President Donald Trump tried to stoke fears of socialism Friday as he bashed Rep. Beto O'Rourke, the Democrat pushing to upset Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in red Texas.
Ahead of his Monday visit to Houston, Trump called the 46-year-old representative a "total lightweight compared to Ted Cruz" who "comes nowhere near representing the values and desires" of Texans. He suggested O'Rourke wants to "turn Texas into Venezuela" — deploying rhetoric he has used in an attempt to portray Democrats as dangerous leftists as the GOP tries to defend its congressional majorities on Nov. 6.
The tweet comes as O'Rourke has forced Republicans to work harder than they typically do in statewide Texas races. The Democrat, who has harnessed his party's energy and smashed Senate fundraising records with a $38 million haul in the third quarter, would shake up the battle for control of the Senate if he shocked Cruz next month.
O'Rourke's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
O'Rourke has gone no further left than a typical American Democrat. He has advocated for policies such as Medicaid expansion, tighter background checks for gun sales and a path to citizenship for young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. But the GOP has repeatedly cast him as too liberal for the state, which Trump carried by about 9 percentage points in 2016. Democrats have not won a statewide race there in more than 20 years.
O'Rourke has put Cruz on his heels and gained a national stature Senate candidates rarely achieve. While the Democrat pulled close to the senator in independent surveys toward the end of the summer, every poll tracked by RealClearPolitics this month has found Cruz leading by at least 5 percentage points.
After Republicans sounded alarm bells about Cruz's grasp on his seat, the party stepped up its efforts to hold Texas. Trump's campaign rally set for Monday aims to cement support and engagement among the state's Republicans.
As Democrats and independents who caucus with them defend 26 Senate seats this year, the party faces a brutal path to picking up the two net seats it needs to take a Senate majority. An O'Rourke win would go a long way toward mitigating GOP gains, or helping Democrats cut into the Republican majority.
In a sign of the momentum O'Rourke has gathered in Texas, the Houston Chronicle endorsed him earlier Friday. The newspaper is the second largest in the state.