Could this be the week? My Magic 8 Ball seems to think so.
For months rumors have swirled that Congressman Colin Allred is considering a challenge to Senator Ted Cruz in 2024. In recent days that speculation has solidified, with sources telling Texas Signal that Allred is likely to join the race in the middle of this week.
That development could turbocharge what has been a relatively sleepy race for the Senate seat currently held by Ted Cruz.
Despite Texas turning in a difficult midterm for Democrats on the statewide ticket in 2022, Cruz remains imminently beatable for a number of reasons. The first, and most obvious, is his inherent lack of likability. The second was his attempt to play a prominent role in the legal wrangling that eventually led to the January 6 insurrection in 2021. The third is his permanent failure to take any action, at all, to reduce gun violence as Texas has been gripped by one mass shooting after another throughout his tenure in the upper chamber.
It could be a recipe for disaster for Cruz, whose failed 2016 presidential bid and near-loss to Beto O’Rourke in 2018 helped him build a national grassroots donor base that…is not quite paying off. Cruz announced that his re-election effort had raised $1.5 million dollars in the first quarter of 2023, a relatively anemic number that trailed controversial Arizona independent Krysten Sinema by more than half a million dollars.
That could potentially be a bad sign for Cruz, especially if Allred does in fact make the race this week. Allred debuted in the scene in 2017 when he launched his first congressional bid, and in the past six years, he’s raised gobsmacking sums of money to hold on to his seat. Allred, a former NFL player who worked in the Obama administration before returning home to secure his seat, has a deep email list of grassroots supporters and will likely be a darling of the Democratic fundraising circuit in D.C. and Texas if he jumps into the race.
And Allred has a built-in booster ace up his sleeve: he finished the first quarter with a little more than $2.2 million in his congressional account, money that can quickly be transferred to a Senate campaign to seed his new race with serious cash that can be used to invest in growing the statewide and national fundraising network that can deliver the staggering sums of money that it takes to win statewide in Texas.
Consider for a moment the case of Cruz’s last Senate opponent, Beto O’Rourke. In just over a year on the campaign trail, O’Rourke morphed from a relatively unknown Democratic congressman from El Paso to a national star in the Democratic Party, turning heads while raising $80 million from mostly grassroots donors online and coming within 200,000 votes and change of toppling Cruz.
Allred’s bank account and his email list are serious assets for any prospective Senate candidate, and each of those assets will feed the other. If Allred does jump into the race, expect him to invest serious money in continuing to build the digital infrastructure that it takes to raise nine-figure sums of money.
And, as much as we all wish it weren’t so, the money matters. Allred has raised and spent millions of dollars in the crucial Dallas-Fort Worth media market, introducing his incredible biography (did I mention he worked his way from the football fields of North Texas to the NFL before reaching considerable success in public life?) and that gives him a great head start in a potential Democratic primary, something this writer personally thinks Allred and all Texas Democrats should welcome.
But therein lies the challenge for Allred: Texas is a big ass state. 254 counties, more than 20 media markets, two time zones, and one of the most culturally diverse collections of communities you’ll find in the United States. Allred is fairly well known in the DFW market, and diehard Texas Democrats have followed his career closely for years.
All of that helps, but for Allred to succeed he’ll need to travel across the state and introduce his story and his track record to voters in every corner of Texas, particularly vote-rich localities like Houston, Austin, and San Antonio, where Democrats will need strong turnout to beat Cruz in 2024.
There is one aspect to a potential Allred candidacy that shouldn’t go overlooked. Texas Democrats have developed a track record over the past twenty years for running white candidates at the top of the statewide ticket, filling out the ballot with a more diverse slate of candidates in down-ballot offices.
While the Texas Democratic Party has done a great job recruiting diverse slates of candidates in recent cycles, there hasn’t been a major Black candidate at or near the top of the ballot in Texas since Ron Kirk’s 2002 Senate race. Democrats consistently bemoan low turnout in Black communities across the state after subpar election results, while neglecting the hard work of recruiting strong Black candidates and giving them the support network they need to lead our tickets to success.
Allred could turn that tired formula on its head, and give Black voters throughout Texas a reason to be excited to cast a ballot in 2024. That could be a tremendous asset for a Democratic candidate, and to be frank, Texas Democrats won’t win in 2024 without dramatically increasing their investment in Black and Brown communities.
And that’s where my wild hair for a competitive primary comes in. I’ve been a fan of Colin Allred for years. In 2017, I had the opportunity to speak with him about his campaign and was more impressed by him than almost any other candidate I’ve ever met or spoken to. He would be a great United States Senator.
But winning a statewide election in Texas is difficult business, especially for a Democrat. The standard logic from D.C. types is that primaries are bad because they force good candidates to spend resources that should be reserved for a competitive general election. The theory is that every dollar you spend in a primary takes a dollar away from the general, when the money truly matters most.
I think that’s a bunch of poppycock.
Good candidates spending serious resources to compete for votes across the state is exactly what the Democratic Party needs. Well-funded primaries allow candidates to expand the electorate, engaging voters that might not otherwise participate in primaries to take more ownership of the future of the state.
That organizing creates the excitement that Texas Democrats will need to keep any challenge to Cruz afloat. In addition to excitement, primaries can help give messages a sense of urgency, something that has been missing to date in the Senate race in Texas.
Primaries give us an opportunity to create that excitement and sense of urgency while ensuring our candidates are expending resources engaging the communities we badly need to turn out and vote. If we don’t make early, sustained investments in reaching those voters, we won’t be able to create it from scratch next summer or fall.
And every concerned Texan should feel a sense of urgency to get Ted Cruz out of office. In his two terms, he’s spent more time and energy on his nonexistent chances of becoming President of the United States than on delivering results for Texans. He’s been asleep at the wheel through every mass shooting over the past decade, and when our state was gripped by a historic winter storm in 2021, he didn’t just fail Texas.
He hopped on a plane to head to a luxury hotel in Mexico with his family, until he got caught and had to return to Texas with his tail between his legs before promptly blaming the entire thing on his young daughters.
On an almost weekly basis, we’re faced with another mass shooting in Texas. Common sense gun laws are crucial issues in the major urban centers and suburbs of Texas, and perhaps no one in the state is working with more urgency on the issue than State Senator Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde in the Texas Senate and has been a hard-charging force on the subject all session.
Gutierrez has also been considering a run against Cruz. His passion and track record in trying to end the gun violence epidemic have been a rare beacon of hope for Democrats in the Texas Legislature this session.
How could a primary between those two shake out? It’s difficult to say, but we do know one thing for sure: to beat Ted Cruz or any Texas Republican, we need candidates who aren’t just another Democrat. We need Democrats with a fighting spirit and a moral compass who will pick the big fights not because they’re easy, but because they matter.
Both Allred and Gutierrez are that kind of Democrat. Can Allred, a parent with young children himself, articulate a vision on gun safety that resonates with parents and concerned Texans? Can Gutierrez reach voters in North Texas with the same skill he reaches his voters in South Texas?
And, crucially, how will any Democratic candidate pick up the mantle in the fight for the women of Texas? How can we mobilize Texans across the state to vote for candidates with common sense attitudes toward abortion access?
Make no mistake about it, Colin Allred is a serious candidate for United States Senate, and likely one of the candidates Cruz would least like to face off with on a debate stage next fall. Where Cruz is always a bit awkward and performative, Allred’s youth, vitality, and stature would make for a strong contrast and an apt one at that.
As Texas continues to rapidly change, politicians like Cruz are becoming relics of an old way of thinking, and young and dynamic candidates like Colin Allred are a walking manifestation of the future we can build for Texas government.
All told it is once again an exciting time to be a Texas Democrat.
Joe brings over a decade of experience as a political operative and creative strategist to Texas Signal, where he serves as our Senior Advisor and does everything from writing a regular column, Musings, to mentoring our staff and freelancers. Joe was campaign manager for Lina Hidalgo's historic 2018 victory for Harris County Judge and is a passionate sneakerhead.