Texas Senator Ted Cruz attacked his Democratic opponent, Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, for using a Hispanic nickname to attract voters after his primary win last night. The attack led to it being pointed out to Cruz, whose first name is Rafael, that O'Rourke is not the only one in the race to opt against going by his real first name.
The Cruz campaign released a radio jingle making fun of O’Rourke with lyrics like, “I remember reading stories, liberal Robert wanted to fit in, so he changed his name to Beto and hid it with a grin.”
CNN’s Chris Cuomo confronted Cruz about the snarky lyrics on Tuesday night. “First of all, you didn’t like that dirty pool when you were running for president and the president called you ‘Lyin’ Ted,’ you didn’t like that kind of tactic,” he said. “And you know what, your name is Rafael, you go by Ted but your middle name is Edward, that’s a more Anglicized version of it. He went the other way and has a more ethnic version of his name—why go after him? You’re both doing the same thing.”
Cruz agreed, saying he was named after his father, also Rafael Cruz, a Cuban immigrant. But, he said, the jingle was just about “having a sense of humor,” and that he “had fun with it.”
O’Rourke, whose family has lived in El Paso for four generations, said Beto was a nickname given to him by his parents at birth. “My parents have called me Beto from day one, and it's just—it's kind of a nickname for Robert in El Paso. It just stuck,” he told CNN.
"We can get into name-calling and talk about why the other person is such an awful guy, or we can focus on the big things that we want to do for the future of our country, for the generations that will succeed us," he said.
O'Rourke refuses to engage on Cruz's campaign song mocking his name, saying: "I just don't think that's what folks in Texas want us to focus on ... We can focus on the small, mean, petty stuff or we can be big, bold, courageous and confident" https://t.co/6Woz2mxiqX pic.twitter.com/uDMxgOuC7U— New Day (@NewDay) March 7, 2018
Democrats in Texas face an uphill battle: the state hasn't elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1988, and Trump won there in 2016 by 9 percentage points. Cruz is a well-connected incumbent with more cash on hand—about $6 million to O'Rourke's $4.9 million.
But O’Rourke has outraised Cruz in recent months and Democratic turnout for Tuesday’s primaries was the highest its been since 2002. Texas’s growing Latino population has been shifting the Lone Star State to the left. Hispanics make up 28 percent of eligible voters in Texas and O’Rourke is courting them.
The candidate speaks fluent Spanish and often talks about how he took his wife over the border to Juarez, Mexico on their first date. His congressional district is 75 percent Hispanic, and he openly opposes Trump's border wall.
Cruz has called for tripling border security and ending all paths to citizenship for undocumented immigrants
More from Newsweek