Monday night in Houston, Texas' junior senator, governor and lieutenant governor will take the stage with the president of the United States, two weeks and a day ahead of the Nov. 6 mid-term election. At almost any other point in American history, the rally wouldn't be a surprise or even particularly noteworthy. This Texas mid-term promises to be the tightest in a couple of decades, and the senator, Ted Cruz, is somewhat vulnerable to his insurgent challenger, El Paso U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke. This isn't any other point in American history, however.
Cruz, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are taking the stage with President Donald Trump, a deeply polarizing fixture even in a state with as long a Republican history as Texas.
Abbott and Patrick, a longtime Trump supporter, are far ahead in the polls and don't seem to be taking a big chance speaking at the rally. The same can't be said for Cruz.
According to Quinnipiac University's most recent poll of the state, 46 percent of likely Texas voters, including 54 percent of female likely voters, disapprove of Trump's job performance. Given that white, college-educated women are viewed as a swing constituency by many political analysts ahead of November's vote, Cruz seems to be taking a big risk by, once again, publicly embracing Trump, who repeatedly humiliated him and his family on the campaign trail.
The senator's strategy, according to Vinny Minchillo, a Republican political consultant and ad man who serves as the principal of Glass House Strategies in Dallas, is all about making sure Cruz doesn't face an enthusiasm gap when it comes to base turnout compared with O'Rourke.
"If nothing else, our party is a little shortsighted. We look to the next election day instead of four election days ahead," Minchillo says. "That being said, I think Republicans for 2018 are really concerned about turnout and enthusiasm. ... The message that you'll hear, and that you hear Trump putting out now, is 'Don't vote for any Democrats.' Everybody's trying to get that straight ticket vote in the bank."
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While Cruz's sharing an event with a man who insulted his wife's appearance, repeatedly called him "Lyin' Ted" and claimed that Cruz's father was involved in the Kennedy assassination might be a turnoff for the urban slice of the GOP that doesn't like the president, that's not the biggest concern faced by Cruz in a statewide race, Rice University's Mark Jones says.
"One way to effectively boost turnout is to have no doubt whatsoever that Donald Trump supports Ted Cruz and that people who like Donald Trump should vote for Ted Cruz," Jones says. "That said, in doing so, you are alienating some of those college-educated, Anglo Republican women. When you look at the statewide race, however, it's still advantageous for Cruz to have Trump come down here. You may lose a few Republican women, but that will be made up for and then some by the enhanced turnout."
Association with Trump is a far bigger risk for candidates like U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions and state Sen. Don Huffines in Dallas, Jones says, because the margins for Republicans are thinner here than they are statewide.
"They're a major voting bloc in those two districts for Republicans," Jones says. "[Huffines' and Sessions'] districts are diverse enough that a Republican needs all of the center and center-right leaning Anglo women to vote Republican because, if they don't, then that's where you lose the race."