A day after he aggressively challenged Ted Cruz in their last scheduled debate, Democratic Senate hopeful Beto O’Rourke is out with new ads in which he criticizes his Republican opponent by name, breaking with his usual message of hope and unity as he tries to make up ground in the final weeks of Texas’s closely watched U.S. Senate race.
According to the Texas Tribune, which first reported the ads and obtained video of two of the new spots, O’Rourke is airing at least three new television ads around the state, each focused on a different issue: immigration, education or health care. In each 30-second ad, O’Rourke speaks directly to the camera, offering a contrast between Cruz’s approach to the policy and his own.
In the immigration spot, O’Rourke, a Democratic congressman from El Paso, criticizes Cruz for blocking immigration reform in the Senate and for opposing legal protections for so-called Dreamers, immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children.
“This election is going to decide the future of immigration. Republicans and Democrats alike know we have to lead on immigration reform. And yet, Ted Cruz, he’s the only senator to vote against moving forward with that conversation,” O’Rourke says. “He’s vowed to deport every single Dreamer. He’s selling paranoia and fear instead of solutions. Let’s protect Dreamers. Let’s insure that we rewrite our immigration laws in our own image to reflect our values our interests and our experiences.”
In February, Cruz was the lone holdout in a 97-1 Senate vote to bring an immigration bill to the floor.
In the health care ad, O’Rourke criticizes Cruz for his role in the 2013 government shutdown, telling voters he did it “because he thought too many people had too much health care.” The congressman reiterates his support for the expansion of Medicare and for “guaranteed, high-quality, universal health care.”
The ads differ from the mostly positive spots that O’Rourke has been running on Texas airwaves in recent months, which have included snippets of his stump speech, in which he touted his pledge to rise above politics as usual and pushed Texans to rise above partisanship for the good of the state and the country.
Until recently, O’Rourke rarely mentioned Cruz’s name on the stump, and Wednesday’s ads mark the first time he’s directly used his opponent’s name in a TV spot — even as Cruz and his allies spent millions of dollars on ads attacking O’Rourke as too liberal and extreme for Texas voters. Those attack ads were the subject of O’Rourke’s last statewide campaign spot, launched two weeks ago, in which he decried the negative spots “trying to scare” Texas voters — but he didn’t call out Cruz by name.
O’Rourke’s supporters have long urged him to get more aggressive against Cruz — calls that have grown louder in recent weeks as the Democratic congressman has seen a slide in the polls. A CNN poll out Tuesday found that Cruz now leads O’Rourke by seven points with just under three weeks to go before Election Day — a gap the Democrat’s campaign believes they can overcome.
O’Rourke has drawn massive crowds all over the state, including in conservative rural areas where Democrats seldom campaign. His aides argue the polls aren’t picking up support from new voters and what the congressman has described as “non-voters” — Texans who don’t usually vote, especially in midterm elections. O’Rourke’s optimism is based on the belief that polls don’t reach the non-voters, and therefore underestimate his actual support.
But it remains to be seen how the decision to go after Cruz more aggressively will play with independents and moderate Republicans, whom O’Rourke is hoping to win to his side. Going on the attack was a tactic O’Rourke long resisted — rejecting even the advice of some of his closest supporters and aides. In an interview last month, O’Rourke insisted he would not go negative no matter how ugly the race got. “There is the temptation,” he said. “[But] the people of this state have asked me to resist that temptation and instead focus on what’s important … So that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”
On Wednesday, Team Cruz was using that reversal against him. “When a candidate who promised to stay positive goes negative, it’s because that candidate knows it’s over,” Chris Wilson, a top adviser to Cruz, tweeted. “RIP Beto O’Rourke.”
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