Ted Cruz’s Democratic challenger tries to steal his tea party support

mcclatchydc | 8/9/2017 | Staff
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Ted Cruz’s Democratic challenger is working overtime to drive a wedge between the senator and his base on one of his central issues — criminal justice reform.

Over the past six months, Rep. Beto O’Rourke has reached out to members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus to collaborate on the issue, hosted a Facebook Live event with them to talk marijuana policy, and sought support from the conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks for a criminal justice bill he introduced in the House.

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While O’Rourke is no stranger to working with Republicans on issues relevant to his El Paso district, the lawmaker’s recent focus on criminal justice reform is part of a push to boost his profile for the uphill bid to unseat Cruz in the Senate in 2018.

“I’ve had more correspondence with Beto O’Rourke’s office than most of the Republicans [in the Texas delegation],” said Jason Pye, vice president of legislative affairs for FreedomWorks.

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Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat statewide since 1994, and O’Rourke will need a significant number of Republican votes to unseat Cruz next year. By carving out a path on criminal justice reform, the 44-year-old hopes to open a line to younger and libertarian-minded Texans – the type who might have aligned with former Texas Rep. Ron Paul in the past.

The opportunity is certainly there; while Cruz has long been a leader on criminal justice reform, which draws unusual bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, he disappointed some advocates by opposing a sentencing reform bill during the 2016 presidential primary.

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FreedomWorks is still solidly aligned with Cruz in the 2018 Senate race. But the group signed a bipartisan coalition letter supporting O’Rourke’s Better Drive Act, aimed at helping nonviolent drug offenders keep their drivers’ licenses so that they can get to work.

O’Rourke has also made some inroads with conservative colleagues in the House....
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