U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic challenger to Ted Cruz’s U.S. Senate seat, is pledging to work across the aisle to reduce the cost of higher education.
On Friday, O’Rourke held a campaign event at Scholz Garten to rally his supporters for the 2018 election. It was one stop on a month-long statewide tour, with visits ranging from major cities like Dallas to small towns like La Grange, which O’Rourke said hasn’t had a Senate candidate visit in close to four decades. He also said he made visits to several colleges in order to motivate student voters and learn about their needs.
“I’m someone who listens,” O’Rourke said. “I can’t hope to represent people or their interests if I’m not out there listening to them.”
Some of O’Rourke’s goals include working to cap public college tuition rate increases, reduce federal student loan interest rates and make the first two years of college free.
“A short-term increase in what we pay to get people educated produces long-term returns for this country that far outweigh the cost,” O’Rourke said.
However, public policy professor Victoria DeFrancesco Soto said initiatives like these would be hard to fund and there would be a lack of conservative support for anything as costly as free tuition.
“Republicans and Democrats want to do something regarding higher education,” Soto said. “But I don’t know if you’re going to get complete debt relief or a full two years. It would be something very reduced.”
In the five months since O’Rourke announced his campaign, he has outraised Ted Cruz’s original campaign. However, Soto said he still doesn’t have a strong chance at beating Cruz. Democrats also have not won a statewide election since 1994.
“The infrastructure of the Republican party here in Texas is very strong and very well-oiled, both literally and metaphorically,” Soto said.
On the other side of the aisle, Soto said O’Rourke is likely to lack financial support from his own party. Typically the Democratic National Committee focuses on swing-states in midterm and national elections, not Republican strongholds, Soto said.
In spite of this, Soto said it’s possible for O’Rourke to win because Cruz lacks support from segments of the Republican party, especially from moderates and independents.
“He has a base that really loves him, and then there are Republicans that don’t like him,” Soto said. “The question is, ‘are independents and moderate Republicans going to stay home against Ted Cruz or perhaps even cast a vote against him? After the Trump election, anything is possible.”
Students who attended O’Rourke’s recent campaign event at Scholz Garten said they appreciated his efforts to speak with and meet as many voters as possible across the state.
“He’s leading with compassion and engagement: That’s the way that you get people mobilized and engaged, not just in your campaign but in the issues in their communities,” first-year law student Savannah Kumar said. “It’s super inspiring to see the journey that he’s taken.”
Kumar also said she appreciates O’Rourke’s desire to work on bipartisan policies.
“In order to make progress you have to be able to meet (Republicans) where they are, so you can take baby steps in the right direction,” Kumar said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated Ted Cruz "has won his Senate seat three times in a row," when Cruz has only won the seat once.