National Politics

In home stretch, Cruz keeps focus on downballot, turnout

Ted Cruz thanks supporters at Texas GOP Convention

Senator Ted Cruz gets a warm reception at the Texas GOP Convention as he thanks the delegates for their support. (Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison)
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Senator Ted Cruz gets a warm reception at the Texas GOP Convention as he thanks the delegates for their support. (Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison)

A month ago, Ted Cruz arrived at a phone bank for the Tarrant County GOP ready to prove that even if he had a complicated history with his party's presidential nominee, he was fully committed to getting out the vote in November.

The enduring image from that visit: Cruz making calls to voters against the backdrop of three campaign signs for his former bitter rival Donald Trump, making himself an instant cause for scorn and ridicule online.

Yet to some Texas Republicans, including Tarrant County GOP Chairman Tim O'Hare, it was more of a win-win situation for Cruz: He gave the local party faithful a shot in the arm and got to show he was not receding from an election season that had not worked out in his favor.

"It was very helpful for us and I think it was good for him," O'Hare said Friday, acknowledging that Cruz's months-long refusal to endorse Trump — he finally reversed himself in September — had upset some Texas Republicans. "He needed to get out there and let people know he was still working hard.”

Since then, Cruz has hit his stride, spending the final weeks before Election Day in an all-out effort to protect the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, boost candidates farther down the ballot and keep conservative turnout from slipping in his home state. By his team's count, he has given more than $650,000 to GOP causes this election cycle, traveled over 12,600 miles for fellow Republicans and lent his support to more than 100 candidates.

Most of the activity has been concentrated in recent weeks, allowing Cruz to build the case that he is a team player for the GOP in the home stretch of a wild election season. And it is not without implications for his own political future, which includes plans for a 2018 re-election bid and perhaps another White House run.

On Thursday, the effort took him somewhere he had never been before — the campaign trail for Trump. Cruz joined Trump's running mate, Mike Pence, for two rallies in Iowa and Michigan, where he did not directly boost Trump but spoke glowingly of Pence, the Indiana governor who endorsed Cruz during the primaries.

A day earlier, Cruz was in Missouri stumping for U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, repurposing a familiar line from his presidential campaign to talk up the stakes of Blunt's re-election bid.

"The eyes of the country are on the state of Missouri," Cruz said at a rally in Springfield, one of two he attended Wednesday for Blunt. "And I'll tell ya this — as this Senate seat goes, if Roy were to lose this seat, we would lose the United States Senate."

Blunt is one of five Republicans running for Senate for whom Cruz will have hit the road by Tuesday. He has already done two events each for Nevada's Joe Heck and Colorado's Darryl Glenn, with trips planned Saturday and Monday for Indiana's Todd Young and Louisiana's John Fleming, respectively.

In Texas, Cruz has made get-out-the-vote stops for Republicans in Burleson and in Tarrant, Dallas and Denton counties. He has also headlined a rally for the Texas GOP's Victory campaign with endangered state Rep. Gilbert Peña of Pasadena, in addition to starring at a fundraiser for state Sen. Brian Birdwell of Granbury.

In Denton — one of the reddest parts of Texas — Cruz admitted he was worried that conservative voters will stay home this election after a presidential race that left them less than thrilled with their options.

"We can't count on Texas always being red," Cruz said, warning against complacency. "What is it that Edmund Burke said? The only thing necessary for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing."

Cruz is also aiming to stoke conservative turnout with a robocall — a pre-recorded phone message — where he and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick urge Harris County Republicans to vote straight tickets. (Cruz has also done robocalls for four specific candidates outside Texas: Blunt, Fleming and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina.)

Of the over $650,000 Cruz has donated to Republicans this cycle, a large part of it — roughly $440,000 — was raised at two fundraisers he headlined with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in October in Dallas and Houston. The fundraisers benefited six vulnerable Senate Republicans: Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Blunt, Burr, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Rob Portman of Ohio.

"It was very helpful for us and I think it was good for him. He needed to get out there and let people know he was still working hard.”

— Tarrant County GOP Chairman Tim O'Hare

For Cornyn, a two-time former NRSC chairman, the fundraisers were drop in the bucket. Politico reported Tuesday that Cornyn has raised a total of over $18 million for Republican candidates this cycle.

Of that $650,000, another $100,000 went from Cruz's Senate re-election account to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm of GOP members of the upper chamber. He also tapped his own coffers to send $50,000 to the Republican Party of Texas' Victory effort.

And then Cruz has used his leadership PAC, the Jobs, Freedom, and Security PAC, to give nine candidates $5,000 each. In addition to some of the aforementioned Senate candidates, he also gave to U.S. Reps. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas and Will Hurd of San Antonio, and to U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

Cruz's leadership PAC has also sent $14,000 — $1,000 each — to the campaigns of 14 Iowa politicians who served on his Hawkeye State leadership team during the primaries. The donations — made to people like Jason Schultz, who chaired Cruz's presidential campaign in Iowa — keep him in the good graces of influential figures whose support could come in handy if he runs for that office again.

Beyond the PAC cash, Cruz has helped steer small-dollar donations to Republican candidates, using his email list to ask for money for 25 of them. In Texas, the solicitations benefited Hurd, who is running for re-election, and Railroad Commission hopeful Wayne Christian.

On top of the endorsements, travel and money, Cruz has opened up his presidential campaign's extensive data operation for other Republicans to use. He has shared its primary models with the Republican National Committee and the NRSC, as well as directly with candidates in North Carolina, Missouri and Nevada.

All told, Cruz aides say he offered some form of support to over 100 Republicans this cycle, many of them who served on presidential campaign's statewide leadership teams. In Texas, the endorsements include 26 state and federal lawmakers who supported Cruz in the primaries. Only one of them, state Rep. Rodney Anderson of Grand Prairie, is in a competitive race Tuesday.

Cruz's final burst of pre-election activity will likely come Monday, when he heads to Baton Rouge to attend an event for Fleming, one of two dozen candidates in the jungle primary to replace retiring GOP Sen. David Vitter.

"When you have a field as large as you do in Louisiana, having someone like Senator Cruz come out for you is" significant, said Matt Beynon, a spokesman for Fleming's campaign. "It's a way of breaking through."

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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