Editor's note: If you'd like an email notice whenever we publish Ross Ramsey's column, click here.
“Never” is a risky word when it comes to politics, but you hear it — a lot — at this stage of a political cycle.
Toss it out. You can say this instead: Some of the rising stars in Texas — Ted Cruz and Julián Castro — have left their predictable political orbits for uncharted journeys. They’re not cooked yet, and although you’ll hear otherwise, it’s silly to say they’ll never get up.
Cruz is not on the national ticket and made a career-changing speech last week that could affect his re-election chances in 2018 and a second try at the presidential nomination in 2020.
Four years ago this month, Cruz was finishing up the electoral surprise attack that put him in the Senate — a runoff victory over then-Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst that shocked the Texas Republican establishment and set up the next Cruz offensive — against the establishment in Washington, D.C. — that in turn fed his recently abandoned race for president.
Democrat Julián Castro, four years ago, was the mayor of San Antonio and one of the breakout stars of the Democratic national convention in 2012. President Obama appointed him to be secretary of Housing and Urban Development. And he was touted as a vice presidential prospect — officially vetted for it, even — before Hillary Clinton put U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia in the number two spot on the ticket.
It’s not exactly as dire as it might sound, but Castro will be out of a job in January.
In Philadelphia, where the Democrats are gathered this week, that prospect prompted a question on CBS about Castro’s future. His twin brother, Joaquin Castro, grabbed the baton. Here’s how the Tribune’s Patrick Svitek condensed it in a tweet:
- Which one of you wants to challenge @tedcruz?
- @JulianCastro: "Probably zero of us."
- @JoaquinCastrotx: "He's speaking for himself."
That doesn’t take care of the secretary’s job search next year, but it does mark the change in regard for the junior senator from Texas.
Cruz walked into a noisy reception from Texas Republicans in Cleveland last week when he visited the delegation the morning after an address that did not include an endorsement of his party’s nominee.
It was a rare wobble before a crowd that has held him in high esteem. Even if those Republicans remain rankled with him, however, beating him in a general would be very, very difficult.
Republicans beat Democrats in Texas. If you look at contested statewide races in Texas, Republicans beat Democrats by an average of 22.4 percentage points in 2014, 14.8 points in 2012, 23.9 points in 2010 and 8.6 points in 2008. Their winning streak goes back to 1996.
On top of that, Cruz has run statewide twice now — once for senator, once in the Republican primary for president. Neither Castro has run for statewide office. Neither is as well-known as the Republican.
Cruz has got the advantage.
But 2018 could be an interesting political environment. If Donald Trump wins the presidency in November, the election would happen two years into his term. That’s often a low point in a president’s political popularity and offers voters an opportunity to critique an administration. Cruz, a bitter rival, would be unlikely to get any love from a Trump White House even if things are going great.
If Hillary Clinton is elected, a Democratic candidate would have the same chance of mid-term blues. But a well-regarded candidate might also get some political help from a White House that would like to turn the state blue, or purple, or a lighter shade of red.
The top state offices will be on the ballot in 2018, too. Right now, the incumbents range from strong — Gov. Greg Abbott already has $28.3 million in the bank — to weak — Attorney General Ken Paxton faces civil federal securities fraud charges and criminal charges on the same subject matter in state court.
In spite of their adventures and surprises and the momentary setbacks, the four-year-old political reads about their futures were probably right.
Cruz is 45 years old. The Castro twins are 41. Time is on their side.