Does Colin Allred Have What It Takes To Beat Ted Cruz?

By Nathaniel Rakich

Is Rep. Colin Allred the next Beto O’Rourke?

Last week, Allred announced he was running for U.S. Senate in Texas against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, the conservative firebrand whom liberals love to hate. Democrats are hoping that Allred can finish what O’Rourke started in 2018, when he electrified the Democratic grassroots and came within 3 percentage points of unseating Cruz. But it won’t be easy: Texas is still a Republican-leaning state that will probably require a candidate even stronger than O’Rourke for Democrats to win, and it’s not clear that Allred is that candidate.

If Democrats want to pick up any Senate seats in 2024, they might have to beat Cruz. The Senate battleground next year is extremely favorable to Republicans. There are no Republican-held Senate seats on the ballot in states that President Biden carried in 2020, meaning that Democrats will have to compete in enemy territory if they want to defend against possible losses in states like West Virginia or Montana. And of the 11 Republican-held Senate seats up for election, only Florida and Texas are even remotely vulnerable.

So why might Texas turn out to be a better bet for Democrats than Florida? Over the last few election cycles, Florida has taken a hard right turn as Texas has been getting bluer. In the 2012 presidential race, Texas was 17 points redder than Florida. In the 2020 presidential race, it was only 3 points redder. And in 2022, Republicans won statewide elections in Florida by an average of 19 points; in Texas, they won them by an average of 13 points. That’s still pretty red, but amid a sea of bad options, it’s possible that Texas will be Democrats’ most promising (or, at a minimum, least hopeless) pickup opportunity in the Senate next year.

And in Allred, they now have a serious candidate. The former NFL player was first elected to Congress in 2018, when he defeated an 11-term incumbent by 7 points in a historically Republican district in the Dallas suburbs. He won reelection by 6 points in 2020 before redistricting placed him in a new, dark-blue district for 2022. (That district, the 32nd, will now be an open seat in 2024.)

Allred’s electoral track record isn’t as impressive as it sounds, though. His old district may have been Republican in the past, but it started moving to the left in 2016 as part of the suburbs’ political realignment nationally. According to Daily Kos Elections, it voted for Mitt Romney by 16 points in 2012, but by 2020, it was practically a safe Democratic seat, opting for Biden by 10. In other words, Allred likely won because of national trends, not his unique strengths as a candidate.

Indeed, compared with other Democrats, Allred’s performances haven’t been anything special. After all, Biden actually outperformed Allred in his district by 4 points in 2020. And in 2018, when Allred won by 7 points, O’Rourke carried his district by 11 points, according to data from the Texas Legislative Council. Obviously, neither Biden nor O’Rourke won statewide, so Allred’s inability to match, let alone exceed, their performance doesn’t bode well for his prospects in 2024.

That said, Biden and O’Rourke likely benefited from running against polarizing Republicans in former President Donald Trump and Cruz, respectively — an advantage that Allred didn’t have. Allred’s opponents were a longtime incumbent in 2018 and a businesswoman from a prominent political family in 2020, both of whom were better fits for the district’s less confrontational version of Republicanism. It’s reasonable to expect that Allred would do better if matched up against Cruz, who still has a mediocre 45 percent-to-41 percent approval-disapproval rating in the state, according to the University of Texas (similar to when he went up against O’Rourke in 2018). 

Having a nationally (in)famous opponent should also help him rake in the dough; Allred ranked just 148th in fundraising among House candidates in 2022 (with $3.5 million raised), but O’Rourke ranked 535th (!) in 2016 (with $591,000 raised) and still managed to raise an eye-popping $80 million for his 2018 Senate race. Indeed, Allred’s campaign has already announced that it raised $2 million in the first 36 hours after his announcement.

Allred still has a tough road ahead of him. First, he needs to win the Democratic primary, which it doesn’t look like he’ll have to himself; state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde and has become a prominent gun-control advocate in the wake of the school shooting there, is expected to run as well. And then he needs to figure out how to win a general election in a state that hasn’t elected a single Democrat to statewide office in the past 28 years. In the end, maybe Allred will be the next O’Rourke after all: a highly touted Democratic candidate who puts up a fight, but ultimately falls short.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight. @baseballot


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