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Ted Cruz Braces for Another Reelection Battle
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Ted Cruz Braces for Another Reelection Battle

Plus, Tucker Carlson grills GOP hopefuls on Ukraine during an Iowa cattle call that Donald Trump skips.

Sen. Ted Cruz gives a speech to Republican supporters during a rally outside the offices of Mark Alford, Republican Candidate for Missouri's 4th Congressional District on October 14, 2022 in Raymore, Missouri. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)

Happy Monday! Thankfully, the White House press office cleaned up the transcript of Vice President Kamala Harris’ latest word salad so we didn’t have to. Here’s Harris speaking Friday before a friendly audience at Coppin State University: “When we invest in clean energy and electric vehicles and reduce population [pollution], more of our children can breathe clean air and drink clean water.  (Applause.)”

Up to Speed

  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign, facing financial challenges, has fired roughly a dozen staffers, with more firings expected in the coming weeks, NBC reports. Despite raising $20 million between late May and the end of June, DeSantis’ campaign finished June with only $12.2 million to spend, $3 million of which can be used only in a general election bid. More than two-thirds of the $20 million DeSantis raised is from donors who’ve already reached the legal campaign contribution limit. To reassure donors, DeSantis’ campaign issued a “confidential” memo downplaying the chances of alternative candidates and stating the campaign “will not dedicate resources to Super Tuesday that slow our momentum in New Hampshire.”
  • While some of his Republican challengers burn through their cash, Biden’s campaign spent just $1.1 million in the second quarter of this year, an expenditure less than the campaigns of several Democratic Senate candidates. During the second quarter, the campaign had only four paid employees, spent nothing on rent, and spent a mere $1,500 on travel, accommodations, and airfare.
  • The normally bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act passed largely along party lines on Friday after House Republicans inserted several controversial amendments, including those banning funding for abortion-related procedures, transgender surgeries, and hormone treatments. The amendments are unlikely to pass in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
  • Former President Donald Trump gave a shout-out to Ohio Republican Senate contender Bernie Moreno on Saturday, one day before Secretary of State Frank LaRose launched his bid with a Monday morning announcement video. “We love Ohio, and we love Bernie Moreno,” said Trump. Days earlier, GOP Senate campaign chief Steve Daines declined to endorse a candidate in Ohio, where state Sen. Matt Dolan also is seeking the party’s nomination. “When you have three candidates that any one could win the general election, we don’t stay up late at night worrying about that,” Daines said in an interview with CBS News.
  • In a video published by the New York Post on Saturday, Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said, “COVID-19 is targeted to attack Caucasians and black people. The people who are most immune are Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese.” Kennedy defended his remarks on Twitter, saying, “I have never, ever suggested that the COVID-19 virus was targeted to spare Jews,” but “COVID-19 appears to disproportionately affect certain races.”

Ted Cruz Faces Another Tough Reelection Battle in Texas

Sen. Ted Cruz isn’t known for modesty. But the Texas Republican delivered what might be characterized as a modest second quarter fundraising report, collecting $4.4 million and reporting $4.8 million in cash on hand.

It’s not the stuff that bulletproof incumbents are made of. It’s hardly the picture of fundraising prowess Cruz exhibited as the runner-up for the Republican presidential nomination eight years ago. But veteran GOP operatives in Texas say Cruz is still more likely than not to win a third, six-year term in 2024, even as they concede the journey from here to there could be a little bumpy.

“It could get below 3 percent,” said a Republican strategist with Texas ties. Sound familiar? In 2018, in a midterm election that produced a Democratic wave, Cruz was significantly outraised by his Democratic challenger, then-Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and scraped by with a margin of victory—50.9 percent to 48.3 percent—that fell below 3 percent.

Here’s how one Republican insider in Texas who regularly reviews polling data explained Cruz’s political standing heading into next year: “I would think Cruz is up plus-10ish [percentage points.] right now. Cruz’s image isn’t great—it’s about even. But his job approval isn’t bad, about plus-8, interesting enough.” 

That roughly plus-10 point advantage is based on a presumed general election matchup against either Rep. Colin Allred, the Democrat who captured a suburban Dallas congressional seat from a Republican incumbent in 2018; or San Antonio Democrat Roland Gutierrez, an attorney and former state senator. Allred raised $6.2 million in just two months after announcing his bid to challenge Cruz, and reported a war chest of $5.7 million. Fundraising figures for Gutierrez, who entered the race just this month, were unavailable.

Allred, who is black, has sparked the most buzz. He’s an able campaigner, personally likable, supported by the Democratic establishment and a demonstrated fundraiser—all important qualities if he hopes to unseat Cruz in a presidential election year in a state that still favors Republicans. But Democratic insiders say Gutierrez might also prove formidable, in the Democratic primary and, if nominated, the general election. 

“Cruz has always had a popularity problem, so he’ll have a fight on his hands,” said Ed Espinoza, a Democratic operative in Austin. “Democrats have two good candidates running, either of which can be competitive as long as they don’t spend all of their money beating each other up in the primary.”

The outcome of the Senate race in Texas could depend on what happens at the very top of the ticket. 

In 2018, Democrats gained ground in the previously conservative suburbs of Dallas, Houston and elsewhere as voters there rebuked then-President Donald Trump, leading to predictions that Texas would be competitive in the next White House contest. It didn’t quite turn out that way. Trump defeated now-President Joe Biden by more than 5.5 points, a result that helped shield Republicans from defeat down-ticket. (In 2022, Gov. Greg Abbott defeated O’Rourke by nearly 11 points, generating more good results for the GOP.)

All of this has left Republicans in the state generally confident Cruz will pull out another win, even if he has to work extra hard for it, although some political observers believe such predictions are far too premature.

“I think Cruz is going to win with a decent margin. He’s working hard, and started his campaign early. Plus, Beto caught lightning in a bottle and I don’t think the Democrats can count on that again,” said Brendan Steinhauser, a Republican operative in Texas. “I already see signs that Cruz is not taking anything for granted. He’s getting out there and traveling the state. I think it will pay off in the end.”

Asked to comment, Cruz campaign spokesman Nick Maddux issued a lengthy statement saying the senator is committed to holding off “Hollywood liberals” who are supporting his opponents because they are “salivating at the idea of unseating” the senator. Voters in Texas, Maddux said, are donating to Cruz’s reelection bid because they want to “keep Texas from becoming another California.” 

Tucker Carlson Makes Ukraine War a Flashpoint During Iowa Cattle Call

Former television host Tucker Carlson stole the show at a gathering of social conservative evangelicals in Des Moines over the weekend, peppering the six Republican presidential hopefuls who attended the Family Leadership Summit onstage with questions aimed at pushing candidates to the right on controversial topics like abortion, January 6, and electronic voting machines.

The ousted Fox News anchor took special care to get Republican candidates on the record on U.S. involvement in the war in Ukraine. Carlson, who has previously called Ukraine’s Jewish President Volodymyr Zelensky “sweaty and rat-like,” has spent the past year-and-a-half deriding U.S. financial support for the country amid Russia’s unprovoked invasion.

Some candidates couched their responses to Carlson in language geared toward appeasing the rightmost flank of the party that is skeptical of U.S. engagement overseas.

“I wish the D.C. elites cared as much about our border as they do about the Ukraine-Russia border,” said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy was even more strident. “I would negotiate a deal that ends the Ukraine war, freeze the current lines of control. Yes, that means giving part of the Donbas region to Russia,” he said in reference to the disputed territory in eastern Ukraine currently occupied by Russia. “I would make a hard commitment that NATO never admits Ukraine to NATO. And those seem like unspeakable words, certainly in the Republican donor class, but we get something greater in return.”

Carlson took special aim at former Vice President Mike Pence, and pressed him relentlessly over whether Zelensky is persecuting Christians in Ukraine by sanctioning the Russian orthodox church there over concerns with its ties to the Kremlin. After Pence said he’d raised the issue with local clergy during his recent visit to Ukraine, Carlson doubled down: “I can’t let you glide over the question of the treatment of Christians and clergy.”

That prompted Pence to push back even harder. “The problem is that you won’t accept my answer,” Pence replied. Carlson also pressed Pence over whether President Joe Biden is prioritizing U.S. financial support for Ukraine over domestic policy concerns.

“Anybody that says that we can’t be the leader of the free world and solve our problems at home has a pretty small view of the greatest nation on Earth,” a visibly frustrated Pence told his interviewer. “We can do both.”

Looming over the entire weekend was the absence of former President Donald Trump, who skipped the Family Leadership Summit and instead addressed the young conservative activists at this year’s Turning Point Action Conference in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Trump, who still leads Iowa polls by double digits, raised eyebrows in the Hawkeye State last week when he publicly admonished Iowa’s GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds for staying neutral in the Republican presidential primary. The popular Republican governor took center stage at the Family Leadership summit this weekend in Des Moines, where she signed into law a six-week “fetal heartbeat” abortion ban. 

Republican presidential candidates are flooding the state in the final six-month sprint until the Iowa caucuses on January 15. There are more Hawkeye State cattle calls on the horizon, including an Iowa GOP Lincoln Dinner in Des Moines on July 28 where the vast majority of presidential hopefuls are planning to attend. 

“Iowans are open-minded,”says Iowa’s RNC Committeeman Steve Scheffler, who also serves as president of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition. “I’m guessing there’s still going to be people awaiting those events that are still in a quandary as to who they’re going to vote for.”

Notable and Quotable

“The last thing I’d ever want to be part of is bringing Donald Trump back to the Oval Office.”

—Former Sen. Joe Lieberman, co-chair of the centrist group No Labels, to The Atlantic, Monday, July 17

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.

Audrey is a former reporter for The Dispatch.

Thomas Dorsey is an intern for The Dispatch.