Democratic infighting. Republican attacks. Lots of female candidates. And overall chaos.
Welcome to the 2018 midterms, which kicked off last night as voters in Texas cast their ballots in a series of competitive primary elections that could determine whether Republicans or Democrats control Congress next year.
Democrats have targeted several of the state’s 36 House seats as potential pickups this fall. They need to win a total of 24 seats to take back the House and depose Speaker Paul Ryan. The Left is also gunning for Sen. Ted Cruz in his re-election bid over his conservative stances on issues and just personal dislike.
Here’s everything you need to know:
Cruz came out swinging.
Democrats love to hate Cruz, and they’re hoping that Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a former punk-rocker from El Paso, has the right stuff to beat him in conservative Texas. O’Rourke, who won his primary campaign easily on Tuesday against two lesser-known opponents, has been raising loads of money and campaigning far and wide for his long-shot candidacy.
National Republican leaders have rolled their eyes at the Democrat’s campaign, but Cruz isn’t taking any chances. The senator publicly released a 60-second radio ad Tuesday night that accused Beto — in jingle form — of changing his name from Robert for political gain in the Hispanic-heavy state.
Beto is a popular shorthand for Robert in the Hispanic community, but O’Rourke is not Hispanic. Growing up in Texas, O’Rourke said his parents called him Beto from the beginning and pointed to a picture of him in a “Beto” sweatshirt as a child.
Cruz followed up on his ad with a swirl of media interviews. He clearly wanted to talk about the ad and go after O’Rourke. Get ready for a lot of mudslinging over the next several months.
There’s blowback against the Democratic establishment.
Two weeks ago, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) took the unusual step of sending out opposition research on a fellow Democrat in an effort to sink her candidacy. It didn’t work.
Democrat Laura Moser, running in the Houston-area 7th District, edged out five other Democrats on Tuesday night to place second and qualify for the May 22 runoff election. The Democratic committee did not endorse any of her opponents, but they attacked Moser for a 2014 article in Washingtonian magazine where she wrote that she’d “sooner have her teeth pulled” than move back to her hometown in Texas.
Democrats feared that article would make Moser vulnerable in a general election they hope to win, so they attempted to sabotage her candidacy in the final weeks.
Instead, Moser used the Democratic committee’s attacks as a rallying cry for progressives to push back against the more moderate, arrogant establishment. The Bernie Sanders-aligned group Our Revolution endorsed her, and national money flowed to her campaign. Moser received 24 percent of the vote and Democrat Lizzie Pannill Fletcher received 29 percent.
Fletcher co-founded Planned Parenthood Young Leaders in 2000 and has the endorsement from the powerful progressive group Emily’s List, but some liberals have attacked her for being too moderate and business-friendly, including that she doesn’t support Medicare for all.
Whoever wins on May 22 will face incumbent Republican Rep. John Culberson in the fall.
There are going to be a lot of runoff campaigns.
With a record number of Texas Democrats running for Congress in 2018 — 111 to be exact — it was perhaps inevitable that many wouldn’t cross the 50-point threshold to avoid an expensive two-person runoff campaign. In total, 10 Democratic primary fights for the House will continue until May 22.
Congress is likely to get its first Latina from Texas.
In fact, Congress will likely get two. State Sen. Sylvia Garcia easily won the Democratic primary to replace Rep. Gene Green in the liberal 29th District in Houston, while El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar won her primary to succeed O’Rourke. They’re just two of the 50 women challengers who ran primary campaigns for Congress this year — 36 Democrats and 14 Republicans.
“This was for Latinos who for too long have sat on the political sidelines while the president sits in the White House blaming all of our problems on immigrants,” Garcia said at her campaign headquarters, according to the Houston Chronicle.
While Texas is an increasingly diverse state, its political leaders have remained largely white and male. Of the 36 members of Congress from Texas, only three are women and only three are Hispanic. With Garcia’s and Escobar’s likely victories, both numbers would go up this November.
Cover image: Sen. Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, is interviewed at the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. (Ron Sachs/MediaPunch/IPX)