Texas Senate Race Is In The Spotlight With The 1st Of 3 Debates
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The old saying goes don't mess with Texas. To be clear, Texans are allowed to mess with each other. And one of this year's surprisingly tight Senate races is in Texas where tonight is debate night. We are about to hear just a bit of the challenger, Democrat Beto O'Rourke, followed by Republican Senator Ted Cruz.
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BETO O'ROURKE: In the face of some real darkness and profound disappointment that too many of our fellow Texans and our fellow Americans are experiencing right now, we brought a power and a joy to this moment comprised not of political action committees...
O'ROURKE: ...Or special interests or corporations.
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TED CRUZ: And Heidi and I are so proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with the men and women here fighting to defend our liberty, fighting to defend the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, freedom and the future of Texas. Together, we will keep Texas bright, bright red.
INSKEEP: Ted Cruz, Beto O'Rourke. And now we bring in Ashley Lopez, political reporter with our member station KUT in Texas. Hey there, Ashley.
ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: Ted Cruz is right. Hasn't it been bright, bright red for a while?
LOPEZ: Yeah. Well, a Texas Democrat hasn't won statewide here for at least two decades - a little more. So yeah, it has been a conservative state for a very, very long time.
INSKEEP: Well, what makes people think that that could change? I recall when Beto O'Rourke first declared his candidacy, people said, hey, really interesting congressperson, really attractive candidate but really low odds.
LOPEZ: Well, the campaign has just been really strong. Beto O'Rourke's campaign has not just raised a lot of money. It's kept a lot of excitement and a lot of excitement that's been building for the past several months. So, you know, when you go to his rallies, it's like a packed house. You have to get there super early. If not, you're not going to get in there. So I think it's just, like - you know, it kind of is Obama-esque. It's just like a lot of energy, a lot of, like, momentum behind him.
INSKEEP: And how close is it?
LOPEZ: Oh, it's very close - a lot closer than anyone expected. All the polls have them within the margin of error. So it's a - pretty much a tossup.
INSKEEP: Wow. OK, so we should remember, though, Ted Cruz has certain strengths in the state of Texas, right?
LOPEZ: Yeah, he's a conservative (laughter). You know, Texas is a conservative state. You know, there's a lot of evangelicals here who tend to vote in high numbers. Like, this is a state that for years has been dominated by Republican voters. For the most part, this is a nonvoting state. But the people who do show up at the polls are Republican.
INSKEEP: Wait a minute, nonvoting mean the turnout can be very low in a midterm election like this.
LOPEZ: Yeah, Texas has historically some of the lowest voter participation in the nation. I think we're either at the bottom or next to bottom.
INSKEEP: OK, so let's talk that through for a minute because...
INSKEEP: ...People are aware, I think, that Texas demographically, like the rest of the country, has been changing. There's a very large Latino population. There's an Asian population. There are other populations - groups that historically have voted Democratic, which is why Democrats think sometimes they have a chance to turn it into a blue state. Is there any sign that those Democratic-leaning constituencies might be inclined to show up in this midterm election?
LOPEZ: Yeah. Democrats have been using this term demographics is destiny for a long time, like, that basically people of color are going to swing the state in their favor. But that takes mobilization. It takes massive voter registration drives and a - like, just a lot of investments. And I personally have not seen them. I don't see - like, in our urban counties, I don't see voter registration growth that seems significant enough to suggest that quite honestly.
INSKEEP: OK, appreciate that insight as we prepare to hear the first debate between Beto O'Rourke and Ted Cruz. Ashley Lopez of KUT, thanks so much.
LOPEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.