Following Uvalde shooting, Democrat Roland Gutierrez becomes Ted Cruz's latest challenger

FILE - Democratic Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez speaks during a news conference at a town square in Uvalde, Texas, Thursday, June 2, 2022. Gutierrez, who has pushed for police accountability and tougher gun laws after the Uvalde school shooting, announced Monday, July 10, 2023, he will run for U.S. Senate in 2024. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File) (Jae C. Hong, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

AUSTIN, Texas – Democratic Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who has pushed for police accountability and tougher gun laws after the Uvalde school shooting, announced Monday he will run for U.S. Senate in 2024.

He becomes the second Texas Democrat to embark on what will be a longshot bid to deny Republican Sen. Ted Cruz a third term representing the nation's biggest red state. In a three-minute video, Gutierrez launched his campaign focusing on resources for rural Texas and telling his immigrant story while making his way through Uvalde. He showed the faces of parents of children killed in the May 24 school massacre who have supported his legislative efforts for accountability following the shooting.

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“Out of one of the darkest days, the people of Uvalde became more than constituents, they became family,” Gutierrez said in his announcement.

In May, Rep. Colin Allred became the first to enter the race. He says his campaign has since raised more than $6 million. It sets up a rare competitive Democratic primary for a major race in Texas, where decades of Republican dominance has often discouraged bigger-name Democrats from running statewide.

Gutierrez was little known beyond his South Texas district, which includes Uvalde, before a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School. He spent the next year making impassioned pleas for tougher gun laws and firings over police waiting more than an hour to confront the gunman.

“Texans will now get to watch Colin Allred and Roland Gutierrez slug it out for who can be the most radical leftist in the state," said Nick Maddux, Cruz's spokesperson, in a statement Monday.

No Democrat has won statewide office in Texas in nearly 30 years. Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke nearly beat Cruz in 2018 — in what was a strong year for Democrats nationally — but was soundly defeated by double-digits last year in a challenge against Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

Gutierrez joined Allred in accusing Cruz of abandoning Texas by going on vacation with his family during a deadly winter storm in 2021, calling the move “indefensible.” Both are likely to call attention to Cruz voting to reject the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory over former President Donald Trump in 2020.

Joshua Blank, research director at the Texas Politics Project at The University of Texas, said that two strong candidates so early in the 2024 election cycle shows confidence from the Democratic party that this could be a vulnerable year for top ticket GOP candidates in Texas.

Meanwhile, he said Gutierrez's previous single-issue approach to gun control in a Second Amendment-supporting state could favor Allred's campaign, while also turning attention to the Democratic party in the race for the U.S. Senate.

“All incumbents are stronger than non-incumbents, but Cruz is not a particularly strong incumbent on his own,” Blank said.

However, according to Blank, GOP voters are more consistent and turnout from independent voters will be a determinant for both parties. He said national conditions are likely to have a more central role in Texas politics than they have in the last two decades given Cruz’s support for Trump, a Republican presidential candidate.

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