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U.S. Rep. Colin Allred wins Democratic primary to face Sen. Ted Cruz in November

By Matthew Choi and Alejandra Martinez, The Texas Tribune

U.S. Rep. Colin Allred wins Democratic primary to face Sen. Ted Cruz in November” 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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DALLAS — U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, will challenge Sen. Ted Cruz in November after defeating a crowded field of Democrats on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press. Allred easily prevailed over state Sen. Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio who was also vying for the nomination.

“I want every Texan to know, whether you’re a Democrat, an independent or a Republican that I want you to be involved in this campaign and I want to serve you in the United States Senate,” Allred said at his election night party.

Allred has been the favored candidate among national Democrats and led in fundraising across the field in both parties. While Gutierrez reported raising just over $1.3 million this cycle ahead of the primary, Allred reported raising over $21 million.

Cruz handedly won his party’s primary Tuesday night against two uncompetitive candidates.

A lot is on the line for Senate Democrats, who are worried their fragile majority is at risk this November. Democratic senators in conservative states are up for reelection, including Sens. John Tester of Montana and Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is not seeking reelection, opening an easy pickup for Republicans in the deeply conservative state. Democrats can lose only one Senate seat and still keep power.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sees potential pick-up opportunities in Texas and Florida. The group has invested in on-the-ground communications and research staff in the two states and claims Cruz’s high profile makes him uniquely vulnerable.

But Cruz’s backers have warned that his unpopularity on the left is not a weakness. Cruz maintains some of the highest approval ratings among Texas Republicans of any statewide official, ahead of Texas’ senior senator, John Cornyn.

Cruz is also not taking anything for granted after his near loss to former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke in 2018. O’Rourke’s explosive profile and prodigious fundraising caught many Republicans by surprise and was the closest Democrats have come to winning statewide office in 24 years.

Allred, who would be Texas’ first ever Black U.S. senator if elected in November, was ebullient at his election party in Dallas and thanked Gutierrez for running a “classy” campaign that stuck to the issues. He said it was contrast to Cruz, whom he described as a “me-guy.”

Referencing his experience as a civil rights lawyer, Allred evoked Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during his speech Tuesday night.

“So I have to talk about Dr. King,” Allred said. “He said that the ultimate measure of a leader isn’t where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, where they stand in the most challenging moments. We know where Ted Cruz stands when those moments come. When 30 million Texans are freezing in the dark. He decided to go to Cancun. When our democracy was under attack, he was hiding in the supply closet.”

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, praised Allred in a statement Tuesday.

“A 4th generation Texan and working-class kid who made it to the NFL and Congress, Colin Allred has proven he can take on and win tough fights,” Peters said. “In November, Texans are going to elect a Senator who will put delivering results for the people of Texas over politics – that is Colin Allred.”

But it remains to be seen if Democrats are able to recreate O’Rourke’s near-success six years ago. Allred has taken a different tone in his campaign, unafraid to attack Cruz directly. He has also focused on his bipartisan accomplishments in Congress. Unlike O’Rourke, Allred served in the majority during his time in Congress as his party passed major legislation on climate change, infrastructure and gun safety.

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez at his election night watch party in San Antonio on March 5, 2024.
State Sen. Roland Gutierrez at his election night watch party in San Antonio on March 5, 2024. Credit: Chris Stokes for The Texas Tribune

Gutierrez has been the fiercest voice in the state Legislature for gun control and law enforcement accountability after the Robb Elementary School shooting left 19 students and two teachers dead. Uvalde, the city where the shooting took place, is located in his district. He cast himself as an underdog candidate to Allred’s formidable fundraising and backing by national Democrats.

Gutierrez stood by family members of victims from the shooting as he conceded the race, saying they were the reason he ran for U.S. Senate. He vowed to continue fighting for gun safety and “so many things that are broken on this state.” He said he’d told Allred while conceding that “we need an assault weapons ban in the country.”

“I stopped crying about elections a long time ago. You won’t see crying over that spilled milk. We’ve got a fight that’s still yet to go in this state. We’re going to make sure we do that,” Gutierrez said.

Before joining Congress in 2019, Allred was a civil rights attorney and former NFL linebacker for the Tennessee Titans. He has often alluded to his personal story in his runs for office. He has strong personal ties to Dallas, where he grew up and his mother was a public school teacher. Allred grew up without his father and was the first member of Congress to take paternity leave when his son was born in 2019.

Allred defeated U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions for his House seat in 2018. It was a considerable upset, taking down a long-serving Republican who had chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2012, one of their most successful cycles in a generation. (Sessions returned to the House in 2021, after running in a different district)

Allred attributed his success to his close community ties and bridge-building ability. He proudly touts his endorsements from the AFL-CIO labor union and the pro-business U.S. Chamber of Commerce. More than 70% of bills he’s cosponsored have been bipartisan.

That approach has opened him to criticism, particularly from Gutierrez who cast himself as the progressive alternative. During a Texas AFL-CIO debate in January, Gutierrez said the dual endorsements amounted to being “for the wolf and the sheep too.”

Gutierrez also attacked Allred, saying he was bending toward Republicans with recent votes. Allred voted for a Republican-led resolution condemning the Biden administration for its handling of the border. Gutierrez said Allred was throwing Democrats “under the bus” for “political expediency.”

“Listen, I’ll be honest with you: That was a tough vote for me,” Allred responded at the time. “It was a vote that I saw as being about whether we stood for the status quo or not.”

Allred was among 14 Democrats who voted for the resolution.

Allred is still a loyal Democratic member. He voted with then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi 100% of the time in his two terms where Democrats were in the majority.

For his part, Cruz is a different opponent from six years ago when he was widely considered to be unpopular within his own party ranks. He has since amassed greater influence and power within the Senate.

Cruz is now the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee and has built relationships across the aisle on a host of issues that may not grab national headlines, from international trade infrastructure to the state’s semiconductor industry. Cruz was ranked the 16th most effective Republican senator during the 2021-2023 session by the Center for Effective Lawmaking at Vanderbilt University and the University of Virginia.

Cruz is increasingly highlighting that side of his work to counter Allred’s self-characterization as a bipartisan lawmaker.

“In Texas, Republicans and Democrats can and do work together and they work together very well,” Cruz said at an event hosted by the U.S. Hispanic Business Council in Laredo last month.

After he won his primary, Cruz said in a statement that his race was “about building bridges, fighting for our cadets, expanding highways, creating jobs, and protecting the state that we cherish so deeply. Never before has it been more important to unify and fight against the radical left who threaten to change what makes this state great.”

Still, Cruz is as much conservative celebrity as a policy maker and holds back no punches when going after President Joe Biden or his administration. Cruz hosts a thrice weekly protest where he often derides Biden as corrupt and lambastes Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas as neglecting his duties.

He played a central role in the efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. He filed an objection in the Senate to Arizona’s election results on Jan. 6, 2021, calling for a 10-day emergency audit. Cruz also offered to represent former President Donald Trump in the Texas-led lawsuit to reverse multiple states’ election results. He still voted against certifying Arizona’s election results after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Cruz’s optics persistently overcast his policy work. Voters are still slow to forget Cruz’s trip to Cancun during Texas’ devastating 2021 winter storm (Cruz later expressed regret for the trip).

And he has never shied from sharing his ambitions for higher office. Though he declined to challenge Trump in a 2024 presidential run, Cruz has repeatedly said he would love to run again in 2028.

At Allred’s victory party Tuesday, former state Sen. Wendy Davis, who challenged Gov. Greg Abbott in the 2014 gubernatorial election, praised Allred as a “quiet” and “strong” candidate who convinced voters to his side one by one.

“Colin does not shy away from a fight. And Colin knows that we need a fighter in our corner in Texas and we need it now,” Davis said. “I have no doubt. He’s the person to take on Ted Cruz and win. And he’s going to do that because people are tired of the Ted Cruz brand.”

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/03/05/colin-allred-roland-gutierrez-ted-cruz-primary/.

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