By Jon Herskovitz
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – A punk rocker-turned-congressman from Texas announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Ted Cruz on Friday, making him the first prominent Democrat to challenge the former presidential candidate.
Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke, a Spanish-speaking, Irish-American representing a predominantly Latino district that includes the border city of El Paso, is considered a long shot in the Republican-dominated state, analysts said.
But O’Rourke’s outsider credentials are expected to add flair to the 2018 Senate race in Texas, where a Democrat has not won a state-wide election in more than 20 years. Beto is short for his name in Spanish, Roberto.
“This is Cruz’s to win. He has got a national fundraising network so he will have all the money in the world,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
In a campaign launch from El Paso shown on Facebook Live, the Ivy-League educated O’Rourke, 44, pledged to fight for veterans, shun corporate money and serve only two terms in the Senate if elected, saying it was in the people’s best interest to have fresh blood in Congress.
O’Rourke, who played guitar and provided vocals for the punk band Foss in the 1990s, also took a shot at Republican President Donald Trump for his hard-line stance on immigration, vowing to “fight when necessary against a president who is focused on building walls, or conducting military immigrant round-ups.”
O’Rourke and Republican Congressman Will Hurd of Texas gained attention on social media earlier this month by live-streaming the journey they made together from Texas to Washington and billing it as 1,600-mile bipartisan road trip. They rented a car and took the trip due to a winter storm that shut East Coast airports.
Polls rate Cruz as the most popular politician in the state among Texans. O’Rourke does not have much political support outside his base of El Paso, a western Texas city closer to San Diego, California than to Houston.
Another possible challenger to Cruz is Democratic U.S. Representative Joaquin Castro, analysts said.
Just ahead of O’Rourke’s announcement, Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott announced he was endorsing Cruz. Cruz backers later sent out a fundraising email, saying O’Rourke was out of touch with Texas values.
“Beto O’Rourke will have the full support of the mainstream media and a Washington establishment willing to do everything in their power to see Ted Cruz defeated,” the email said.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Tom Brown)