Texas Dem targets Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018

Texas Dem targets Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018
© Greg Nash

Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) is expected to officially throw his hat into the ring on Friday, announcing a 2018 challenge to Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea GOP state lawmakers meet to plan possible constitutional convention MORE (R-Texas).

O’Rourke, 44, will reportedly make the announcement in his hometown of El Paso, which he has represented in Congress since 2013.

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In an email to supporters, O’Rourke’s campaign teased a “big announcement” scheduled for Friday. The Houston Chronicle first reported that he would formally announce his upstart Senate run.

O’Rourke’s planned announcement is far from a surprise. He’s repeatedly signaled since last year that he has a strong interest in taking on Cruz and has recently traversed the Lone Star State as he mulled a potential bid.

“I’m very moved to do it,” O’Rourke told the Chronicle in an interview earlier this month.

O’Rourke was a businessman before he entered politics by winning election to El Paso’s City Council. In 2012, he upset Silvestre Reyes, the eight-term Democratic congressman, in a primary. O’Rourke has been a strong supporter of term limits and supports marijuana legalization.

O’Rourke faces a steep uphill battle to top Cruz, a conservative firebrand. No Democrat has won statewide office in Texas since 1994. Odds for winning a Senate seat are even worse — no Democrat has won a Senate election in Texas since 1988.

“Well, I like Beto O’Rourke … but if he thinks he can beat Ted Cruz, I think he’s sadly mistaken,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynNew GOP ObamaCare repeal bill gains momentum Week ahead: Senators near deal to stabilize ObamaCare markets GOP eying 'blue slip' break to help Trump fill the courts MORE (R-Texas) told the Texas Tribune on Wednesday.

“We’ll continue to work together where we can, but I don’t think he’s got a shot.”

Democrats have long looked at the changing demographics in the Lone Star State as trending in their direction.

But major recent investments have come up dry, such as when the party mounted a full-court press to win the governor’s race in 2014. Despite high-powered support and resource investment, state Sen. Wendy Davis did worse with those in heavily Hispanic south Texas than the party’s 2010 nominee did with far less in his corner.

That said, between O’Rourke and fellow Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, another potential candidate, Democrats in the state could have their strongest Senate candidate in years.

In the 2014 primary to take on Cornyn, Democrats struggled to carry the establishment pick — wealthy businessman David Alameel — over the finish line. After failing to win 50 percent of the Democratic primary vote, Alameel had to compete in a run-off with Kesha Rogers, a follower of conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche.

Rogers proceeded to travel the state calling for then-President Obama’s impeachment, carrying a sign that featured Obama sporting a Hitler mustache and warning of impending thermonuclear war. Cornyn eventually won the general election against Alameel by nearly 30 percentage points.

But Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson-LeeHouse Judiciary Dems want panel to review gun silencer bill Trump could ask Congress for billions in hurricane relief next week Texas rep: Trump needs to declare federal disaster area for Harvey MORE (D-Texas) remains hopeful that the party’s prospects would improve in the next cycle.

“This is not the year we ran against Cornyn,” Jackson Lee said. “This is 2017, in the backdrop of the most unusual and challenging administration ever filled with corruption.”

Cruz, who unsuccessfully ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, has ruffled feathers within his own party.

He was instrumental in the 2013 government shutdown over defunding ObamaCare. And he irked fellow Republicans by declining to endorse Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Trump Jr. declines further Secret Service protection: report Report: Mueller warned Manafort to expect an indictment MORE for president at the party’s national convention last summer.

Still, the 46-year-old Cruz will likely have no problem raising money in the state and already has $4.2 million in his campaign account. He can count on an expanded donor base and profile from his presidential primary run.

So far, Cruz has the GOP primary to himself. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) previously floated taking on Cruz, but a primary challenge now seems less likely.

Matthew Dowd, an ABC News analyst and former strategist to President George W. Bush, said earlier this year that he is mulling an independent bid. Dowd, a former Democrat, overlapped with Cruz when they both worked for Bush.

Before O’Rourke gets the chance to face off against Cruz, the El Paso congressman will have to win the primary.

Castro, a rising star in the party, is also weighing a bid. On Wednesday, Castro political director Matthew Jones released a statement Wednesday that Castro would make a decision “in the coming weeks.”

Jones touted Castro’s role on the House Intelligence Committee, which has been tasked with investigating Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

“It’s no secret that Joaquín is heavily weighing a Senate run, and he will continue to have those discussions with his family, friends and supporters across Texas,” Jones said in a release.

“Joaquín has always led the charge on tough fights, so one way or another, he will be on the front lines of the 2018 midterm elections doing everything he can to continue to hold Republicans accountable.”

O’Rourke has said that Castro’s decision would have no impact on whether he mounts a run and described him as a “good friend.”

Either candidate would be Cruz’s toughest Senate opponent yet. Cruz’s main challenge in his 2012 bid came on the Republican side with a general-election steamrolling of his Democratic opponent, a former state lawmaker who hadn’t held office in nearly a decade.

Castro, 42, and his twin brother, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, are two of the highest-profile Hispanics in the Democratic Party. But O’Rourke has seriously upped his standing over the last few months.

He received recent national attention when he embarked on a livestreamed road trip from Texas to Washington, D.C., with Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas). And he’s taken a vocal stance against Trump, a tack that plays well in his liberal, heavily Hispanic district — but will prove less advantageous in a red state.

With a tough Senate map in the 2018 cycle, Texas Democrats running for the upper chamber will likely not be able to rely on the national party for funding or resources.

A Texas Democrat told The Hill Wednesday that any Democratic candidate needs to announce a bid early in order to fundraise and build a network to mount a credible challenge to Cruz.