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Democratic Rep. Colin Allred launches bid for Sen. Ted Cruz's seat

Allred faces strong headwinds running for a statewide election in Texas.
Rep Colin Allred, D-Texas, at the Capitol on June 24, 2020.
Rep. Colin Allred, D-Texas, pictured at the Capitol, has announced a run for the Senate against Ted Cruz.Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP file

Democratic Rep. Colin Allred of Texas announced Wednesday that he will run for Republican Sen. Ted Cruz's seat in 2024.

Allred, a civil rights lawyer and former NFL linebacker, began his announcement video by highlighting his actions during the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol. He said he was “ready to take on anyone who came through that door,” while Cruz “cheered on the mob” and “hid in a supply closet.” 

“We don’t have to be embarrassed by our senator,” Allred said. “We can get a new one.”

Allred sought to project a bipartisan image in the video, highlighting his collaboration with Republicans on veterans' issues, trade with Mexico and legislation dubbed the CHIPS Act that aims to spur domestic computer chip manufacturing. He spoke of raising wages and lowering drug prices and displayed news reports of his apparently being the first member of Congress to take paternity leave.

He begins his campaign against strong headwinds. Texas has not elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994. Then-Rep. Beto O'Rourke came close to ousting Cruz in 2018 — losing by less than 3 percentage points. In the interim, Cruz has sought to tame his image as a conservative flamethrower to appeal to moderates.

In response to Allred's announcement, Nick Maddux, a spokesperson for Cruz's campaign, called him a "far-left radical."

"Allred wants men to compete in women’s sports, isn’t serious about addressing the crisis at the border, wants to take away law-abiding Texans’ guns, and is soft on punishing murderers," Maddux said in a statement. "Bottom line, Allred is too extreme for Texas."

Allred addressed the state's reputation as reliably red in his campaign video.

"Some people say a Democrat can't win in Texas. Well, someone like me was never supposed to get this far," he said.

Allred flipped a congressional seat to win his first election to the House in 2018, prevailing in the traditionally Republican suburbs of Dallas. Recent redistricting made his seat more reliably Democratic.

Republicans have already hit Allred for his votes on public safety. Mike Berg, a spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, tweeted Monday that Allred "voted in favor of reduced sentences for violent criminals," referring to Allred's vote against a resolution to block an overhaul of the Washington, D.C., criminal code.

Others whom Democrats reportedly view as possible contenders for a Senate run are former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who was a vocal proponent of gun measures after the elementary school shooting in Uvalde.

Regardless of Allred’s prospects, he is almost certain to raise enormous sums of money from liberal donors eager for a chance to dislodge Cruz and turn Texas blue.

Allred has already proven to be a formidable fundraiser, and his campaign is likely to stand out against the otherwise grim electoral map for Senate Democrats, who will mostly be defending incumbents like West Virginia's Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania's Bob Casey, who are hardly the type to thrill power users of the party's ActBlue fundraising platform.

O’Rourke shattered records by raking in nearly $80 million during his run at Cruz — only to see the record broken two years later by other internet-savvy Democrats running against high-profile Republicans in red states, like Amy McGrath’s $94 million campaign against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky.

Tim Tagaris, who was the top digital fundraising strategist for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns, said Allred could even rival the record set by DNC Chair Jaime Harrison, who collected $130 million during his 2020 campaign against Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham in South Carolina.

“I don’t see why he can’t,” said Tagaris, who runs the campaign consulting firm Aisle 518 Strategies. “They have a better villain in Ted Cruz, there are more tools available to raise online than in 2020, Texas is a much more expensive state, and he has the same good firm [as Harrison] doing the work.”

Huge influxes of small-dollar online money made races like Harrison’s competitive when they otherwise would not have been — but O’Rourke, McGrath and Harrison all lost. Those outcomes led some party insiders to grumble that millions were wasted on flashy but potentially unwinnable races.

“It goes without saying, but grassroots donors aren’t party strategists," said Kenneth Pennington, O’Rourke’s former top digital strategist. "They spend on who inspires them for a variety of reasons rather than trying to eke out the most cost-effective net impact. I do think Texas is a long-term strategic priority for the Democratic Party, though. It’s trending in the right direction, and it’s a giant pocket of Electoral College points up for grabs. But it won’t ever flip blue without investment. So I think all the spending from the big races like Cruz helps bring Texas into battleground status eventually.”

Still, Pennington said he expects this cycle’s online fundraising picture to be a bit dimmer, mainly because higher interest rates and the weaker economy leave less spending money in the pockets of would-be donors. 

“The days of the 2020 surge are over,” he said.