Senate

Cruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was the most disliked member of the Senate Republican Conference for much of his first six years in Congress, but colleagues are rallying to his side in the face of a serious reelection challenge from Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D).

Polls show a tight race between Cruz and the photogenic O'Rourke, who would make history if he could pull off what would be a huge upset in the Lone Star State.

A Cruz loss would also put GOP control of the Senate very much at risk, which has senators who have sometimes been at odds with the tough-talking Texan coming to his aid.

The entire Senate Republican leadership hosted a fundraiser for Cruz at the end of June, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whom Cruz once famously called a liar on the Senate floor, has made the maximum donation to Cruz's campaign through his leadership PAC, the Bluegrass Committee.

Cruz has also received $5,000 from Senate GOP Whip John Cornyn's (Texas) leadership PAC, $10,000 from Sen. Roy Blunt's (R-Mo.) Rely on Your Beliefs Fund and $10,000 from Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), chairman of the Republican Policy Committee.

The open wallets aren't surprising, but they are notable given Cruz's past clashes with colleagues.

Cruz infuriated GOP leaders in the fall of 2013 by rallying House conservatives to oppose any government funding bill that didn't block the implementation of ObamaCare - a political fight that resulted in a 16-day government shutdown that hurt the GOP's brand right before a midterm election year.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) at the time called the shutdown a "fool's errand," while Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) repeatedly criticized Cruz for leading the party into a "box canyon" from which there would be no easy escape.

McConnell later likened the painful ordeal to the "kick of a mule."

The animosity went both ways.

Cruz once accused McConnell on the Senate of lying about a secret deal with Democrats to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank.

"We know now that when the majority leader looks us in the eyes and makes an explicit commitment, that he is willing to say things that he knows are false," Cruz fumed.

Cruz even refused to endorse Cornyn, his home-state colleague, in the 2014 Texas Senate GOP primary. Cornyn returned the gesture this year when he declined to publicly back Cruz in his primary race in March.

Things grew so acrimonious between Cruz and many of his Senate GOP colleagues that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) joked at the 2016 Washington Press Club Foundation Congressional Dinner, "If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you."

But GOP leaders and rank-and-file Republicans alike are putting aside those differences in the face of an existential threat to Cruz's Senate career in the form of O'Rourke, the skateboarding ex-punk rocker who has amassed a stunning $23.6 million campaign fund. The latest fundraising reports show O'Rourke with more cash on hand, $13.9 million, than Cruz, at $9.3 million.

A Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss feelings about Cruz within the GOP caucus said his past conflicts with the party won't hurt support from colleagues when he needs it most.

"Elections tend to bring parties together. For the most part, everyone in the caucus will want to help the party remain in power," the lawmaker said. "Already you've seen some national money be directed to Texas. I imagine that the whole party will be behind Cruz in the election."

Recent polls shows Cruz in a neck-and-neck race.

An Emerson College poll published at the end of last month showed Cruz ahead by only a point, while an NBC News-Marist poll showed him up 4 points, right around the margin of error.

Cruz has stepped up his campaigning, crisscrossing the state to meet voters and match O'Rourke's pace.

"I'm focusing my time and energy on campaigning across the state last week. I did 17 townhalls all over the state of Texas and that's where the time and energy is best spent," he told The Hill.

Asked how much money the National Republican Senatorial Committee would allocate to help Cruz in Texas, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), the committee's chairman, said he isn't worried about the race.

"Ted Cruz is going to win, so I'm not concerned about Texas," he said Thursday.

O'Rourke has spent $2.8 million on ads in the general campaign, while Republicans had spent only $226,000 in the state as of Aug. 29, according to a tally by NBC News.

While colleagues have contributed to Cruz's campaign, he doesn't expect any of them to visit Texas in the next two months to help him on the stump.

"I don't think Texans are likely to make a decision in this campaign based on the views of senators representing different states," he said, noting that Cornyn has endorsed him in the general election.

Cruz campaigned for several colleagues in the 2014 midterm elections: Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).

Cruz's unpopularity probably hit a high point during the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, when he pointedly declined to endorse President Trump during a prime-time speaking slot. Angry delegates booed Cruz off the stage as Trump stood at the back of the convention, pumping his fist and egging the crowd on.

Since then, knowing his reelection would be exponentially tougher if Trump - who won the state by 9 points  - opposed him, Cruz has remade himself as more of a team player.

And he has mended his relationship with Trump, often defending the president and his policies to reporters on Capitol Hill.

Trump has vowed to repay Cruz for his loyalty by holding a major rally for him in Texas this October in the "biggest stadium" he can find.

"Ted has my complete and total endorsement," the president declared before the Labor Day weekend.

Other Republicans who have donated to Cruz include include Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), $10,000; Orrin Hatch (Utah), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Richard Burr (N.C.), James Inhofe (Okla.) and Sullivan, who have all given him $10,000; Pat Toomey (Pa.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Roger Wicker (Miss.) and Ben Sasse (Neb.), who all gave $5,000; and Tim Scott (S.C.), who donated $2,000, according to campaign finance records verified by the Cruz campaign. 

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