Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic US Senate candidate from Texas, had kept his campaign remarkably civil, but on Tuesday (Oct. 16) came out swinging against Republican opponent Ted Cruz. “Ted Cruz is for Ted Cruz,” he said during the pair’s televised debate in San Antonio, the second and final face-to-face debate between the candidates before the Nov. 6 election.
Meanwhile, Cruz, whose campaign has been posting false claims and running negative ads about O’Rourke, called himself the candidate for hope, not fear. “The personal attacks, the going to the gutter that is so common in politics, I try not to engage in it,” he said.
The messages, seemingly devised to rally each candidate’s base, made for a strange juxtaposition for those familiar with the race up to this point. However, absent any major flubs by either of them in the home stretch of the campaign, the candidates’ odds of victory likely remain unchanged.
O’Rourke, a Congressman from El Paso, has put the once securely Republican Senate seat at risk. He’s amassed an impressive $38.1 million in just the past quarter, much of it from small donations, and mobilized of an army of giddy volunteers. That makes him the most likely Democrat to win statewide office in Texas in more than two decades, even if he still trails incumbent Cruz in the polls.
O’Rourke has been betting on a unifying message designed to bridge the polarized political environment in the state—and around the country. He came to Cruz’s defense when he and his wife were heckled out of a restaurant by protestors. But on Tuesday, he described his opponent as an absentee Senator in the pockets of corporate interests, and so dishonest that the president of the US calls him “Lyin’ Ted.”
For his part, Cruz continued to frame O’Rourke as a leftwing extremist who threatens the economic fortunes of Texas. He repeated his claim—which has been debunked—that his opponent is the only Democratic Senate nominee who “has explicitly come out for impeaching president Trump.”
Cruz described O’Rourke as “leading the way” in “two years of a partisan circus shutting down the federal government in a witch hunt on the president,” he said. “That’s not good for the state of Texas, it’s not good for our country.”
“Really interesting to hear you talk about about a partisan circus after your last six years in the US Senate,” retorted O’Rourke, drawing laughs.
Beto supporters also pointed out an apparent contradiction in how Cruz presented himself. “There is a loss of civility. There is a rage on the far left that is really frightening,” Cruz said, before cutting off the debate moderator. “Don’t interrupt me, Jason.”