U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, narrowly defeated Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke Tuesday evening in what appeared likely to be one of the closest U.S Senate races in Texas in decades.
Texas Tribune reported that with more than 30 percent of precincts reporting in Texas, Cruz had a five-point lead over O’Rourke. While Cruz had a strong showing across most of rural Texas, O’Rourke narrowed the margin by winning urban counties and coming within striking distance in some Texas suburbs.
At about 9:25 p.m., Cruz’s supporters at his Election Night party in a Houston hotel broke out in cheers and a chant of “Cruuuz!” as Fox News called the race for him. “We want Ted!” supporters shouted as they moved closer to the stage, hoping to hear from the victor.
It was a dramatic shift from shortly before 9 p.m., when Cruz’s chief strategist, Jeff Roe, took the stage to address concerned supporters looking at returns that showed O’Rourke in reach of a historic upset. Roe told them “everything’s good” and said the campaign expected Cruz’s lead to grow once the results in more rural counties came in.
“Anybody that’s really clenched — you can release a little bit — it’s OK,” Roe said, suggesting he nonetheless expected to be “in for a little bit of a night.”
The mood at the O’Rourke election night party in El Paso was upbeat well into the evening. But the mood quickly soured once it became clear that most news outlets had called the race in favor of Cruz.
“I’m very surprised. I’m very disappointed,” said 80-year-old Olivia Lara, an O’Rourke supporter who said she votes in every election. “He worked so hard. It’s very sad for El Paso.”
The race between Cruz and O’Rourke emerged in recent months as the hottest in the country during this midterm election season, as O’Rourke, a relatively unknown congressman just two years ago, cobbled together the most competitive statewide campaign by a Texas Democrat in over a decade.