Pro-cannabis O’Rourke has Cruz on the ropes in Texas Senate race

By Daniel Ulloa

SEP 03, 2018

Texas Senate Democratic candidate Beto O'Rourke

Beto O’Rourke

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) looks vulnerable to his Democratic opponent Beto O’Rourke who supports the decriminalization of marijuana.

While O’Rourke has not made it a centerpiece of his campaign, he has not backed down from his position when questioned or attacked. He has called for an end to the war on drugs in the past and has cited its harmful effects on communities as a reason to do so.

“A school-to-prison pipeline has produced the largest prison population on the face of the planet,” O’Rourke told onlookers at a recent rally, according to The Dallas Morning News. “People are doing time right now for nonviolent drug charges, including possession of marijuana, a substance that is legal in 29 states in this country today.”

Also, O’Rourke lamented publicly that the amount of money spent fighting the war on drugs would have been better spent addressing the opioid epidemic or funding education.

O’Rourke is a long-time champion of marijuana reform since his days as a Councilman in El Paso, Texas when he introduced a resolution that was ultimately unsuccessful calling for, “honest, open national debate on ending the prohibition on narcotics.”

Cruz has sought to use this against him, claiming in a campaign video he wants to legalize all drugs. “I don’t support drug legalization,” said Cruz. “I think drug legalization ends up harming people.”

In response, O’Rourke says he merely wanted to begin a general conversation and regrets the wording of the resolution and the fact that he did not know that marijuana is not a narcotic.

In response to Cruz’s claims and O’Rourke’s stance, NORML endorsed O’Rourke.

“As Senator, O’Rourke will be an outspoken and indispensable ally in reforming our federal laws relating to marijuana,” said a Spokesman for NORML.

In their endorsement, they cited a poll by the University of Texas that said 83 percent of Texans support legalizing marijuana for some use.

“Texas ranks as one of the states with the highest arrests rates for simple possession of marijuana, at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion in taxpayer money annually,” said Jax Finkel, Executive Director of Texas NORML.

A close race defies expectations

According to a recent poll by Emerson College, O’Rourke is only one point behind Cruz with 38 percent in favor of Cruz, 37 percent in favor of O’Rourke, and 21 percent declaring themselves undecided. The race is considered a “toss up” or “too close to call.”

Cruz has been an ardent right-wing advocate throughout his career in politics. His filibuster during the 2013 federal government shutdown over funding the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare remains infamous.

In an era where money has become the great factor in political campaigns, O’Rourke has outraised Ted Cruz in the last 15 months and garnered roughly $22 million. While Cruz has raised about $26 million from a combination of sources, he has done so since 2012. O’Rourke has been raising money a much faster rate than Cruz when the time to do so is critical.

[Read More: Cuomo, Nixon talk cannabis legalization in New York Democratic primary debate]

And not only is O’Rourke outraising Cruz, but there is also an “enthusiasm gap” in which a Cruz supporter admitted is working against him. While seemingly ephemeral, if one’s supporters are more enthusiastic, this means that devout supporters of the campaign will contribute both their time or energy to helping elect the candidate —which helps bring more voters to the polls.

O’Rourke has received support from across the country for his eloquent response to the national anthem controversy in the NFL. In a recorded town hall, O’Rourke voiced support when questioned, defending the players right to take a knee as a peaceful protest for civil rights against police brutality in the vein of Dr. Martin Luther King. He received great applause for his speech and videos of the town hall have subsequently gone viral.

A longshot in a Republican hotbed

Even with Trump dragging down Republicans running across the country and O’Rourke poised to win, the race remains exceedingly difficult for him.

Ted Cruz might be a bad candidate, but Texas overall is still a Republican bastion. The Democratic candidate for Governor, Lupe Valdez, is down 20 points in the polls, 48 to 28 percent with 20 percent undecided and four percent voting for others against the Republican incumbent.

And while Cruz does look vulnerable, he understands the position he is in and has begun calling in favors. Donald Trump, who called him “Lyin’ Ted” in his failed presidential bid, has said he will come campaign for him at a rally. Also, organizations such as the Club for Growth are prepared to support him with millions of dollars. Also, Super PACs will run uncoordinated ads in support of Cruz.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) is likely eager to support vulnerable members of his caucus. However, Cruz has not had the best relationship with McConnell, having blasted him during his presidential run.

But even so, in a bad year, it is hard for such organizations to give sufficient support when so many of their endorsed candidates are in competitive races.

The last Democratic Senator from Texas was Lloyd Bentsen who was appointed Treasury Secretary in 1993 by then-President Clinton and whose seat was filled in a special election by Kay Bailey Hutchison.

And not only have Democrats not held a Senate seat from Texas, they have lost all statewide offices in Texas in the last 20 years.

However, Texas is not the same as it used to be. Metropolitan areas such as Austin have become increasingly progressive as they have grown in recent years. Also, the Hispanic population is growing and they been trending solidly Democratic. And even if O’Rourke loses, the future looks bright. He leads in the polls with 18-34-year-olds by 19 points.