Why Having Kennedy on the Ballot in Texas May Worry Ted Cruz

Why Having Kennedy on the Ballot in Texas May Worry Ted Cruz

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the independent presidential candidate, is on track to submit enough signatures to get on the ballot in Texas, potentially setting the stage for a three-way contest in the nation’s second most populous state.

While Mr. Kennedy is unlikely to win the Republican-dominated state, his addition to the presidential race in Texas could have an unintended and unexpected consequence: lending a hand to the Democratic challenger seeking to unseat Senator Ted Cruz.

For weeks, the Cruz campaign has been privately expressing concern, seeing Mr. Kennedy as perhaps the biggest wild card in a race that Mr. Cruz had hoped to comfortably win. Texas has favored Mr. Trump in the last two elections, winning about 52 percent of the state’s vote in 2020.

But a three-way race in November could upset that balance by bringing more voters to the polls who dislike both Mr. Trump and President Biden. More of those voters appear to also dislike Mr. Cruz, a two-term incumbent with nearly universal name recognition in Texas.

A recent poll found that Mr. Kennedy’s supporters favored the Democrat, Representative Colin Allred, over Mr. Cruz in the race for the U.S. Senate by a significant margin.

“The race where Kennedy is most consequential is the Senate race,” said Mark P. Jones, a Rice University political science professor who worked on the poll for the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation. “Kennedy is going to mobilize people who would otherwise stay home, and those Kennedy voters are going to be more likely to support Allred than Cruz.”

The Kennedy campaign has been gathering signatures for weeks to get onto the ballot in Texas, which has among the most difficult requirements of any state. The state requires independent candidates to submit a petition with at least 113,151 signatures from registered voters who did not vote in a presidential primary.

Mr. Kennedy has already far surpassed that number, though not all the signatures have yet been verified by the campaign. “We have collected more than 200,000 signatures,” Stefanie Spear, the press secretary for the Kennedy campaign, said.

Ms. Spear added that the campaign was working to verify the signatures and collect new ones, with a goal of submitting more than 180,000 signatures to the Texas secretary of state in order to survive any potential legal challenges. She declined to comment on the Senate race.

The deadline for submitting the signatures is Monday. Mr. Kennedy was scheduled to appear at a rally in Austin that night.

Mr. Kennedy is trying to get on the ballot in every state, but he has succeeded so far in only a few, including Michigan. While polls suggest that he would draw voters from both Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden, his efforts to get on the ballot have been resisted most actively by the Democratic Party, which has been concerned that his candidacy could endanger President Biden’s re-election.

Given the political dynamics in Texas, which Mr. Trump is likely to win, it was not yet clear whether a challenge to Mr. Kennedy’s signatures would come from Republican or Democratic officials.

In a two-way race, Mr. Cruz has led in every poll so far, though most polls have not looked at the impact of Mr. Kennedy.

In the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation survey, about 45 percent of Mr. Kennedy’s supporters said that they supported Mr. Allred, a former N.F.L. linebacker from the Dallas area who was elected to Congress in 2018, versus around 30 percent for Mr. Cruz.

A Democrat has not won statewide in Texas since 1994.

“I’m not really supportive of Ted Cruz. I’ve never been supportive of Ted Cruz,” said Michael Havens, 71, a former police officer and retired family therapist who was out collecting signatures for Mr. Kennedy at a park in Houston last month.

“And yet I’m also angry at the Democrats because they’ve screwed so many things up,” he added. “I don’t know who he’s going to pull more votes from. I just decided I don’t care. I’m here to change the system.”

Matt Angle of the Lone Star Project, which supports Democrats in Texas, said that having Mr. Kennedy in the race would not hurt Mr. Allred and could even help him. “We’re a long way to go,” he cautioned. “But every little bit matters, and that could be a very close race.”

Both Senate candidates have been aiming to win over moderate voters, competing to present themselves as the better bipartisan politician.

In an interview at his campaign headquarters, Mr. Cruz emphasized his work with Democrats on legislation related to Texas, including international bridge projects over the Rio Grande, interstate highways and NASA funding. He downplayed his image as a firebrand conservative.

“My model was always Ronald Reagan. I aspire to be a happy warrior,” he said.

Unlike in 2018, when he narrowly defeated a Democratic challenger, Beto O’Rourke, Mr. Cruz said that he and his campaign this time around have tried to avoid “complacency” among Republicans of the sort that nearly sunk his re-election that year.

“Given how close the race was last time, it’s a lot easier for people to understand, hey, we’ve got a real fight here,” Mr. Cruz said.

The Allred campaign, looking to court Republicans and women in the major Texas suburbs, has highlighted issues, like access to abortion, that have been politically successful in other Republican-controlled states. The campaign also pointed to Mr. Allred’s role in bipartisan legislation related to health care for veterans and infrastructure.

“What’s happening in Texas is really — it’s a tragedy,” Mr. Allred said during an appearance on “The Daily Show,” while discussing the effect of Texas’s abortion ban on pregnant women with medical complications. “That doesn’t sound like freedom to me.”

A spokesman for Mr. Allred declined to comment on how Mr. Kennedy might affect the Senate race.

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