CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A super-PAC funded by supporters of Sen. Ted Cruz has released a new attack ad against his Democratic opponent, Beto O’Rourke, in the final days of the campaign, charging that the El Paso congressman is “cheering on” the much-publicized caravan of Central American migrants making its way toward the U.S. border.
The ad, which was first spotted on air Tuesday by the Texas Tribune and the Dallas Morning News, features grainy images of the caravan heading north through Mexico. It includes a doctored photo of O’Rourke giving a thumbs-up and holding a sign that says “Beto for Amnesty” and dubs the candidate “Open Borders O’Rourke,” describing him as “relentlessly radical.”
“The caravan is coming to Texas. Some say criminals among them,” a narrator intones. (The migrants’ intended destination at the border isn’t known for sure.) “But there’s Beto O’Rourke, cheering them on: ‘Welcome in; stay awhile. Don’t be paranoid,’ Beto tells us … driving the caravan for amnesty from his minivan.”
The ad was paid for by the Virginia-based super-PAC Texans Are, a group founded by former Cruz aides that has already spent more than $4 million to defeat O’Rourke, mostly on television spots attacking him on immigration.
Asked about the spot yesterday during a campaign stop in Austin, O’Rourke said he hadn’t seen the ad. But he decried the “hateful, vile rhetoric” and the “vilification [and] demonization” of immigrants in the campaign. He has accused Republicans, including his opponent and President Trump, of stoking “paranoia and fear” in their rhetoric about the caravan, which is still hundreds of miles and perhaps weeks away from reaching the U.S. border.
O’Rourke will campaign Thursday in Brownsville, a border town where hundreds of troops began arriving earlier this week as part of Operation Faithful Patriot, a Trump-ordered operation that has deployed more than 5,000 active military members along the country’s border with Mexico in anticipation of the caravan’s arrival. On Wednesday, Trump suggested he might send another 10,000 troops to the region, bringing the total to more than 15,000 — an unprecedented show of force that comes just days before the crucial midterm elections, in which he and Republicans have made immigration their closing argument.
Cruz had already cast immigration as a central argument of his bid for reelection. But in recent days, as polls have suggested he remains locked in a tighter than expected race with O’Rourke, the GOP senator has ratcheted up his rhetoric on the issue, attacking O’Rourke for his opposition to Trump’s border wall and accusing his opponent of basically wanting to get rid of all security at the border — a charge O’Rourke has strongly denied.
During a campaign swing through West Texas, Cruz attacked O’Rourke for his lack of alarm about the approaching caravan — telling migrants that if they make it across the border, they should go straight to the homes of O’Rourke supporters for help.
“When you get here, we have identified homes that are willing to take you in to give you free housing, free food, free health care,” Cruz said during a stop in San Angelo. “And every one of these homes is self-identified with a little black-and-white sign that says ‘Beto.’ Don’t bother knocking; just kick the door, and they don’t believe in walls so just let yourself in and make yourself at home.”
At the same time, the Cruz campaign aired a new television ad in southern Texas that depicted O’Rourke as being to the left of Democratic lawmakers like Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — suggesting he is “too reckless for Texas.”
O’Rourke has been challenged in recent weeks to push back against attacks from Cruz and his allies while staying true to his pledge to run a positive campaign. In response to supporters calling for him to get tougher on Cruz, O’Rourke went after his opponent in their final debate, invoking Trump’s old nickname for Cruz (“Lyin’ Ted”) — a tactic that O’Rourke later said he regretted.
But while he has reverted to his more optimistic message on the stump, O’Rourke continues to air ads statewide — spending upwards of $1 million a day — assailing Cruz on issues like health care, education and immigration, including the Republican’s opposition to giving legal status to so-called Dreamers, who are young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children and raised as Americans.
O’Rourke has defended the ads as not negative but “contrast ads,” suggesting they do not violate his pledge to take the high road in the campaign. “There’s something about, I think, a candidate in his own words saying, ‘Here’s what the difference is.’ And I don’t think there’s anything negative about it,” he said in an interview last week.
On Wednesday, amid the latest attacks, O’Rourke again insisted he would stay above the fray and remain focused on issues instead of lobbing attacks at his opponent. Asked if Cruz “was telling the truth” about him, O’Rourke replied, “He hasn’t been from the beginning. But we can focus on what he’s doing or we can focus on what we all want to achieve together. That’s what we’re going to stay focused on.”
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