The Texas Tribune's most-read stories of 2018

No surprise: Our audience was drawn to our reporting on the U.S. Senate race between Ted Cruz and Beto O'Rourke. And our most-read story of 2018 let readers know how they could help migrant children at the border.

U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso (left), and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

The biggest Texas Tribune stories in 2018 fell largely into two categories — one we expected and one we didn't.

The expected one: the midterm elections, especially the fiery race between GOP Sen. Ted Cruz and his scrappy but unsuccessful challenger, Democrat Beto O'Rourke of El Paso. Our reporters based in Austin, Washington, D.C., and El Paso churned out around 150 stories on what became one of the country's hottest races, and readers gobbled up the coverage. Of The Texas Tribune's 10 most-read stories of the year, four were about the Cruz-O'Rourke race.

The surprise was President Donald Trump's zero-tolerance immigration policy, which led to the separation of parents and children at the U.S.-Mexico border and the placement of thousands of children in shelters in Texas. Readers wanted to do something to help. Our most popular story of the year was a list of organizations that were helping immigrant children who were separated from their parents.

Below are The Texas Tribune's 10 most-read stories of the year, as of Dec. 17.

1. Here's a list of organizations that are mobilizing to help immigrant children separated from their families, by Alex Samuels, June 18

Samuels compiled a list of organizations that were working to help migrant children who had been separated from their parents. For example, the nonprofit organization RAICES provides free and low-cost legal services to immigrant children, families and refugees in Texas. This Texplainer became the Tribune's most-read story of the year.

2. Ted Cruz and Beto O'Rourke clash over immigration, Trump, guns during intense debate, by Patrick Svitek and Brandon Formby, Sept. 21

This story was about the first debate between Cruz and O'Rourke, which took place in Dallas at a time when polls showed a tight race. Formby, our Dallas bureau chief, and Svitek, a political reporter, wrote that O'Rourke "took a newly aggressive tack."

3. Who's on the Texas primary ballots in 2018? by Ryan Murphy, Jan. 24

This tool detailed what every primary voter needed to know: which elections were on the ballot and who was running, from the 18 Republican candidates for U.S. House District 21 (Chip Roy eventually won the seat) to the sole candidate for the Democratic race for agriculture commissioner (Kim Olson, who lost to Republican Sid Miller in November).

4. Ted Cruz defeats Beto O'Rourke in difficult re-election fight, by Abby Livingston and Patrick Svitek, Nov. 6

Our two key writers on the Cruz-O'Rourke race — Livingston, our Washington bureau chief, and Svitek, who is based in Austin — reported on election night that Cruz defeated O'Rourke in an unusually close U.S. Senate race. "This was an election about hope and about the future of Texas," Cruz said that night, "and the people of Texas rendered a verdict that we want a future with more jobs and more security and more freedom." O'Rourke, meanwhile, told his supporters in a nationally televised speech: "I'm so fucking proud of you guys."

5. Former Texas congressman Steve Stockman found guilty of 23 felonies, by Emma Platoff, April 12

A federal jury in Houston found former congressman Steve Stockman guilty of misusing charitable donations to pay for personal expenses including a new dishwasher. Seven months later, he would be sentenced to 10 years in prison.

6. Hysteria over Jade Helm exercise in Texas was fueled by Russians, former CIA director says, by Cassandra Pollock and Alex Samuels, May 3

In 2015, Gov. Greg Abbott asked the Texas State Guard to monitor a federal military exercise. This story focused on comments made by former CIA director Michael Hayden on MSNBC's Morning Joe podcast. Hayden said the move emboldened Russians to target elections.

7. Beto O'Rourke leads Ted Cruz by 2 among likely voters in U.S. Senate race, new poll finds, by Kathryn Lundstrom, Sept. 19

This story was about the first poll that showed O'Rourke ahead of Cruz — 47 percent to 45 percent, according to the Ipsos/Reuters/University of Virginia poll of likely voters. A different poll released a day earlier showed Cruz 9 points ahead.

8. Ted Cruz's lead over Beto O'Rourke narrows to 3.6, UT-Tyler poll says, by Matt Zdun, Oct. 31

Yet another popular story about the Senate race; this one featured one of several polls that showed Cruz's lead over O'Rourke narrowing. The UT-Tyler poll of likely voters said 47 percent would vote for Cruz and 43.4 percent would vote for O'Rourke.

9. After SNL mocks his war injury, Texas congressional candidate Dan Crenshaw says he tries hard "not to be offended", by Matthew Watkins, Nov. 4

"I try hard not to offend; I try harder not to be offended," congressional candidate Dan Crenshaw tweeted after Saturday Night Live's Pete Davidson made fun of his war injury. Crenshaw, who wears an eye patch, later appeared on SNL and got an on-air apology from Davidson. Crenshaw, a Republican, won his election to succeed U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Houston; he takes office in January.

10. Medical cannabis dispensaries are opening in Texas, but the newly legal oils still aren't easy to procure, by Alex Samuels, Feb. 5

Cannabis oil treatment was legalized for certain epilepsy patients in Texas in 2015. But fewer than 20 doctors in the state were registered to prescribe it. Samuels plans to continue following debates over marijuana legalization in the 2019 legislative session.

Jonathan Solano contributed to this story.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Tyler 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.