Few Republican lawmakers evoke as much contempt from Democrats as Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.
So perhaps it’s fitting that two Democrats are now vying for a chance to take over in 2024.
But on Monday, Texas Sen. Roland Gutierrez, an immigration attorney from San Antonio, whose district covers much of the southwestern part of the state, also joined the race and set up a potentially controversial Democratic primary in March.
Gutierrez, whose county includes Uvalde, the scene of one of the deadliest school shootings in the country, has been an outspoken critic of the response by Cruz and other Texas Republicans to the May 24, 2022 massacre.
“I’m sick of Republicans picking on marginalized people and blaming them for the real problems Texas is facing,” Gutierrez said, citing Cruz’s efforts to scapegoat immigrants and LGBTQ+ people for the country’s pressing problems to make state.
Though Gutierrez is most passionate about his response to Republican state policies, which he says have resulted in low wages, poorer access to health care, and more deaths from winter storms and gun violence, he accuses Cruz of siding with Republican Gov. Greg Abbott represents the GOP-controlled Texas legislature rather than using its federal seat to meddle.
He also notes that Cruz voted against, and is known to have opted for, the resources President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill made available to Texas family holiday in Cancún, Mexico, in February 2021, when power outages killed more than 200 people during a severe winter storm.
“We didn’t expect him to sit on a utility pole and try to fix things,” Gutierrez told HuffPost. “We expected him to be with us and understand what we’re going through.”
The primary campaign has only just begun, but early polls suggest Gutierrez faces an uphill battle against Allred. Allred reportedly has the support of 33% of Democratic primary voters, compared to 22% for Gutierrez a public poll on behalf of the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation, which came out in May, before Gutierrez officially announced it. An even larger proportion of Texas Democratic primary voters (41%) said they were undecided.
“I’ve probably done more in government than Colin Allred and Ted Cruz.”
– Texas State Senator Roland Gutierrez (D)
In the same poll, all voters were asked about a hypothetical head-to-head between Cruz and Allred. It turns out that Cruz starts with a 7 percentage point lead over Allred in the Republican state.
Aware of his underdog status to Allred, Gutierrez found some combative words for him. He pointed out that he represents more people in the state Senate than Allred does in Congress. (The Gutierrez State Senate District is home to almost 900,000 peoplewhile Allred’s district is just over 755,000 people.)
“I’ve worked hard in politics my entire life,” said Gutierrez, who has served in the state legislature since 2008 and before that was a member of the San Antonio City Council. “I’ve probably done more in government than Colin Allred and Ted Cruz.”
“Colin Allred sure is a nice guy,” he added.
For his part, Allred declined to speak about the race at the US Capitol on Friday, saying he would prefer to be interviewed later in the day, but aides declined to make a call, citing travel.
Allred, 40, played in the NFL for the Tennessee Titans for four seasons before pursuing law school and working in the Office of the General Counsel at the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Barack Obama administration. He won his congressional seat in 2018, angering Republican Rep. Pete Sessions, a ten-year incumbent who was chairing the House Committee at the time.
“I beat a 22-year-old Republican incumbent,” Allred said said Spectrum News this week. “I’ve seen the Republican Party waste millions of dollars nationally attacking me. I know how it is. I’ve been through this I know that I can win this race too.”
Gutierrez, the 52-year-old son of Mexican immigrants, has his own case for eligibility. He ousted a state Senate seat held by a Republican in 2020. The circumstances were unusual, however, as the geographic area encompassed by the seat had been occupied by Democrats in the past. The incumbent Republican, whom Gutierrez had unseated, had won in one Special election with low turnout replace a Democrat who had resigned after being convicted on corruption charges.
It is unclear at this point whether the contest between Allred and Gutierrez will actually become intensely competitive. In the 2022 election cycle, the then MP. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) was believed to be competing against John Fetterman, but Fetterman, now US Senator, defeated him by more than 32 percentage points in the May 2022 primary.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — the campaign arm of Democrats in the U.S. Senate — has not commented on the primary and is unlikely to do so unless it believes one of the candidates undermines the party’s prospects for a seat change endangered. The party committee is not necessarily averse to participating in primary elections, but in the last cycle the DSCC has not endorsed any Democratic primary in which a Democrat was not the incumbent.
A race between Allred and Gutierrez probably wouldn’t present a stark ideological contrast. Allred, a member of the pro-business New Democrat Coalition, may be a little more dovish than Gutierrez, who led the majority of the electorate second-progressive Texas Senate voting result this session.
In his interview with HuffPost, Gutierrez declined to distance himself from the national Democratic Party on abortion, LGBTQ+ rights and gun control efforts. For example, he advocates at least trying to get a nationwide ballot on abortion rights and a nationwide ban on military guns.
Gutierrez indicated he would avoid supporting policies that harm the oil and gas industry, which is a critical source of jobs and tax revenue in his Senate district and across the state.
“I live in South Texas where young men and women work in these oil fields and make $80,000 to $90,000 a year,” Gutierrez said. “We will support those jobs and their ability to go out and have a family. But we will definitely support wind, solar and other alternative energy sources so that we can create more jobs.”
“If you look at climate change and want to blame one particular region, I think China and India are far more responsible for changing our climate than any other state in this United States,” he added. “As world leaders, we need to sit down at the diplomatic table” and work something out with these nations.
“Which party manages to win over the Latinos in the future will have a huge advantage, but we’re not there yet.”
– Mark Jones, political scientist, Rice University
More critically, however, Gutierrez and Allred, who is black, represent different demographic branches of the Texas Democratic Party coalition.
Allred, who has a track record of success in the Dallas suburbs, represents the burgeoning suburban segment of the party that moved away from the GOP under former President Donald Trump. And black voters, who make up a sizable portion of the Texas primary, are expected to favor him.
Gutierrez, meanwhile, represents a predominantly Latino constituency in south Texas that has drifted away from the Democratic Party in recent election cycles.
Gutierrez, who speaks fluent Spanish, could win over Democratic voters for his candidacy to increase their support among Latino voters.
“The Latino electorate is the future of Texas in the sense that the Anglo electorate is slowly declining, the African American electorate is fairly stable, and the Latino electorate is growing,” said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University in Houston. “Which party manages to win over the Latinos in the future will have a huge advantage, but we’re not there yet.”
Sri Preston Kulkarni, a Democrat who ran for Congress twice in the Houston suburbs, is neutral in the race but hopes for a hard-fought Senate Democratic primary.
“Increasing turnout in the primary will certainly be better for Democrats overall in November,” said Kulkarni, who now runs Austin-based Democratic organizing firm Relational Futures.
HuffPost asked Kulkarni if Gutierrez would be a good candidate to challenge US Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) in the event of a loss.
Kulkarni stressed that he fundamentally respects Gutierrez’s candidacy for the Senate.
Failing that, Kulkarni added, “Roland would certainly make a great congressman.” He was a strong legislator.”