Beto O’Rourke’s national star power brought him closer to a statewide election win than any other Texas Democrat in decades, but in the end it was not enough bring home his long-shot quest to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.
With most of the ballots counted, the Republican incumbent was able to overcome out an early voting advantage that analysts had credited to a large turnout operation of young and minority voters who flocked to O’Rourke.
Winning a second term, Cruz discounted the clash of personalities in the race.
“Texas saw something this year that we’ve never seen,” Cruz said to cheers at an election night rally in Houston. “This election wasn’t about me and it wasn’t about Beto O’ Rourke. This election was a battle of ideas. It was a contest for who we are and who we believe. It was a contest and the people of Texas decided this race.”
Cruz also took a moment to recognize O’Rourke, even as some in the crowd booed.
“No,” Cruz said. “He worked tirelessly, he’s a dad, and he took time away from his kids. Millions across this state were inspired by his campaign. They didn’t prevail.”
O’Rourke backers counted Cruz’s tougher-than-expected win as a moral victory for the challenger.
“What we have already seen with the enthusiasm of young people, he has already done a great thing,” said Elisa Reyes Canales, who attended an O’Rourke election rally at Southwest University Stadium in El Paso.
For long-time observers of the scene, the race provided a Texas anomaly: a close statewide election.
“Beto O’Rourke energized and excited Texas Democrats like no candidate since Ann Richards in 1990,” said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. “In his 19 months of campaigning across the state he drew rock concert worthy crowds, both in liberal enclaves like Austin and Dallas, but also traditionally conservative areas like East Texas and the High Plains. Beto gear became one of the most popular fashion statements on college campuses, and Beto’s success drew support and money from progressives across the state and country.”
“But, in the end,” Jones added, “Beto’s rock star status, $80 million dollar campaign budget, and legions of diehard followers could not help him surmount the 12 to 15 point advantage that statewide GOP candidates possess at the start of an electoral cycle.
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