Just one year ago, few would have guessed that Ted Cruz would be in jeopardy of losing his Senate reelection bid, but today it is a distinct possibility. The most recent polls show Beto O’Rourke, a young congressman and Cruz’s Democratic challenger, within single digits of unseating the Republican incumbent. The possibility of flipping Texas provides the Democrats with a narrow but clear path to regaining the majority in the United States Senate.
The high stakes nature of this race has garnered extensive media coverage, propelling the deep red state into the national spotlight. With that national spotlight comes benefits for Beto O’Rouke; coverage of his charismatic personality and comparisons to Barack Obama and JFK shine through in almost every feature story on the candidate. Meanwhile Cruz, often satirized on Twitter, stands in stark contrast with his opponent. This dichotomy has become a focal point in the reporting of the race.
A piece last month from the Washington Post discussed the large personality and following of the congressman from El Paso. O’Rourke seems to have mastered using social media to spread his message, particularly to the youngest members of the electorate. During his campaign Beto has travelled to every county in Texas while broadcasting much of his endeavor on Facebook Live.
An array of publications also take note of the personality differences between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke. In a piece by the New Yorker, the difference of personality is succinctly described as “a nearly Tom Hanksian earnestness against unctuousness and the kind of fearful Tea Party recriminations that paved Cruz’s path to the Senate, in 2012.”
A Huffington Post article said, “Likeability has never been Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s strong suit.” followed by, “O’Rourke is just so damn likable.” making it clear that personality is a key part of this race.
While a strong personality and social media presence is seen positively by those on the left, it has become fodder for GOP attacks. Just this monday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott appeared on a Fox News segment in which he vilified O’Rourke’s campaign as a cult centered on a far left personality and not actual policy, despite the policy-centered debate between the candidates just last month.
This particular attack from the Governor highlights the vulnerability of Cruz, a Senator held in low regard by even his Republican colleagues. It appears as though Cruz and the rest of the GOP are well aware that Beto O’Rourke will win a popularity contest between the two candidates. It is for that reason that Cruz has enlisted the help of President Trump, a man who fiercely attacked the Senator during the 2016 Republican primaries.
Cruz surely does not want to ask for help from the man who accused his father of being involved in the JFK assassination and made disparaging remarks about his wife; however, Trump has the largest personality in contemporary American politics, a trait which propelled him to victory in the 2016 election. If anyone in the Republican Party can attempt to win a contest of personality against Beto O’Rourke, it is Donald Trump.
How has the sheer amount of media attention affected the campaigns, particularly O’Rourke’s? According to The Texas Politics Project from the University of Texas at Austin, O’Rourke was still unknown by a quarter of the electorate in June. Over the past few months this number has shrunk and the race has accordingly tightened all while the O’Rourke campaign saw wide news coverage.
O’Rourke has also leveraged the national coverage to raise huge amounts of cash for his campaign from grassroots progressives across the country. Beto is the third largest fundraiser in Senate races this year with Cruz being the fourth. The Texas Senate race is now the fourth costliest Senate race in US history.
The intrigue surrounding this race has generated an abnormally large cloud of media over a traditionally Republican stronghold. Beto O’Rourke’s effective use of social media that puts his personality forward has given him a clear popularity edge over Senator Cruz. This juxtaposition of charisma has created a wave of media coverage that has boosted O’Rourke’s name identification throughout the state, a key problem that faced Beto at the start of the race. If the blue wave reaches Texas it will be in no small part because of the role reporters played in popularizing Beto O’Rourke.