Republican incumbent Ted Cruz won a second term in his Texas Senate seat on Tuesday, foiling a tough challenge from rising Democratic star Representative Beto O’Rourke.
With 30 percent of precincts reporting, Cruz had secured 50.9 percent of the vote, just a sliver over O’Rourke’s 48.5 percent.
The Democrat presented the most ominous challenge to a Republican senator from Texas in years, but polls consistently showed Cruz, who came close to winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, ahead of O’Rourke.
Final analyses just before polls opened showed Cruz polling at 52 percent, a few points ahead of O’Rourke at 43 percent.
Cruz, 47, easily won the Republican nomination in March with 85 percent of the vote. He made a name for himself in 2012 as a tea-party conservative, leading a government shutdown in September over the the federal budget’s funding for Obamacare.
However, Cruz has a reputation among Republicans of being unlikable and hard to work with. He has been heavily criticized for politicizing the Senate by shutting down the government and later in 2015 calling Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar on the Senate floor, regarded as a breach of decorum.
Since 2013, O’Rourke, 46, has represented Texas’s 16th congressional district, a small region near his native El Paso at the westernmost tip of the state.
However, the charismatic congressman struggled with name recognition after he announced his candidacy for Cruz’s seat. In April, half of Texans, 53 percent, said they had not heard enough about O’Rourke to say whether they would vote for him, according to a Quinnipiac poll.
Both candidates pulled in millions of dollars in campaign funds, including millions from out-of-state donors, as the idea that a Democrat could win a Senate seat in Texas again captured donors’ imaginations.
O’Rourke raised a whopping $70.2 million for his run, outdoing Cruz’s $33.4 million despite eschewing contributions from outside political action groups.
This year’s midterm elections are regarded as a litmus test for how satisfied voters are with Donald Trump’s performance as president. Trump stumped for Cruz last month, urging Texans to vote for his former bitter rival.
“We had our little difficulties,” Trump told the Houston crowd on October 22. “It got nasty, and then it ended. And I’ll tell you what — nobody has helped me more with your tax cuts, with your regulations, all of the things we’ve been doing with your military and your vets, than Senator Ted Cruz.”