What will it take to defeat Ted Cruz in 2018?

Before last night, this is what the Senate looked like:


Notice the sea of red stretching from North Carolina to Texas? It’s now got one unexpected kink in it, Alabama.

There are three senate seats that will be contested across that belt in 2018 (yes, I’m going to totally ignore Florida). An open seat in Tennessee (Bob Corker’s retiring), Mississippi (Roger Wicker) and Texas (Ted Cruz). A lot of attention will be focused on Tennessee, where Corker’s open seat creates a lot of possibilities. A Democrat has not represented Tennessee in the Senate since 1995. I’m going to ignore Mississippi

But I want to talk about another race, Ted Cruz’s run for reelection. Texas hasn’t had a Democrat in the Senate since 1993. But a Democratic candidate could carve a narrow path to victory in Texas. It would require a pretty flawless campaign and excellent execution on a number of fronts.

At first blush, it seems like an almost insurmountable task.

2012 Senate 2012 President 2014 Senate 2016 President
Cruz v Sadler Romney v. Obama Cornyn v. Alameel Trump v. Clinton
Democrat 40.5% 41.38% 34.36% 43.2%
Republican 56.6% 57.17% 61.55% 52.2%

Cruz tracked Romney’s share of the vote reasonably well in 2012. In 2016, Clinton lost the state by 9%. This was closer than Obama’s 16% though, and that’s partly due to demographic changes, and possibly due in part to Trump himself.

Still, 9% is a big gap to cover. Especially when you consider that the margin of victory for Cornyn in 2014’s off-year election was 25%.

But this is the thing, the only way a Democrat can win is by following the Alabama model, turning a weakness into a strength. The weakness is turnout. Here are the raw vote totals for these races.

2012 Senate 2012 President 2014 Senate 2016 President
Cruz v Sadler Romney v. Obama Cornyn v. Alameel Trump v. Clinton
Democrat 3,194,927 3,308,124 1,594,252 3,877,868
Republican 4,440,137 4,569,843 2,855,068 4,685,047

Notice that Alameel lost by that huge margin because the Democratic turnout in 2014 was 48% of that in 2012. In contrast, Republican turnout was 62% of 2014. To beat Cornyn’s 2014 vote tally, 74% of the people who turned out for Clinton in 2016 need to show up and vote for the Democrat.

All of a sudden, winning a Senate seat in Texas in 2014 doesn’t seem so outlandish. 3 out of 4 existing Democratic votes is what we need. If Republican turnout is depressed, that makes the task easier. And it might be. Donald Trump has a net -4% approval rating in Texas. Less than 80% of Republicans approve of the job he’s doing (October 2017).


To win, Democrats will need to do a number of things starting now.

  1. Register voters and organize starting now: The Jones campaign had a good ground game early.
  2. Cast your net wide when you’re trying to GotV: The texting team (which I participated in) sent out over 1.3 million texts by election day. That is about 2 texts per Democrat who voted. For Texas, that would mean we need to deliver 7 million GotV texts. It can be done, we know how to do it.
  3. Exploit Republican divisions relentlessly: Clearly, Roy Moore being a child molester helped drive down turnout. But equally important was the division within the Republican party. And Cruz is also a flash-point for such divisions, perhaps not as severe. For the Democrat to win, the campaign and allies will have to run a great advertising/social-media campaign that highlights distinctions and draws wedges between Republicans of various ilks. Jones campaign created ads based on Ivanka Trump’s denunciation of Moore, and Shelby’s. Cruz’s opponent will have to do the same. The Cruz/Trump dynamic is fertile ground for this. Trump has insulted Cruz on several occasions, including insults directed at this wife and father. All of these can be turned into ads that undermine Cruz and/or Trump or simply turn off Republicans by highlighting the factional infighting and the lengths that each have gone to in deriding the other.
  4. Excoriate Ted Cruz for supporting a child molester: Cruz initially withdrew his endorsement of Roy Moore in mid-November. By December 1st, he had this to say (paraphrasing):

To win, Democrats will need to rake Ted Cruz over the coals relentlessly, till people think “guy was okay working with a child molester” whenever they think of Ted Cruz.

Finally, there’s something we need to do that is only tangentially related to the Senate race in Texas. We must compete in state level races from now through 2020 aggressively. This is needed to reverse the partisan gerrymandering and voter-suppression that Republican legislatures have foisted on states across the south. Notably, Jones won the state, but only one congressional district in Alabama:

By the way, if you really want to see an interesting race where a small bump up in turnout might yield a Senate seat, here’s Mississippi:

2012 Senate 2012 President 2014 Senate 2016 President
Wickers v. Gore Romney v. Obama Cochran v. Childers Trump v. Clinton
Democrat 40.6% 43.79% 37.9% 40.1%
Republican 57.2% 55.29% 59.9% 57.9%
2012 Senate 2012 President 2014 Senate 2016 President
Wickers v. Gore Romney v. Obama Cochran v. Childers Trump v. Clinton
Democrat 503,467 562,949 239,439 485,131
Republican 709,626 710,746 378,481 700,714

Getting 67% of Obama’s voters to show up to an off-year senate election in Mississippi can yield a senate seat. If the Democratic party does not compete aggressively in Mississippi for the mere 140,000 votes that could lead to an additional senate seat, it does not deserve your support.

Every damn seat is in play, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

— @subirgrewal | Cross-posted at NotMeUs.org and TheProgressiveWing.com