Democratic Rep. Colin Allred announced Wednesday that he would challenge Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, a launch that gives his party a top-tier contender in a tough state. Allred, who played as a linebacker for the Tennessee Titans before becoming a civil rights lawyer, released a video that begins, “When I left the NFL, I thought my days of putting people on the ground were over. Then Jan. 6 happened.” The congressman continues by saying that, while he “took off my jacket and got ready to take on anyone who came through that door,” Cruz encouraged the rioters before hiding in a supply closet. “But that’s Ted for you,” says Allred, “all hat, no cattle.”
Democrats haven’t won a single statewide race in Texas since 1994, but Cruz’s surprisingly small 51-48 victory against Beto O’Rourke in 2018 gives the party some reasons for optimism in a cycle where they have so few other viable Senate targets. But before Allred, who would be the Lone Star State’s first Black senator, can focus on his potentially history-making bid, he’ll need to prepare for what could be a competitive primary against state Sen. Roland Gutierrez.
The San Antonio Express-News wrote last month that people close to Gutierrez, who would be the first Latino Democrat to represent the state, believe he's “nearly certain” to get in, though the San Antonio-based legislator says he’ll make his choice after the legislative session ends on May 29. But unlike Allred, who had $2.2 million stockpiled at the end of March in his federal campaign account, Gutierrez would need to start his fundraising from scratch. Cruz, for his part, finished the first quarter of the year with $3.3 million to defend himself in this expensive state.
Allred himself first reached Congress by winning both a tough primary and general election campaign in 2018 in a suburban Dallas constituency that once appeared unwinnable for his party. Two years earlier, Republican Rep. Pete Sessions had secured his 11th term without any Democratic opposition—even as his 32nd Congressional District was swinging hard to the left from 57-41 Romney to 49-47 Clinton—but plenty of observers doubted that longtime GOP voters were ready to abandon their party down the ticket. Sessions was one of them, saying in October 2017 that he’d "begged the NRCC, even when I was chairman, ‘Keep the hell away from Dallas, Texas,'" and that, "We need to go in somewhere else, it’s up to me to win in Dallas, Texas. It’s not up to some other group."
Allred was one of several Democrats who believed otherwise, but he initially struggled to raise money in a crowded nomination contest. However, he unexpectedly took first place in the primary before convincingly winning the runoff, and it soon became apparent, even to Sessions, that this was one of the most competitive races in the nation. Conservative outside groups, despite the incumbent’s earlier pleas, did indeed spend millions here, and one of their products was an infamous digital ad showing an image of a darkened hand over a white woman's mouth. Allred ended up toppling the once-invincible Sessions by a 52-46 margin, and the former NRCC chair responded to his defeat by whining that he’d been the victim of “an incredible amount of money and an overwhelming sense of mischaracterization.”
Sessions initially considered a 2020 rematch with Allred but unexpectedly decided to wage a successful bid to return to the House 80 miles away in the dark red 17th District. Wealthy businesswoman Genevieve Collins instead stepped up to take on Allred, but major outside groups this time steered clear of a seat that was moving the wrong way for the GOP. Allred went on to turn in another 52-46 win as Joe Biden was taking this former GOP stronghold 54-44, and Republican mapmakers soon decided to make the 32nd safely blue in order to shore up their incumbents in other Dallas-area seats.
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Allred, who for once had no serious GOP opposition to worry about, soon drew attention as a possible challenger for Cruz, and he made it official Wednesday. The congressman, after recounting the incumbent’s infamous vacation to Cancun during the 2021 Texas freeze, declared in his launch video, “He’ll do anything to get on Fox News, but he can’t be bothered to help keep rural Texas hospitals open … the struggles of regular Texans just don’t interest him.”
Watch Allred’s full campaign launch video:
Can we have fairer, more representative elections in the U.S.? Absolutely, says Deb Otis on this week's episode of "The Downballot." Otis, the director of research at FairVote, tells us about her organization's efforts to advocate for two major reforms—ranked-choice voting and proportional representation—and the prospects for both. RCV, which is growing in popularity, not only helps ensure candidates win with majorities but can lower the temperature by encouraging cross-endorsements. PR, meanwhile, would give voters a stronger voice, especially when they're a minority in a dark red or dark blue area.