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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Todd J. Gillman

Ted Cruz sounds off on midterms, but emerges unscathed despite so-so results in 17-state bus tour

WASHINGTON — One day before the midterms, Sen. Ted Cruz was brimming with confidence about the GOP’s prospects.

Ending a month-long bus tour to bestow his seal on dozens of like-minded candidates, Cruz predicted a rout on par with the 2010 midterms that cost former President Barack Obama’s Democrats 63 House seats.

That’s “the magnitude of change the voters are looking for,” Cruz told Fox News. “I am incredibly optimistic” that Republicans will “retake the House and the Senate. ... This is going to be not just a red wave, but a red tsunami.”

There was no wave. Republicans did not retake the Senate. If they retake the House, it won’t be by much.

Cruz himself emerged from his 17-state bus tour with 15 wins and 12 losses, with two races not yet called.

It’s not a bad record, and Cruz emerged from the midterms without taint. But he also emerged without bragging rights needed to propel a 2024 presidential bid, or many reinforcements for scraps with GOP leaders he views as spineless.

“I am so pissed off, I cannot even see straight,” Cruz said on his latest podcast. “We had an extraordinary opportunity. We had a generational opportunity. This should have been a fundamental landslide election…. We should have a 30, 40, 50 vote majority in the House. We should have 53, 54, 55 Republicans in the Senate. And instead, holy crap.”

Like former President Donald Trump, the two-term Texan tried hard to create the red wave that so much of the punditry expected.

Unlike Trump, Cruz isn’t the target of finger-pointing over the epic GOP failure to capitalize on 40-year inflation and high gas prices.

Instead, he’s pointing fingers – especially at Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, demanding his ouster for such a lackluster outcome.

“You would fire a football coach if the team loses when they should have won. We should have won. And I got to say, Mitch’s philosophy as leader is to snuggle up to the Democrats,” he said.

The disappointing midterms haven’t deterred Trump from going forward with announcing a 2024 comeback bid Tuesday night. But they have weakened him, as Republicans reevaluate whether they can afford another election cycle that Trump dominates.

Without Trump’s long shadow, it’s hard to imagine how Democrats could have so effectively averted a devastating referendum on President Joe Biden.

In Pennsylvania, where Democrats flipped a U.S. Senate seat, Trump pushed celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz in the GOP primary despite alarms from the party establishment. Cruz backed an Oz rival.

Dr. Oz fell to Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. Cruz steered clear of Oz in the fall.

“Sen. Cruz picks the most conservative candidate who can win, then he puts his money and his time behind helping them to do so. Unlike some politicians, Sen. Cruz fights for many candidates in tough races, not just those who are guaranteed to win. And his hard work pays off dramatically,” said spokesman Steve Guest.

Attention on Georgia

Cruz’s attention is now on the Georgia runoff.

He barnstormed at three stops Oct. 27 with former Dallas Cowboys star Herschel Walker, who trailed Sen. Raphael Warnock by 35,000 votes out of 4 million – close enough to keep the incumbent from crossing the 50% mark.

With the contest headed to a Dec. 6 runoff, Cruz jumped back in.

Two days after the midterms he was at Walker’s side, addressing a crowd of 1,000 or more at a brewery in Canton, north of Atlanta.

(Saturday Night Live, among others, took note of Walker’s statement at that rally that “we’re the greatest country in the United States.”)

“Control of the Senate will be decided by the men and women of Georgia,” Cruz told the crowd.

That turned out to be overly optimistic.

Two days later, races were called for Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly and Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, both Democrats.

That cemented another two years of Democratic control with, at worst, the same 50-50 margin that had looked so flimsy months earlier. The margin would be 51 if Warnock wins.

Cruz stumped for Kelly’s challenger, Blake Masters, outside Phoenix during the first week of his 17-state tour. He was in Las Vegas the next day campaigning with a pair of congressional candidates – both of whom lost – though not with the Senate challenger Adam Laxalt.

But Laxalt definitely had Cruz’s support.

The Texan headlined an event with him in April, and returned to Las Vegas in early August for an event focused on school choice. Days later Cruz appeared at Laxalt’s annual “Basque Fry” in northern Nevada.

Each of those appearances served double duty.

Nevada held the third presidential nominating contest in 2020 and is certain to be an early testing ground in 2024.

Decisive races

Cruz promoted a “25 for ‘22″ slate. Nine of them won.

Of the 14 defeated candidates Cruz aided in the final week, most lost decisively enough to suggest there was nothing he could have done to save them.

Likewise, most of the victorious candidates Cruz aided in the final weeks – including six on his 25 for ‘22 list – won by margins too wide for him to take much credit.

In Oklahoma, Gov. Kevin Stitt, target of an ad blitz his campaign tagged at $50 million, won reelection with 55% – about the same as Utah Sen. Mike Lee, Cruz’s closest friend in the Senate, and Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt, who’ll join them in the Senate. Also in Missouri, Mark Alford, a popular Kansas City TV anchor, won a congressional seat with 71%.

Cruz did go out on some limbs. It paid off in a few Senate contests.

In North Carolina, Ted Budd pulled off a 50.7% win. In Wisconsin, Democrats’ biggest hope to oust an incumbent, Sen. Ron Johnson survived by a 1-point margin. Cruz stumped for him in June.

In Ohio, “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance carried 53%. That’s the same margin of victory for Monica De La Cruz, the only winner in South Texas among a trio of Republican Latinas promoted by Cruz and other Republicans, including Trump and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House GOP leader likely to become speaker if and when his party clinches a majority.

Cruz’s picks weren’t all mainstream conservatives.

In Michigan, for instance, Cruz stumped in Grand Rapids a week before Election Day for John Gibbs, calling him “an exceptionally strong candidate” who wouldn’t just “follow the herd.”

Gibbs had called the 2020 election results “mathematically impossible.” In the GOP primary, Rep. Peter Meijer, one of the 10 House Republicans who’d voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, called him a “far-right” conspiracy theorist.

Democrats ran ads promoting him to GOP voters because they saw him as an easy mark. The tactic paid off. Gibbs lost by 13 points.

Democrat Hillary Scholten said her victory sent a message that “we will not tolerate anti-democratic, anti-American extremism here in west Michigan.”

“I’ve always said that this election is about Crazy versus Normal,” Gibbs said in a concession statement that hinted at unspecified “anomalies” in the vote count. “Through no fault of our own, the results did not turn out the way we wanted.”

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