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Texas Democrats aim for unity ahead of expected primary to take on U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

Texas Democrats aim for unity ahead of expected primary to take on U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Texas Democrats are trying to stay united as they prepare for a competitive primary to face U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2024 election.

U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, has already launched a campaign, and state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, is expected to run as well. It is set to be a different kind of primary than when Beto O’Rourke cleared the field in 2018 on his way to an unexpectedly close race against Cruz.

On Wednesday, a group of Texas Democratic operatives is launching a super PAC effort called Lose Cruz that will focus on defeating the incumbent regardless of who their party’s nominee is. Those involved include Sean Haynes, Matt Angle, Sawyer Hackett, Olivia Julianna and Abhi Rahman.

“Regardless of who faces Cruz next year, the PAC will focus on building a winning coalition of voters by exposing his dangerous extremism, his deeply unpopular positions, and the harmful consequences of his record,” a news release said.

It remains to be seen how much financial firepower the effort will bring. Organizers are promising to spend “millions” to target voters and run TV and digital ads, among other things. It is a project of a super PAC called Sensible Americans that does not have to disclose its initial funding until the end of July.

Cruz is up for a third six-year term in a state that has not elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994. Democrats have not been able to come as close to winning a statewide contest since O’Rourke’s blockbuster run five years ago, but they nonetheless see Cruz as vulnerable in a presidential-election year.

Allred announced his campaign in early May and raised an impressive $2 million in its first 36 hours. He has since collected a handful of national endorsements, including from the Congressional Black Caucus.

Gutierrez had been expected to enter the primary after the regular legislative session ended late last month, but the prospect of multiple special sessions could have an impact on his timeline.

A primary between Allred and Gutierrez has the potential to turn negative. A Gutierrez consultant has already been quoted in the media criticizing Allred over his cross-party appeals, suggesting he is running as “Republican-light.” Allred’s campaign has said his focus is on beating Cruz.

The scenario is reminiscent of the 2020 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate when MJ Hegar ran a November-focused campaign and still could not avoid a messy fight with state Sen. Royce West of Dallas, who questioned her Democratic credentials.

Hegar prevailed after a primary and runoff in which national Democratic groups spent millions on her behalf. She eventually lost to incumbent Republican Sen. John Cornyn.

The operatives who joined Lose Cruz bring recent experience in high-profile statewide campaigns. Haynes, the effort’s founder, worked for the past two Democratic nominees for attorney general, while Rahman worked for O’Rourke when he ran for governor last year and previously worked for the state Democratic Party.

Hackett, meanwhile, is best known for working for Julián Castro, the former U.S. housing secretary and San Antonio mayor, when he ran for president in 2020. Julianna is an abortion rights activist with a massive social media following, including nearly 386,000 followers on Twitter, and Angle is a veteran party strategist who currently runs the Lone Star Project, a Democratic research group.

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