COLUMBUS, Texas — Republican Sen. Ted Cruz isn't assuming anything in his campaign for re-election. Sure, he’s a popular politician in a state that hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate in 25 years, but polls also show him in a surprisingly tight race with the young, telegenic upstart Beto O’Rourke, who’s captivated liberal crowds in Texas and won celebrity endorsements across the nation.
That’s why Cruz was here on Saturday, at an intimate gathering in a deep-red town halfway between Houston and San Antonio, to rally the faithful back to his cause.
“The danger is that the economy is booming, people are focused on their jobs and their kids, going to church, going to the ballgame, and they just don't make it out to vote,” Cruz told the crowd. “Our danger is complacency.”
Cruz leads O’Rourke by 4 percentage points, according to the Real Clear Politics average. But he faces more than just the familiar incumbents’ paradox that when things are good, parties in power have a hard time mobilizing voters.
The bigger worry is voter overconfidence. According to internal Republican National Committee data reported by Axios, the Republican faithful are unusually immune to reports showing that Democratic candidates are on the rise. One recent RNC survey found that 57 percent of strong Trump supporters don’t believe that Democrats will retake the House.
“To me, the polls that we're seeing right now are eerily similar to the Trump-Clinton polls that we saw going up to the election,” said Tom Kelley, the GOP chair for Colorado County, at Cruz’s stop in Columbus. “It's all hype and hyperbole.”
That’s why Cruz can’t simply ignore the huge crowds being drawn out by his opponent.
“We're going to win this race,” Cruz told VICE News. “I feel very good about where we are. But the reason we're going to win it is we're not taking anything for granted. It is clear there are a lot of folks on the far left who are really angry, and that anger — it's a motivator. It is bringing dollars, it's bringing passion, it's bringing energy. And we have to take it seriously.”
This segment originally aired September 18, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.