Democratic lawmaker appears set to announce challenge to Ted Cruz in 2018

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, says he plans to announce a bid for Ted Cruz’s U.S. Senate seat.
U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, says he plans to announce a bid for Ted Cruz’s U.S. Senate seat. AP archives

Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso said Wednesday he is preparing for a campaign announcement in El Paso and insisted GOP Sen. Ted Cruz is beatable.

“He’s been running for president for four years while he should have been serving the people in Texas,” said the 44-year-old third-term congressman, who would enter next year’s contest against Cruz as a considerable underdog in Republican-leaning Texas.

O’Rourke declined to specifically confirm a report in the Houston Chronicle that he would be announcing his candidacy Friday, saying he owed it to Texas voters to tell them first.

But he sounded like a candidate as he spoke with several reporters at the Capitol, and several Democratic colleagues shouted encouragement as they passed by or even addressed O’Rourke as “senator.”

Cruz has national name ID and a fundraising network as a result of his presidential race, and won with 56 percent of the vote in his first Senate race in 2012. He has already filed papers to run for re-election, but his campaign spokeswoman declined comment on O’Rourke’s plans.

Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro also has been discussed as a potential challenger to Cruz. In a statement Wednesday, Castro’s political director Matthew Jones said, “It’s no secret that Joaquin is heavily weighing a Senate run, and he will continue to have those discussions with his family, friends and supporters across Texas. He plans to make his decision in the coming weeks.”

O’Rourke said he has spoken with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, who oversees the party’s recruitment efforts. Asked how he could hope to pick off an entrenched incumbent, O’Rourke noted that he joined Congress in 2013 after beating a longtime Democratic incumbent, Silvestre Reyes, who had chaired the Intelligence Committee.

“So you don’t know until you do it,” O’Rourke said.

O’Rourke recently got attention for going on a bipartisan road trip with fellow Texas Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican, after their flights to Washington, D.C., were canceled in a snowstorm. They rented a Chevy Impala and streamed the 16-hour trip on Facebook Live.

Democrats have scant prospects to pick up Senate seats next year, with Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada seen as the only truly vulnerable GOP incumbent, and it’s not clear whether the party would devote many resources to O’Rourke’s longshot bid. Republicans currently control the Senate 52-48.