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Democrats look at the possibility of flipping Ted Cruz's Senate seat in 2024

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Democrats are facing some tough races next year as they try to hang on to power in the U.S. Senate. The party will need to hold on to some vulnerable seats in Republican states, but in case they lose one of those races, Democrats are also eyeing some seats that they could potentially flip. One of them is in deep-red Texas, where Republican Ted Cruz faces reelection in 2024. NPR's Ashley Lopez reports.

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: For Alex Morgan, Texas' Senate seat was not on the radar for 2024.

ALEX MORGAN: You know, it is a tough state. It's a big state that requires a lot of investment.

LOPEZ: Morgan is the president of the Progressive Turnout Project, a political action committee that mobilizes Democratic voters during elections. His feelings about Texas changed, though, when Democratic Congressman Colin Allred, an attorney and former NFL linebacker, announced he was jumping into the race to oust Ted Cruz.

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COLIN ALLRED: I've taken down a lot tougher guys than Ted Cruz, so let's get on the field and find out.

LOPEZ: In 2018, Allred flipped a congressional district in Dallas' suburbs he's held ever since. Alex Morgan says Allred's announcement got him excited about the odds of Democrats flipping this Senate seat.

MORGAN: You know, because he's battle-tested, well-known and well-liked in the state, so he really makes it now where Texas becomes probably our best pickup opportunity across the country next year.

LOPEZ: Democratic State Senator Roland Gutierrez, who has been a key voice in the state pushing for tougher gun laws after the Uvalde school shooting, also recently announced he's running. And there are a couple of reasons why some Democrats are optimistic they could flip this seat. The last time Ted Cruz was up for reelection, it was the closest race in recent history in Texas. He won his race against former Congressman Beto O'Rourke by less than 3 percentage points.

BRENDAN STEINHAUSER: Without Beto O'Rourke on the ballot, it's going to be harder for Democrats to take this seat.

LOPEZ: That's Republican strategist Brendan Steinhauser. He thinks that race was a fluke more than it is a sign that a Senate seat in Texas is competitive.

STEINHAUSER: O'Rourke caught lightning in a bottle. He came out of nowhere. He raised 80 million-plus, and he made a huge impact on the race and energized a lot of voters.

LOPEZ: Steinhauser says he really doesn't think Democrats in Texas are going to be as motivated next year as they were in 2018. But Sawyer Hackett with the Lose Cruz PAC, which is a group of Democratic strategists working to get Ted Cruz out of office, says there's some other big reasons Ted Cruz might be vulnerable next year. For one...

SAWYER HACKETT: Ted Cruz is deeply unpopular both in Texas and nationally. He consistently ranks as one of the most disliked senators serving in the caucus, but especially in Texas, he has had underwater approval ratings since he took office.

LOPEZ: But pollsters say that doesn't mean Cruz is all that vulnerable. James Henson with the Texas Politics Project at UT Austin says Democrats have long thought that Cruz's likability problems and baggage would eventually cost him during elections.

JAMES HENSON: But, you know, Cruz has proven fairly resilient. I think he is going to have challenges this time, you know? But I think you still have to figure that the odds are in his favor, albeit, you know, perhaps less so than they've been in the past.

LOPEZ: And that's because Cruz has one immense advantage in Texas, and that's that he is a Republican.

HENSON: There's not been a Democrat elected statewide since the 1990s, and Republicans' electoral success in the state, you know, could fairly be called uniform. That is, Republicans have controlled all three branches of state government here for the entirety of the 21st century.

LOPEZ: And while the state has changed demographically very quickly in that time, that hasn't actually manifested into any big changes politically, at least not yet. Henson says statewide elections are slowly getting closer in Texas, but they still haven't gotten close enough for a Democrat to have a truly good shot of winning. Ashley Lopez, NPR News, Austin, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Ashley Lopez
Ashley Lopez is a political correspondent for NPR based in Austin, Texas. She joined NPR in May 2022. Prior to NPR, Lopez spent more than six years as a health care and politics reporter for KUT, Austin's public radio station. Before that, she was a political reporter for NPR Member stations in Florida and Kentucky. Lopez is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Miami, Florida.
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