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How Texas Senate race reflects state’s demographic divide

Considered one of the most expensive races in the country this election year, the Texas Senate race could transform Texas politics. Texas Senator Ted Cruz and his Democratic opponent, El Paso Congressman Beto O'Rourke, faced off in a combative debate last night. Tomeka Weatherspoon of Houston Public Media reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is one of the most expensive races in the country this election year, the Texas Senate showdown between Republican incumbent Ted Cruz and his Democratic insurgent, Beto O'Rourke.

    Tomeka Weatherspoon of Houston Public Media reports.

  • Tomeka Weatherspoon:

    Cruz…

  • Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas:

    I think a lot of Texans watched the behavior Senate Democrats and were disgusted.

  • Tomeka Weatherspoon:

    … vs. O'Rourke.

  • Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas:

    The country has never been more divided or polarized. For people to be good and kind and generous to one another, that's what this country is looking for.

  • Tomeka Weatherspoon:

    Texas voters are firmly divided between the Republican incumbent and the rising Democrat from El Paso.

  • Woman:

    We got here really early because, well, I like — I want to be in the front and I want to see him up close.

  • Tomeka Weatherspoon:

    With less than a month before the midterm election, Congressman Beto O'Rourke has campaigned to take Senator Ted Cruz's seat in the U.S. Senate, and he's received from record-breaking campaign donations, outraising the incumbent by more than 2-1.

    But the odds are still stacked against him. Texas hasn't elected a Democrat statewide office in more than two decades.

  • President Donald Trump:

    So help me God.

  • Tomeka Weatherspoon:

    Donald Trump won the state by nine points in the last presidential election.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas:

    There is a fundamental choice in this election.

  • Tomeka Weatherspoon:

    But this is a surprisingly competitive race.

    Cruz and O'Rourke have squared off in two debates so far. And at last night's event in San Antonio, witness just how heated the battle has become.

  • Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas:

    Senator Cruz is not going to be honest with you. He's going to make up positions and votes that I have never held or have ever taken. He's dishonest. It's why the president called lying Ted, and it's why the nickname stuck.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas:

    Well, it's clear Congressman O'Rourke's pollsters have told him to come out on the attack. So if he wants to insult me and call me a liar, that's fine.

  • Tomeka Weatherspoon:

    Cruz is polling ahead. But O'Rourke hasn't been campaigning like the traditional candidate. There's a viral video of him skateboarding in a parking lot and images from his days in a punk rock band all over social media.

  • Stephen Colbert:

    My next guest tonight is a Texan running for U.S. Senate against Ted Cruz. Please welcome Congressman Beto O'Rourke.

  • Tomeka Weatherspoon:

    He is gaining national attention and appealing to diverse groups in a state with a growing population of non-white voters.

    Is this the race that could turn a red state blue?

    Jay Aiyer is a political science professor at Texas Southern University. He believes national party politics are trickling down and causing a rift in the state.

  • Jay Aiyer:

    The voters themselves, the Cruz loyalists and the Beto O'Rourke loyalists, there's a lot of animosity going on back and forth in a level that we probably don't normally see, certainly in a Senate race.

  • Tomeka Weatherspoon:

    For a lot of Texans, national issues like immigration affect them directly. But not all first-generation Texans support immigration policies like DACA, which provided protections for people brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

    Nicole Aoueille drove over an hour to Senator Cruz's rally in rural Conroe, Texas, with her husband, Andy. She discovered she was undocumented at 16 years old.

  • Nicole Aoueille:

    I worked hard to be a U.S. citizen. I worked hard for the right to vote. And I don't think that people can just come in here and say, give me. It's not fair to those of us who worked a long time to get where we're at.

  • Tomeka Weatherspoon:

    Other national conversations also feel very real for Texans. This is a state with one of the largest African-American populations in the country.

    Jorden Moore has been following O'Rourke's campaign for a while now.

  • Jorden Moore:

    My interest kind of got piqued when I initially saw his interview when he was speaking about police brutality and civil injustice. And that just spoke to me, because that's a glaring issue in our — not only in our community, but in the world.

  • Tomeka Weatherspoon:

    And this is also a state where the administration's conservative values hit home.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We have defended other nation's borders, while leaving ours wide open. Anybody can come in.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas:

    When it comes to the border wall, this is a commonsense issue. I represent Texas. We got 1,200 miles of border with — with Mexico, and we have got to secure the border.

  • Tomeka Weatherspoon:

    Jay Aiyer says the comparison between Cruz and O'Rourke comes down to traditional Texas vs. a more urban Texas. For Democrats, the results could gauge party strategy for 2020.

  • Jay Aiyer:

    The biggest pools of voters for them tend to be young people, people of color, low-income voters. And those voters traditionally are — are the lowest participation rates. If they vote at higher amounts, the state would almost certainly flip.

  • Tomeka Weatherspoon:

    For Republicans, they already have their eye on early voting for the midterm. President Trump has made it a priority to hold a rally in Houston this coming Monday.

    But for now, both Cruz and O'Rourke will continue reaching out to voters for the next few weeks, each with their own vision for the future of Texas.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Tomeka Weatherspoon in Houston, Texas.

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