Barring a historically shocking upset, Tea Party darling Ted Cruz will become Senator-elect Ted Cruz on Tuesday night, and former state Rep. Paul Sadler will join a long line of Texas Democrats who have failed to break the GOP stranglehold on statewide politics.
Though he’s never held elective office, Cruz, 41, ran as an insurgent and came from behind to defeat longtime Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst — favored by Gov. Rick Perry and the party establishment — in the GOP primary.
After winning the nomination this summer, Cruz hasn’t had to worry much about whether he will become the first Hispanic U.S. senator from Texas. Despite its increasingly diverse electorate, Texas has not budged from its resolutely Republican bent since George W. Bush led a statewide sweep in his re-election as governor in 1998.
In a pre-Election Day interview, Cruz said he isn’t resting on his laurels even though his party affiliation and huge campaign bank account gave him an overwhelming advantage.
“We are certainly not taking it for granted," Cruz said. "Our approach in the general has been exactly the same as our approach was in the primary, which is going 18 hours a day taking the message to the voters of Texas."
Cruz stuck to his three main priorities — spending cuts, reducing the regulatory burden and tax reform. And he declined to say whether he would try to overturn President Obama’s “deferred action” program that allows certain young illegal immigrants to live and work in the United States without fear of deportation.
The Harvard-educated lawyer, called the “Republican Barack Obama” in a surprisingly flattering profile in liberal Mother Jones magazine, also passed up an opportunity to categorically rule out a run for president in 2016.
He said he was “exclusively” focused on making the case that he’s the best candidate for the U.S. Senate, and he predicted there wouldn’t be an opening anyway.
“I fully expect in 2016 that we will be seeing a campaign for the re-election of Mitt Romney, and I intend to do everything I can to support that re-election,” he said.
Sadler, who raised less than 5 percent of the money Cruz has pulled in, discovered that having a "D" next to your name is a modern-day scarlet letter in Texas. If the polls are right, he’s headed for a crushing defeat.
In a wide-ranging pre-election interview, Sadler, 57, wasn’t ready to throw in the towel, and he was still working to get his voters energized and to the polls. But he said the rejection he felt during his race — particularly in rural Texas — has left him frustrated and worried.
He recalled how one elderly woman in Abilene jabbed a finger at his chest and told him, “You can’t be a Christian — you’re a Democrat.” Another voter said she was praying that “God makes this country Republican,” Sadler said.
“I have never seen that type of polarization and volatility in the electorate before, and it is at an all-time high,” Sadler said. “It’s just disturbing.”
While Sadler blew out the engine in his Ford F-150 pickup criss-crossing the state, he never managed to become even remotely competitive financially, so he was basically a no-show in the TV ad game.
He had enough to run an ad in a few select TV markets, but not statewide, so his warning that Cruz is too extreme for Texas was largely unheard.
The latest campaign finance reports show the Democratic lawyer raised $600,000, compared with some $14 million raised by Cruz.
Sadler said plenty of Texas Democrats raised money for political campaigns, they just didn’t spend it in the state.
Asked why he couldn’t persuade them to fund his race, Sadler said, “It has to be one of two things. It’s either a rejection of me personally as a candidate for whatever reason, or it is an organized effort to send money out of state based upon the belief that a Democrat can’t win statewide.”
After thinking about his own question, he said it was probably a little of both.
Sadler also criticized members of his own party for clinging to the notion that the state will only be competitive once Latino voters participate in greater numbers. He said it’s “divisive” to focus so much on one ethnic group.
“We’ve got to get off this message that the state is going to turn blue when the Hispanic population comes up. That’s the most destructive thing we have,” Sadler said. “That is just as destructive as the Republican Party being known as only the white male party.”