Why Colin Allred Is Going to Make Ted Cruz Sweat

been 33 years since a Democrat was elected to statewide office in Texas. Now U.S. Representative Colin Allred, a three-term congressman, voting rights
attorney, and former NFL linebacker, is out to break that losing streak with his
challenge to controversial GOP Senator Ted Cruz. 

political insiders in the state doubt Allred can win, even though a statewide
May survey showed Cruz leading him by only 5 percent. They recall other
big-time Texas Democrats who failed in recent cycles: Beto O’Rourke (twice),
Wendy Davis, M.J. Hegar. But Allred doesn’t seem fazed. He knows what’s at
stake and what it will cost him. He’s giving up his safe seat to challenge
Cruz, a Trump loyalist who helped fuel the Capitol insurrection, voted to
decertify President Joe Biden’s legitimate election, and has been something of
a joke since he fled to Cancun during an Arctic storm in Texas. 

think a lot of Texans are embarrassed by Ted Cruz. They’re embarrassed by the
kind of stunts that he pulls. They’re embarrassed that he’s always
manufacturing outrage. He seems to think it’s funny that he went to Cancun
during the freeze, but I don’t think it’s funny at all,’’ Allred says, starting
our interview. “My temperament is very different. I try to stay even-keel. I
work in a bipartisan way. I don’t yell at people. I want to represent Texas in
a way that’s sort of what I think a senator’s job should be, which is to
introduce legislation that helps Texans—not to be a kind of media

who is 40, married to an attorney, Alexandra Eber, and father of two boys,
represents a suburban Dallas district he won in 2018 against Republican
Congressman Pete Sessions, who had held the seat for 22 years. Allred
benefited from redistricting and an increasingly diverse district, a factor
that Republicans seemed to ignore or underappreciate.

against Cruz, who is seeking his third six-year term at 52, Allred is defying
the odds again. First, he has to win his party’s nomination in the March
primary against a large field led by State Senator Roland Gutierrez, whose
district includes San Antonio and Uvalde, site of the massacre of 19
schoolchildren and two teachers at Robb Elementary in May 2022. He is
considered the heavy favorite.

first stage of the campaign is playing out in the background while a vicious
fight is splintering the state’s Republican Party over the impeachment of a top
leader, Attorney General Ken Paxton, on charges of corruption and abuse of
power. Since Republicans control the legislature and hold every statewide
office, the fight pits Republican against Republican, with Democrats happily

On one side is the pro-Paxton faction—both in the state and nationally—led by Donald Trump and backed by Cruz, who has said that “what’s happening
to Ken Paxton is a travesty.” On the other side, GOP tactician Karl Rove and
former Governor Rick Perry have come out against Paxton in opinion pieces in
Wall Street Journal

this spectacle, and even without it, an Allred-Cruz race could well turn into
one of the most exciting and close elections of 2024, one with national
implications—and with the Senate majority at stake. Or it could fizzle into
another disappointing Democratic hunt for an elusive victory in the Lone Star
State, the nation’s second-most-populous state and ground zero for the
right-wing cohort playing havoc with culture and social issues.

seen Republicans doubling down on these culture-war issues,” Allred says. “I’m
also seeing they’re clearly in a kind of race to the bottom that is turning off
ordinary folks who are sitting there hoping that their elected officials are
working as hard as they are.”  

“Allred is an attractive
candidate,’’ says Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern
Methodist University and a scholar of American politics. “He doesn’t sound
ideological. He takes moderate positions, middle of the road, that appeal to
Texans. He has a compelling personal background.”

Allred was raised in Dallas by a
single mother, a white teacher who held several jobs to support him. He never
knew his Black father. “I grew up in Texas in the ’80s and in the ’90s.… We’ve
come a long way since then on racial relations. But growing up the way I did
gave me a perspective in how we see each other. I think that between Anglos
and African Americans or Latinos in Texas, we can often feel there’s these
differences, and of course there are. But in terms of values? What do people
want? The conversations that are being had between different groups—be it a
group of Black kids sitting around talking or a group of Anglo kids, the
conversations aren’t that different.

“Being an athlete and being good in
school—because my mom made me be good in school—I stood out a lot. And
so, in so many ways, from an early age, I had to sort of just accept that I
was going to be different and to embrace it. And so I carried that with
me.… What I really fell in love with about the United States was when I started
to understand the civil rights movement, and some of the movements that we’ve
had towards equality. Because to me I can see the potential just lurking
there. I can see these founding ideals put out there. I can see how far we’ve
strayed from it and how much work we still have to do.”       

He adds, “Outside these personal experiences are these people in my own life
who have given me a chance when no one else would, or who learned to accept me
when I thought they wouldn’t. And so I think it’s possible, and I believe in
our potential. It was in some ways a lonely way at times to grow up. I didn’t
have any siblings to share it with, not even cousins or anything like that. But
I think it gave me a unique perspective. And in a lot of ways, watching people
interact from the outside looking in, I gained an understanding that maybe
they’re a lot more similar than they thought they were.”     

describes himself as a Texas politician, not a national politician, a label
that came to damage Beto O’Rourke, the former El Paso congressman who rocketed
out of relative obscurity in 2017 to gain national recognition—and money. But
the media attention, even a cover story in Vanity Fair, and the backing
of national and local Democrats didn’t carry him over the line. In his home
state, in the small towns and rural areas that define much of Texas, he was
seen as an outsider. In many of those counties, when he ran against Cruz, he
struggled to get 30 percent of the vote.

is making sure that doesn’t happen to him. 
he has already caught national media attention. In just two months after his
announcement in May, he raised $6.2 million, nearly $2 million more than Cruz.
It was a record score that drew the attention of national media and pollsters, 
all of which made him one of the GOP’s top targets in 2024. Grassroots
fundraising has since been slow, and his campaign came online nearly every day
making the case for money to mount a campaign across the state’s 254 counties
that strategists estimate could cost around $50 million minimum.

affable, Allred speaks cautiously but deliberately. He is studiously centrist.
He likes to stick to the basics: jobs, education, health care, infrastructure.
On climate change, he is cautious, recognizing that “we are an energy state,
and even as we try to—and I think we have to—combat climate change, that
has to be consistent with the hundreds of thousands of jobs in our state that
are tied to the industry.”

has some of the country’s most permissive gun laws, with more than one million
gun owners, despite its recent history of mass shootings. The state allows most
adults to carry a handgun without a license, and 18-year-olds may purchase guns
legally. Allred backs background checks and raising the age to 21, but, unlike
O’Rourke, he hasn’t called for a ban on AR-15 rifles, the weapon used in most
mass killings. That pledge by O’Rourke, made in an intemperate moment during a
debate when he was running for president in 2020, ended up being regularly
tossed back in his face in his 2022 gubernatorial run, which he also lost.

the border and immigration, where Texas has imposed harsh, sometimes inhumane,
policies, he says, “I know that it’s possible for us to both secure our border
and make the immigration system better meet the needs of our economy.”

he steers away from controversial statements. On Texas’s draconian ban on
abortions, he says, “I hear from a lot of people who are worried that what has
made us successful is at risk because of how extreme people see our politics.
And they point to people like Ted Cruz as the first example but also to
policies like our abortion ban that are leading to all these heartbreaking

mounting a busy online campaign and touring parts of the state, Allred’s
start-up has drawn relatively little statewide media attention. Ted Cruz is
widely known, Allred not so much. “It’s not a problem that Allred is not well
known in Texas,” Vinny Minchillo, a Republican strategist who supports Cruz but
is not involved in his campaign, tells me. “Twenty million in marketing and
advertising will buy him name recognition. Everyone in Texas will know who he
is. He is a quality candidate, handsome, smart, but he’s a blank slate at this
point. What is his brand? At this point it seems his brand is, ‘I am not Ted
Cruz.’ He’s not progressive. He’s wishy-washy, speaks in platitudes. Cruz is
tough, an unapologetic conservative. He’s not afraid to kick over the table,
but he may be a jerk.”

Angle, the director of the Lone Star Project, a partisan Democratic PAC, sees
Allred as the right candidate at a time when Texas is moving in the wrong
direction under the Trumpian MAGA axis. “Taking on Republicans is an uphill
climb for any Democrat in Texas,” Angle says, but Allred, he believes, could
pull off a victory. “He cares about facts and real issues like jobs, schools,
health care. He’s a solid person, not a performance politician like Cruz. What
Allred needs is a strong racial and ideological coalition. You’ve got to have
Blacks, Hispanics, and also moderate Republicans, building from the middle

broad math for Allred to win is straightforward,” Angle says, noting that he
does not speak for or represent Allred’s campaign or the Democratic Party. “Reaching
the goals is hard. It requires both marginally increasing minority
participation and then getting just over one of three Anglo votes.”

explains, “Democrats need the Anglo percentage of the total turnout to be at 60
percent or ideally lower. That means Hispanic and Black turnout needs to
increase slightly beyond their normal rate. Ideally, Hispanics will make up
23–24 percent of the vote. Blacks will make up 12–13 percent of the vote, and
Asian Americans will be around 4 percent. The Democratic candidate must then
get 65–70 percent support of Hispanics, 90–95 percent support from Blacks, and
65–70 percent support from Asians. Then—and this is the hardest—the
Democrat must get 33 percent support from Anglos.”  

He says, “It’s a heavy lift, but I believe Colin Allred has the best background
and the ability to increase minority turnout, earn minority support, and win a
larger share of the Anglo vote.”  

look at the Cruz-O’Rourke race of 2018 gives some indication of what it will
take for Allred to win. O’Rourke lost to Cruz by only 2.6 points. To get to 50.1
percent, Allred will need to pump up the women’s vote, the 18–44 age bracket,
and nonwhite voters. O’Rourke won women 54 percent to 46 percent with a
surprising 49–49 tie among white college women. He also won the 18–44 group 59
percent to 40 percent and won the nonwhite vote, including Blacks and
Hispanics, 69 percent to 31 percent. There might be a chance now, with the Supreme
Court’s unpopular decision to overturn
Roe v. Wade, Texas’s controversial
abortion ban, and an indicted Trump heading the ticket, for Allred to nudge
those numbers upward.

on suburban women, the young, and nonwhite voters has been an effective
formula for Democrats in some battleground states, but Texas, a
majority-minority state with a population of 40 million split almost half and
half between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites, remains conservative
Republican. Black men voted in fewer numbers in 2020 and 2022, Professor
Jillson says, and the Hispanic vote is moving in the Republican direction,
especially among men, in the formerly solid Democratic Rio Grande Valley. “The
Hispanic Valley culture is machista, conservative, traditional, and ridden with
client politics—money and other favors in exchange for votes,” says Jillson.
“Trump’s narrative appeals to them.”

it? On the contrary, Angle claims. He says Texas Democrats have a better chance
of winning with Trump as the head of the GOP ticket because the Republican
Party today is even more extreme than Texas itself.

Allred agrees. He doesn’t
think that George W. Bush, the famous “compassionate conservative,” could win a
primary in Texas right now. As a fourth-generation Texan, Allred says, he has
seen the state go from being known for independent leaders who were important
on the national stage to a state that is just following the national
conservative trend. “That’s not the Texas I know,” he says.

Texas leaders “have always looked out for the state
first, knowing that we are a unique, enormous state that has incredible
challenges but also incredible potential. And I think they’ve gotten away
from that. Ted Cruz has been the leader of that in many ways, and that’s part
of why we’re going to beat him in this election.”

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