Cruz, O’Rourke bring Senate battle to East Texas electorate

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A close 2018 U.S. Senate race came to East Texas Thursday as Senator Ted Cruz and Rep. Beto O’Rourke hosted dueling campaign rallies in Longview.

O’Rourke held a rally at Longview Community Center on Whaley St. The auditorium in the building, which seats 260, was packed as supporters filled the orchestra pit, aisles and a separate overflow room.

O’Rourke’s speech focused on the pillars of his campaign, including affordable, government-funded healthcare, climate change, preventing the separation of immigrant families at the border and ensuring access to reproductive health services for women, including abortion.

He referenced Texas’ status as one of the least-insured states in the country in which the top mental health services providers are county jails. As a solution, O’Rourke proposed “guaranteed, high-quality, universal healthcare” for all Texas citizens, including the ability for “every woman to make decisions about her own body.” Both statements received thunderous applause and cheers.

A group of Kilgore High students attended the rally, including Noah Cantrell and Jasiaha Boaz.

“It was great, there was a lot of people. It was a great experience,” Cantrell said of the rally. “We got to meet (O’Rourke) and take a couple pictures with him.”

Cantrell, at 17, won’t be old enough to vote in this election but enjoyed the experience of the rally nonetheless.

Where O’Rourke’s rally involved ecstatic reception to his policies, Cruz’s event included loud booing and jeers to those same platforms.

Cruz’s rally, held in Longview Exhibit Center, also drew legions of supporters. State Rep. and former Longview Mayor Jay Dean asked for hundreds of extra chairs to be brought to the event from Maude Cobb Convention Center but a huge crowd was still standing in the center when those chairs were filled.

Cruz pulled no punches during his speech, beginning by referring to O’Rourke as a “left-wing communist” and outlining his stance on hot-button issues contrasted with O’Rourke’s views.

“There is no race in the country with a starker divide than the U.S. Senate race here in the state of Texas. We’ve had now two debates in this race and, I don’t know about you, but it seems like Beto is getting a little nervous!” Cruz said, referring to the representative’s recent tactic of airing attack ads against the senator.

Cruz cited working with President Trump to “pass the biggest tax cut in a generation,” his strong opposition to gun control and government-sponsored healthcare and his commitment to opposing additional taxes and regulations on the oil and gas industry as evidence of his traditional conservative values.

Some of the biggest cheers went to Cruz when the senator mentioned his support of funding missile defense systems in Israel in 2014, a measure O’Rourke opposed. When Cruz described O’Rourke’s support for the investigation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh after Kavanaugh was accused of a decades-old sexual assault, the crowd sent up a wave of boos and jeers. When Cruz brought up O’Rourke’s pledge to support impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, the booing became even louder.

Early voting is going on in Gregg and Rusk counties through Nov. 2. Election Day is Nov. 6.

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