The 2018 midterm elections are about a month away. At this point, there is an awful lot on the line. The Senate has been the focal point of the news in the United States over the last several weeks as the nomination by President Donald Trump of Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court turned ugly. Kavanaugh would ultimately be confirmed to the highest court in the land, but not after a lengthy, drawn-out process that left a bad taste in the mouths of people on both sides of the political aisle.
The upcoming elections are hugely important, as the results will determine whether the Republicans will continue to own majorities in both houses of Congress. Republicans have held both houses of Congress in addition to the White House since the election of Trump back in 2016. Democrats have been fighting hard since then, and many experts are expecting the Dems to at least seize back control of the House of Representatives in a month. The status of the Senate, on the other hand, is more up in the air.
One of the more hotly-contested Senate races may actually take place in the Lone Star State. Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who has been in office since 2013, is facing a strong challenge from Democratic hopeful Beto O’Rourke. It’s been a while since a Democrat has represented Texas in the Senate. Lloyd Bentsen served as a Dem Senator from Texas from 1971 until 1993 before Bob Krueger was appointed to replace him when Bentsen accepted a job as the Secretary of the Treasury. Krueger lost the subsequent election to Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison. Ever since, both Texas Senators have come from the right side of the aisle. John Cornyn is currently serving with Cruz.
Can O’Rourke turn the tables on Cruz? Or will Cruz win reelection?
To Win Senate Race
- Ted Cruz -240
- Beto O’Rourke +180
Numbers to Consider
As of this writing, the incumbent, Cruz, has a narrow edge over his opponent in most polls. While the 2016 presidential election showed us that there is plenty of room for error when it comes to polling, most experts seem to believe this will actually be a competitive race. When Cruz was first elected in the fall of 2012, he garnered 4,440,137 votes to Paul Sadler’s 3,194,927. Cruz took 56.6 percent of the vote, while Sadler finished with 40.5 percent. So, Cruz won pretty comfortably.
Plenty of races figure to be landslides. Nobody is expecting the likes of Mississippi, Nebraska or Wyoming to suddenly go blue in 2018. However, some seem to believe that Cruz is a rather weak incumbent candidate, while O’Rourke is a particularly strong challenger. As of now, Congress has an approval rating of about 17 percent, which certainly doesn’t help the case for incumbents like Cruz. Incumbents have historically had an easier time getting reelected in small states without diverse populations. Obviously, Texas is a massive state with all sorts of diversity.
Of course, Texas’ historical leanings toward the right side of the aisle give Cruz an inherent advantage. Texas is historically 16.9 points more Republican-leaning than the country overall. Texas voted for Trump in the last election and Mitt Romney back in 2012. Texas also has a more right-leaning history when it comes to legislative elections compared to presidential elections. I mentioned earlier that it’s been 25 years since a Democratic Senator represented the Lone Star State. Texas has also filled every statewide office exclusively with Republicans since 1998.
As of late June, O’Rourke had raised $23,530,000 in campaign contributions, which accounts for 71 percent of all major donor contributions. Cruz, comparatively, has raised just $9,814,000, which accounts for 29 percent of all contributions. By the end of the campaign, most expect O’Rourke to account for about 75 percent of all contributions, which is no small thing. Usually campaign donations heavily favor incumbent candidates rather than their challengers.
O’Rourke has been steadily gaining ground on Cruz as the former’s profile has grown. Back in late September O’Rourke held a rally in the Texas capital city of Austin that attracted an audience of about 55,000 people, which was the largest political rally of any kind since the ‘16 presidential election. It didn’t hurt that Willie Nelson happened to be performing as a part of the rally, of course.
Obama Comparisons and Policies
O’Rourke’s style of speaking is unmistakably familiar. If you listen to him speak during a debate or at a political rally, he sure sounds an awful lot like the 44th President of the United States. O’Rourke’s message is also quite similar to the one Barack Obama used during his 2 runs for the Oval Office. Obama’s 2008 campaign phrase “Hope and change” has been slightly altered to “Hope over fear” for O’Rourke.
Clearly, O’Rourke is trying to play on the political fear instilled in many by the presidency of Trump. Cruz has emerged as a staunch supporter of the President’s, despite the fact that Trump launched numerous personal attacks against Cruz while the two were running against each other a couple of years ago. The combination of the relative unpopularity of the Trump administration as well as Cruz’ own dicey popularity has helped turn O’Rourke into a viable contender for the seat.
Real Clear Politics’ most recent tracking poll had Cruz with a 4-point advantage, but it also said that the actual election was essentially a toss-up. Ditto for the Cook Political Report. Democratic voter turnout is expected to be huge this fall, which could spell trouble for Cruz and the Republican majority in both houses of Congress. Republicans are notorious for getting their voters to come to the polls, which is something O’Rourke and other Democrats all over the country have been adamant about duplicating.
Cruz has taken a different approach. Rather than offering hope for the future like his opponent, the incumbent Senator paints a colder, darker picture of the future if Democrats are voted into a majority this fall. Lawrence Wright, a Pulitzer-prize winning author who has been keeping a close eye on the race in his home state, said, “Cruz and O’Rourke represent different visions for the future of the state and the country. Cruz’ vision is very exclusionary, cold-hearted, out-of-tune with the more centrist political current that really runs through the state.”
The voting demographics in Texas are no different than they are in other states. Most big cities are staunch pro-Democrat hubs, while most of the rural areas and smaller towns lean Republican. It’s just that the immense size of Texas magnetizes both ends of the spectrum.
Most of O’Rouke’s political views are staunchly liberal, which makes it a surprise to see he has gained some serious support in the suburbs of major cities like Dallas and Houston, areas that typically lean to the right. O’Rourke is in favor of gun control, universal healthcare, immigration reform and the legalization of marijuana. To say the least, Cruz is not in favor of such measures, and those stances resonate in the aforementioned rural areas and smaller towns.
Can O’Rourke Pull the Upset?
As of now, O’Rourke is an underdog. There is plenty going against him, of course. He is running against an incumbent candidate in a red state. Those factors alone would make anyone something of a long shot. That said, O’Rourke’s message and charisma have clearly resonated with some voters that may not have otherwise voted for a Democrat.
Can O’Rourke parlay Congress’ current low favorability into an upset victory in November? Obviously, that remains to be seen. O’Rourke said at a recent campaign rally that he believes there are thousands of voters out there ready to vote that are currently not being valued in polls. Donald Trump echoed that same message during the presidential election a couple of years ago, and we know how that turned out. Maybe O’Rourke is on to something there.
Beto is will within striking distance here, and you can bet the Texas Senate race will be one of the most-watched elections once election night rolls around on November 6. O’Rourke is clearly a better betting value at +180, while MyBookie lists Cruz as a heavy favorite at -240.
A lot can change in the coming month between now and election day, but I think you can do worse than taking a flier on Beto to topple Cruz and take his seat in the U.S. Senate at +180. Will Cruz’ strategy of embracing Trump pan out or backfire? Will O’Rourke’s starkly liberal ideologies turn some right-leaning voters off?
If you want a safe play, go with Cruz at -240. There’s not much profit potential there, though, so you should probably pass on this bet altogether if you think Cruz keeps his seat in the Senate. O’Rourke seems primed to mount a serious challenge, though, so he’s a viable flier here at +180. Beto makes for one of the better underdog Senate bets on the board as we get closer to November.
Other Senate Underdogs
If you have followed politics at all over the last few years, you will be plenty familiar with some of the other names running for office this fall. The Texas Senate race has garnered plenty of attention, but there are some other races out there worth checking out.
In Florida, incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson is facing a serious challenge from Republican Rick Scott, who is currently serving as the state’s governor. Nelson is currently a -140 favorite, while Scott is looming at +100. Nelson has been serving as a Florida Senator for 3 terms, but recent polls are casting doubt on his chances at staving off the state’s governor.
A recent poll conducted by the Tampa Bay Times said that 6 of 10 voters believe Scott will unseat Nelson in the Senate. Scott has made it a point to try and focus on Hispanic voters in the state, which could certainly play a huge role. Whichever candidate wins the Hispanic vote may well ultimately win the race. Nelson is understandably favored, but I don’t hate the idea of taking a stab at Scott at +100 here.
In Nevada, Democrat Jacky Rosen has been installed as a -180 favorite to unseat Republican incumbent Dean Heller in the Senate. Rosen has raised more money than Heller on the campaign trail, but based on polls I’m a bit surprised she is considered the favorite at this point. A recent NBC/Marist poll had Heller with a 2-point lead on his challenger from the left side. On the flip side, a Real Clear Politics poll had Rosen with a slight 2-point edge of her own.
Heller’s chances at reelection looked slim as recently as a year ago. He has fully embraced President Trump, which is a stark contrast to his initial anti-Trump stance. Heller was also a gung-ho supporter of the embattled Kavanaugh. Whether that pivot winds up benefiting him on election day remains to be seen, but I also like Heller here as a betting value. He has never lost a race in his career, which certainly counts for something.
If you are skeptical that O’Rourke can flip a Texas Senate seat from red to blue, perhaps either Scott flipping one from blue to red in Florida or Heller keeping his seat in Nevada may tickle your fancy. Both men represent solid bets at +100 for Scott and +140 for Heller.