WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke has scheduled a major political event on Friday, prompting speculation that the third-term Democratic congressman will launch a bid to challenge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018.
O'Rourke has spent the last several weeks traveling the state and has said in recent weeks that he is likely to launch a bid for U.S. Senate. In an email to supporters on Wednesday, his campaign wrote, "Together, we can do something really big, and really powerful for the state of Texas -- and for this country. Congressman Beto O'Rourke has a big announcement to make on Friday."
A Cruz spokesperson declined to comment on the announcement.
If O'Rourke does enter the race, he could face a competitive primary; U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio is considering a bid.
A Castro bid is no sure thing; he has a rising profile in Congress, he's on the leadership track in the House of Representatives and he's deeply involved in the investigations into whether Russia interfered with the 2016 elections.
O'Rourke, by contrast, has made plain since his insurgent initial race for the House in 2012 that he would impose term-limits on himself. A logical next step would be a race for Senate.
There is an additional potential outlier in this mix: Former George W. Bush strategist Matthew Dowd, an on-air commentator, is considering an independent run for Senate.
No matter who the Democratic nominee is, a race against Cruz will be an uphill slog. The state is still firmly conservative and Texas has not elected a Democrat statewide since 1994. O'Rourke is still relatively unknown in Washington and in Texas, and El Paso has never produced a statewide elected official.
Cruz, meanwhile, appears to be steadying his political ship after a rough post-presidential campaign stretch that included being booed off the stage at the Republican National Convention. The incumbent kept many of his presidential campaign staffers within his sphere, and has built a reputation for running well-funded and tactically savvy campaigns.
From a national perspective, the U.S. Senate race in Texas is an afterthought. The Democratic Party is preoccupied with protecting 10 incumbents who represent states President Donald Trump carried in 2016. Hardly anyone in state or national politics considers it realistic that the national party will heavily invest in this race.
But the race could still garner attention. O'Rourke has a knack for harnessing the Internet. Last year, he was one of the members who livestreamed a Democratic protest on the floor of the House chamber, and he shared a cult following with U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, on a recent bipartisan cross-country road trip.
And while it's not yet clear what 2018 will bring, but the early months of the Trump presidency have been turbulent for the president and congressional Republicans, who last week admitted they couldn't get their party together to support a proposed overhaul of President Obama's signature health care bill.
O'Rourke first floated the notion of a Senate campaign to The Texas Tribune just before Election Day last fall.