- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The second debate between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke, set for Tuesday night in San Antonio, is supposed to feature questions about foreign policy but will likely focus more on domestic issues.

Mr. Cruz, the incumbent Republican senator, and Mr. O’Rourke, a Democratic congressman, tangled last month in a debate devoted exclusively to U.S.-based topics, and as the campaign enters the homestretch, there remains much ground there each candidate will likely want to highlight.

The campaigns remained tight-lipped Tuesday about how they would approach Tuesday’s debate, with neither responding to general questions about what they hope to accomplish.

The last debate took place on the heels of an outlier poll that gave Mr. O’Rourke a small lead, but the second one comes after several polls that show Mr. Cruz has since built a solid lead. Nevertheless, Mr. O’Rourke remains closer to Mr. Cruz than any Democrats are in other statewide races this midterm, according to polls.

The debate seems likely to return to two domestic events that drew considerable attention since they first sparred. 

One was the contentious battle of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. Mr. Cruz, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was a strong proponent of Mr. Kavanaugh, whereas Mr. O’Rourke has said he would have voted against the nominee.

The bruising battle also prompted incidents at University of Texas campuses in Austin and San Antonio at which liberal students accosted conservative groups trying to show their support for Mr. Kavanaugh, grabbing signs out of their hands and ripping them up. Videos of the incidents went viral.

At the first debate, Mr. Cruz stressed the different judicial philosophies of the candidates, arguing the judges Mr. O’Rourke would like to put on the federal bench are liberal activists. Regardless, the issue is one that has dominated the national landscape and as such is almost certain to be a part of Tuesday’s tangle.

Meanwhile, the Texas electoral landscape was startled by Mr. O’Rourke’s announcement last week his campaign had set a quarterly fundraising record, taking in more than $38 million. The remarkable haul continues a strong fundraising run for Mr. O’Rourke, but the massive dollars have also proved a weapon for the Cruz campaign.

On the one hand, Mr. Cruz has tried to paint Mr. O’Rourke as a left-wing darling of coastal liberals who have showered him with money, a network of deep pockets that isn’t normally associated with the views of many Texans.

On the other hand, Mr. Cruz’s chief pollster, Chris Wilson, made the rounds of television news shows Tuesday morning and said Mr. O’Rourke’s fundraising success has come to the detriment of other Democratic candidates in close, battle ground elections such as Sen. Claire McCaskill in Missouri.

“He has nationalized his figure, he has taken stands that do a great job raising money from a national liberal base but all he’s done is just cannibalize money that would have gone to (Democratic Sen.) Heidi Heitkamp or Claire McCaskill or other Democrats that could’ve saved their seats that are probably now going down to defeat,” Mr. Wilson said, characterizing Mr. O’Rourke’s senatorial bid as “a vanity mission that is just basically flushing money down the toilet.”

While the candidates do differ on foreign policy issues – Mr. O’Rourke believes the Obama administration’s deal with Iran was a positive step, for instance, whereas Mr. Cruz supported President Trump’s decision to withdraw from it – they need to identify their opponent with labels their base can’t stand.

In addition, Mr. O’Rourke seemed to leave the stage after the first debate miffed after Mr. Cruz answered a question asking them to pay the other a compliment by saying Mr. O’Rourke sincerely believes the agenda of Democratic leaders such as Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York and Vermont’s independent Sen. Bernard Sanders are pushing.

The debate takes place with Texas voters clearly on edge, as demonstrated by the incidents at the University of Texas over Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

A Communist group called the Red Guards Austin bragged late last week about putting gory pigs heads outside polling places and campaign offices.

“O’Rourke is an imperialist pig!” read one. “Elections, no! Revolutions, yes!”

Another bloody pig’s head had a sign labeling both Mr. Cruz and Mr. O’Rourke as “imperialist pigs.”

The Red Guard Austin said Tuesday it does not generally speak with the press. In emails it confirmed it has no interest in supporting either candidate and urges a boycott of the U.S. electoral process.

“Political power grows from the barrel of a gun, not at the ballot box,” they wrote, paraphrasing a famous dictum of Mao Zedong’s.

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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