangelical Christian when he lies so much and is so dishonest?”
But Cruz — who initially declined to endorse Trump but has since come to the president’s defense on a number of issues — proclaimed himself pleased by the news.
“Terrific!” Cruz replied to Trump on Twitter. “Texas will be glad to see you. Working together, we’ve won major victories for the people of Texas: historic tax cuts, repealing job-killing regulations, rebuilding the military & confirming strong constitutionalist judges.”
The result, Cruz said, is a message that will resonate during Trump’s campaign stop: “The Texas economy is booming!”
No details were released Friday on when or where Trump’s rally might take place.
That Trump will spend time campaigning in Texas — which has been a safe haven for Republican candidates running statewide since the early 1990s — is a sign that Republicans see O’Rourke as a serious contender. Recent polls show Cruz with an edge in the low single digits.
An O’Rourke victory in a state once thought to be a lock for the Republicans would give Democrats a big boost in their bid to take control of the Senate.
O’Rourke also has proved to be financially competitive, raising more than $10.4 million in the second quarter, doubling Cruz’s haul in the same period, leaving the Democrat with $14 million in campaign cash at the end of June, compared with $10.4 million for the incumbent senator.
Trump’s arrival in Texas on Cruz’s behalf will bring a huge amount of attention to the race, but it’s not immediately clear if there will be a significant advantage to either candidate, said Joshua Blank, manager of polling and research for the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.
Trump is wildly popular with Texas Republicans, 87 percent of whom view his presidency favorably or very favorably — better than Cruz’s 74 percent favorability rating, according to a June UT/Texas Tribune poll.
“For Democrats who think Trump is going to be a drag on the Republican ticket here in Texas, there’s little evidence of that taking place,” Blank said.
A presidential campaign visit also could give Cruz a boost by amplifying his recent attempts to portray O’Rourke negatively, Blank said.
“Beto O’Rourke is well known and liked among Texas Democrats, but there is still a large share of Texas Republicans who don’t know who Beto O’Rourke is,” he said. “One thing Trump’s visit will do is it will focus a lot of attention on the contrast between Cruz and O’Rourke, especially for Republicans.”
On the other hand, the June poll found that 45 percent of Texas independents, and 84 percent of Democrats, disapprove of Trump — a situation that could favor the Democrat.
“Anger is a much better motivator than contentment,” Blank said. “The flip side of this is there will be tons of imagery of Cruz standing side by side with Trump that O’Rourke will use to try to mobilize Democratic voters.”