Ted Cruz strategy forming around the RGV

McALLEN — Families and floats will provide a backdrop for Tuesday’s Fourth of July parade in downtown McAllen for Sen. Ted Cruz and his push to gather support in a region in which, historically, he hasn’t had much.

Cruz’s support of a border wall and his stance on immigration hasn’t won many over in the Rio Grande Valley. But the Republican junior senator of Texas wanted a community event this time, as opposed to previous Valley visits in which he rode along with the U.S. Border Patrol or talked with trade industry stakeholders.

As with many visits from statewide or nationally elected officials, some locally are not pleased to have Cruz in the annual Fourth of July parade. Mayor Jim Darling made clear that Cruz asked to come, which has caused some groups to plan protests at the parade. But as Cruz’s re-election looms in 2018, his calculus has shifted, according to James Aldrete, a Democratic consultant based in Austin.

“He’s going into this with different math than he did when he secured the seat,” Aldrete said. “Cruz has been on the Trump Anglo votes. But Trump did him no favors during the presidential campaign. He has always been comfortable with his base. But now, he definitely needs to cut margins in the Hispanic communities, and you’re seeing an effort to do that through his recent trip to El Paso, now this one, and expect more trips to those kinds of areas.”

Some locally criticized Cruz as, “just inviting himself,” as one sign from a protestor at McAllen City Hall said last week. But Republican strategist and Travis County GOP Chairman Matt Mackowiack said it’s not unusual for elected officials to look for opportunities in regions in which they aren’t as popular and might not get many invitations.

“I could imagine a scenario where he believes Independence Day is an apt situation to talk about issues he cares about in front of a Hispanic audience, a way to try to connect,” Mackowiack said. “A lot of different areas have events on holidays. It’s a great way to get to a community.”

So far, Cruz’s sole Democratic opponent in 2018 is El Paso U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and he’s following a similar strategy for the Fourth. O’Rourke will be far from the border — in Lubbock, an area he has tried to tap into recently as he travels the state to build recognition. Local U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, who will also be in Tuesday’s parade, said he was with O’Rourke on Thursday. Gonzalez said he thinks both Cruz and O’Rourke are making fairly savvy political decisions by reaching out to places in which they don’t have as much support.

O’Rourke has drawn supporters in Lubbock on previous campaign stops, Aldrete said, and there’s “a freshness about him that is working.” However, O’Rourke perhaps had a mishap during an April stop in Lubbock when he hosted a rally at noon on a Sunday. This brought some criticism from some in Lubbock for having an event during church hours, according to local media reports.

Cruz has not publicly held a fundraiser or rally in the Valley in recent months. Cruz’s Texas counterpart in Washington, Republican Sen. John Cornyn, is not up for re-election until 2020 but has had a private fundraiser as recently as February during a McAllen visit.

Therein lies the Valley contrast between Cornyn and Cruz, Aldrete said, and it’s why he believes Cruz’s attempts to tap into areas like the Valley will “be awkward and flailing.” Cornyn has been cultivating relationships here for years while “Cruz has never cared much about the region,” he added.

“Now, Cornyn’s been around longer,” Aldrete said. “But he does things for the Valley and has friends in the Valley. Any U.S. Senator that would go into a place that’s growing like McAllen is, the business community would open up their houses for a dinner or fundraiser, but he’s never cared about that.”

Cruz has made stronger efforts here in the last eight months — this will mark his third Valley visit since December. Mackowiack said when he worked for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, they tried to visit every Texas media market at least twice a year.

In December, Cruz held a border security roundtable and took a few questions from reporters afterward. In February, days before Cornyn brought a delegation to the border and days before U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan toured the area, Cruz made a solo trip. He rode along with Border Patrol agents overnight, met with various groups of elected officials, border security experts and trade industry stakeholders and concluded with a boat tour on the Rio Grande and a brief media session.

On this trip, Cruz will likely deliver remarks at Archer Park before the parade, then participate in the procession and be part of a several-hour brunch afterward. Cruz’s staff even invited local immigration rights group La Union del Pueblo Entero to the brunch, which Darling tried to help facilitate. But the group declined.

LUPE said it wants an open town hall setting with the senator. The group, and some others locally, said they see communicating with Cruz as a lost cause.

“Communication as well as compromise is a two-way street,” state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, wrote in a column published in The Monitor, “and Sen. Cruz has never demonstrated that he has the ability to listen or compromise with the people of South Texas.”

Canales also acknowledged that lines of communication must remain open. Mackowiack said when given an opportunity to meet with a U.S. Senator, you should take it.

“This is indicative of our political environment — if you don’t agree with someone, you don’t show up,” Mackowiack said of LUPE’s decision not to meet with Cruz. “I think that’s ridiculous. I don’t understand why anyone who has a strong held policy view wouldn’t want to express that view to the policy maker.”

But Aldrete believes the Valley is an area Cruz has disregarded, and therefore it will be tough for him to make much impact as he tries to make up for lost time.

“There’s no way around it, it’s a community he’s ignored,” Aldrete said. “He’s having to make some adjustments, and it’s gonna be awkward, and it’s gonna be fun, fun, fun to watch.”