It’s been a whirlwind of an election season here in Texas. The race between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke has attracted the gaze of the entire country, including the national political press. Over the past several months, I’ve followed both candidates all around the state — from blockwalking with Beto canvassers along the border and covering Trump’s MAGA rally in Houston to tracking their competing events on the same day in East Texas.
As I’ve covered this race on the ground, I’ve talked to Texas voters on both sides about what they think of the state of the country and the upcoming elections. What follows is a collection of some of the people I encountered along the way, and what they have to say.
From left to right, Beto field organizer Anali Barrera, former Webb County Democratic Party Chair Sergio Mora and El Paso congressional candidate Veronica Escobar on a block walk in Laredo’s Hillside neighborhood — part of the Beto Border Surge tour organized by Escobar in August. “For me, I cannot imagine the shame of a loss for Beto and having low border turnout. Shame on us if that were to happen,” Escobar said.
As Beto has grown more and more popular, his campaign events have turned into a spectacle. Early in the morning on the first day of early voting in Houston, he was mobbed by supporters — he briefly held up traffic and at one point his aides had to form a human chain around him to keep him moving through the crowd.
John Dawson is an out-of-work air conditioning mechanic who’s taking time to raise his two boys. He recently got an email from the Beto campaign asking him to volunteer. It turns out there was a pop-up office right down the street from his home in Sunnyside, a predominately black neighborhood on Houston’s South Side. “It’s the younger ones that I’m worried about. Are they aware of the implications if we lose this state?” Dawson said.
Just down the street from a Beto rally in Longview, Texas, Marty Rhymes and some fellow Gregg County Republicans milled about in the party headquarters, dismissing the notion of a blue wave in Texas while Rush Limbaugh ranted on the radio in the background. “It’s amazing how many people don’t want to be called Democrats anymore,” Rhymes said.
Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have a notoriously troubled past. But at their joint October rally in Houston, The Donald replaced Cruz’s old nickname of “Lyin’ Ted” with the more benevolent “Beautiful Ted.”
Billy Barker was one of the thousands of Trump supporters to attend the president’s rally for Ted Cruz in Houston in October. Signs included “Finish the Wall,” “Jobs Not Mobs” and “Keep America Great.”
Ted Cruz’s campaign events are often filled with smaller, older crowds than you would typically find at a Beto rally. And — like this late August stop in Blanco — they’re usually held at a local barbecue joint.
Meet voters, politicians and activists in the slideshow below.
"If he doesn't win, I'll continue doing this 'til the presidential election. I'm not stoppin'."
— Charla Hays, right, a Beto volunteer in Llano County.
“I haven’t heard a single black person say they’re for Ted Cruz.”
— Braylon Shackelford, right, said after a Beto rally in Tyler.
Don Baker, a retired physician assistant who attended an O’Rourke town hall in Lampasas, characterized Beto's policy approach as “a long string of platitudes and bromide.” Baker heckled O’Rourke mercilessly during the packed event. “Where’s the money gonna come from?!” Baker shouted during the candidate’s pauses. Other refrains: “Bullshit!” “Marxist!”
"They want to steal the elections."
— Johnny Ferguson of Lake Jackson said about Democrats outside Trump's Houston rally.
"I’m old school. I’ve been around a long time. I have a theory of my own as to exactly the way you do it: you get a good candidate, reach out to the people, give them a voice in what you’re doing and then they will respond."
— Brownsville mayor Tony Martinez said at a Beto block-walk rally in August.
“The only place [Democrats] are bringing you is down the shitter." — a Cruz supporter in East Texas who goes by "Heff."
"Life is fast in San Antonio — and even more so if you’re poor. With all of this stuff going on, when do you have time to even research the candidates or find out where my voting [location is], or when voting is? We’re running into people who don’t know who Beto is and we’re like where have you been? Under a rock? He’s all over the place."
— Rosey Abuabara, who heads the Indivisible chapter for the 23rd Congressional District, a predominately Latino seat.
"We don’t want to be just another wave that just leaves a few people on the shore."
— Jay Taylor, a retired lawyer and volunteer organizer with Swing TX-7 Left in Houston.
"I kinda admired [Beto] for trying to go out into communities to to get people to vote, because not many people will get out and vote. They feel like it don’t matter, we don’t have a say so."
— Sonia Loving, in front of her Sunnyside home with two of her children. She opened up her house to the Beto campaign to use as a pop-up office.
"Even though we’re heavy voting precincts, how we vote isn’t very representative of the district. I mean, people as rich as this are a small part of the district."
— Swing TX-7 Left organizer Rebecca Weisz Shukla, about the affluent enclaves like West University Place in the 7th Congressional District.
“If he beats me, he’ll know he had to work for it.”
— Wesley Ratcliff, who's running agains Republican Cody Harris for the open Texas House District 8, a rural seat Democrats haven't challenged in several years.
“They’re gonna do what they’re always gonna do. [They get your vote and then] they’re like ‘fuck you’ once they get elected."
— Hattler Frank, a 75-year-old South Acres resident, after a canvasser tells him about Beto.
“If you’re a voter, you’re gonna be voting and enthusiastic. If you’re not, then it’s harder.”
— Gerry McGee, field canvasser for the Texas Organizing Project.
“I don’t know nothing about [O’Rourke]. But I would rather have anyone than Ted Cruz.”
— Wayne Jackson, Sr., who lives in Houston's Acres Homes neighborhood and votes straight ticket Democrat.
"We don’t bring [Trump] up unless they mention it. We focus on the issues. I think people are concerned more about health care, immigration and property taxes."
— Jana Lynne Sanchez, a Democrat running for the open 6th Congressional District, a traditionally safe Republican seat near Fort Worth.
"He understands what it means to be a fifth-generation American and a second-generation American. The amazing part of him is his cultural flexibility is genuine."
— Ali Hasanali, about Sri Preston Kulkarni, who's running in the 22nd congressional district.
"Before, we wouldn't put a [campaign] bumper sticker on our car because we were afraid it would get keyed."
— Mary Doran, a volunteer who runs the Beto campaign's grassroots headquarters in Burnet.
"I don’t know why they hid for so long but it seems like [East Texas Democrats] are finally coming out of the closet."
— Staci Smith, a Beto volunteer in Tyler.
"I’m worried about my grandkids. That’s the main thing that motivates me."
— Gerald Hillburn of Kilgore, Texas.
"We got obliterated in 2016 and we’ll probably get obliterated again — but it’s about cutting down the margins."
— Matt Davis, a Beto volunteer in Lufkin, on the politics of East Texas.
"This is an economically depressed district. That frustration i think is manifesting itself in this political involvement."
— Adan Arriaga, campaign manager for Democratic state senate candidate Shirley Layton.
"[Trump's] actually coming through on his promises. I've been voting since Reagan and nobody has done what they said they would."
— Stephanie Schones of Spring, Texas, at the Trump rally.
“The insurance company hasn’t been helpful at all. I want someone to fix the regulations so not they’re so focused on developers, but on helping the average person. We’re out here pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps. And that’s fine. We’re doing it. But why can’t I get any help?”
— Latoya Alexander, a Kashmere Gardens resident who is struggling to fix the Harvey damage on the home that's been in her family since the 1950s. She voted for Cruz in 2012, which she says she regrets, and is voting for O'Rourke this time.
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Justin Miller is the politics reporter for the Observer. He previously covered politics and policy for The American Prospect in Washington, D.C., and has also written for The Intercept, The New Republic and In These Times. Follow him on Twitter or email him at [email protected].