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*Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect a statement from Colin Allred.
DALLAS — Two days after the U.S. Senate voted to put Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, Vice President Mike Pence came here looking to energize Texas Republicans around the hard-fought confirmation — and to get them to turn out in particular for two lawmakers locked in competitive races.
With under a month until Election Day, Pence headlined fundraisers Monday in Dallas for local U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who are fighting for re-election against Democrats Colin Allred and El Paso U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, respectively. The races are among the most closely watched in the state — and country — and Pence's trip made him the biggest GOP name yet to visit Texas for them during the final stretch.
"The other side is absolutely determined to win back the majority, and the road, they know, to their majority comes right through Pete’s district," Pence told Sessions supporters inside a hotel ballroom. "And so while they talk about a blue wave, let’s make sure the red wave starts here."
Pence scored some of the biggest applause as he took a victory lap on Kavanaugh, whom the Senate narrowly confirmed Saturday after a brutal fight centering on sexual assault allegations from the justice's high school days. The confirmation battle, Pence argued, showed the midterm elections present a "choice between a party that’s committed to moving our nation forward and a party that’s committed to the politics of destruction, winning at any costs, that the Senate ... rejected this past weekend."
In brief remarks before Pence, Sessions appeared to speak of the Kavanaugh fight as well, telling supporters "this is a cultural war that we're engaged in, and we watched it over the last few weeks loud and straightforward at your TV in Dallas, Texas, and across the country." Borrowing President Donald Trump's campaign slogan, Sessions added, "We need to stand for making America great again."
Allred seized on Sessions' comments in responding to the vice presidential visit, saying in a statement: "North Texans are tired of dysfunctional, divisive politics without any vision for the future. That Pete Sessions believes we are in a 'culture war' is further proof of how out of touch he has become with North Texas and how in lockstep he is with the Trump Administration."
Trump has endorsed Sessions for re-election, though in his campaign, the congressman has appeared more eager to embrace Pence, a former House colleague. At the fundraiser, the two exchanged warm words about how Sessions, who has served in the House since 1997, took Pence under his wing when Pence arrived there four years later. Pence said lightheartedly that he admired Sessions so much that he would visit Texas to campaign for him even "if he was uncontested." Sessions had no Democratic opponent two years ago, but he drew Allred after Hillary Clinton narrowly won the traditionally Republican district and now finds himself in perhaps the political fight of his life.
Pence took direct aim at Allred, a civil rights attorney who previously worked in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and played in the NFL.
"The choice wouldn’t be more clear in this election: Pete’s opponent, Colin Allred, is almost the polar opposite of Congressman Pete Sessions in every way," Pence said, knocking Allred for having worked in the Obama administration, opposing the GOP tax overhaul that passed last year and supporting the health care system known as Medicare for All.
Pence also warned that a Democratic takeover of the House would likely restore to power Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader who held the gavel from 2007 to 2011. Conjuring the specter of a Speaker Pelosi, Pence reminded the audience he and Sessions "were both there the last time that happened — and you don’t want that to happen."
Democrats were just fine with Pence's trip to the state, happy to tie the incumbents to an administration whose brand they believe is particularly toxic in places like Sessions' 32nd District, which Trump narrowly lost in 2016. The Texas Democratic Party called Pence's visit a "rescue mission" for Cruz and Sessions.
"This comes as no surprise," the party's executive director, Crystal Perkins, said in a statement. "Vice President Pence is rewarding Ted Cruz and Pete Sessions for being loyal rubber stamps for President Trump’s dangerous agenda."
The Sessions fundraiser was open to reporters, while the Cruz one was not. Pence nonetheless mentioned Cruz more than once at the Sessions event, thanking Cruz — and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn — for their roles in the Kavanaugh confirmation and emphasizing the need to re-elect Cruz in November.
For both Cruz and Sessions, Pence was just the latest high-profile Republican to touch down in Texas to assist their re-election campaigns. Donald Trump Jr., the president's son, spent a day in Texas last week stumping with Cruz, and the president himself has said he will hold a rally for Cruz later this month in the state. Sessions' surrogates in recent weeks have included House Speaker Paul Ryan and former President George W. Bush, who lives in Dallas.
The competitive contests for Senate and Sessions' 32nd District are relatively new territory for Texas Republicans — and Pence's trip provided at least one reminder of the shifting terrain. As he was winding down his speech, Pence mistakenly referred to the 32nd District as the 23rd District, which ironically was Texas' only truly competitive district up until this cycle. The audience was quick to correct him.
Disclosure: Crystal Perkins has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.