AUSTIN -- Ted Cruz's stunning runoff victory may have made him the Tea Party's newest superstar, but one man wants to remind people there's still one election to go.
"He's not been elected to anything yet," Democratic opponent Paul Sadler said Thursday.
A Democrat hasn't won a statewide election in Texas since 1994, but one of the many lessons learned by pundits Tuesday is that conventional wisdom can be proven wrong. After a long and highly-publicized Republican primary, KENS 5 sister station KVUE sat down with Democratic Senate nominee Paul Sadler for his thoughts heading into the general election.
The former East Texas state representative is the last man who stands between Cruz and the U.S. Senate, and he knows he faces a difficult battle.
According to Federal Election Commission records, Cruz had raised a little more than $9 million by mid-July and closed the month with $1.45 million cash on hand. Considered a paltry sum compared to the money invested and raised by Republican primary opponent David Dewhurst, Cruz's sum dwarfs the $139,197 raised and $30,753 cash on hand reported by Sadler during the same period.
Suggesting that many of Cruz's donors who were active during the primary have ended their investment with Cruz's seat in the Senate seemingly secure, Sadler believes Cruz's Tea Party insurgency is already causing some more moderate Republicans to consider crossing over in the general election.
"We're raising money. Our money has started coming in very rapidly," Sadler said. "In fact, I started getting calls Tuesday afternoon -- a lot from Republicans wanting to donate to the campaign, get involved in the campaign."
With resistance to many of President Obama's policies deeply entrenched among many Republican voters, a Democrat winning a substantial number of Republican votes in Texas would certainly be a feat. Sadler argues that Texas voters can distinguish the office of senator from the office of president.
"I'm not running to be the United States Senator for President Obama, I'm running to be the United States Senator of Texas," Sadler explained. "I've always been a Texas person first. When I served in the legislature, I served in a bipartisan manner. I served with George Bush who was governor of our state. I served with a Republican-dominated Senate as well as a Democratic House."
One thing Sadler doesn't buy is Cruz's claim that Tuesday's win marked a Tea Party "revolution" in Texas. Pointing to the relatively small group of voters who cast runoff ballots (8.5 percent of registered voters, or about 1.4 million), Sadler believes a high turnout general election in November could paint a different picture.
"There is a lot of anger in the electorate, and it's not just the Tea Party," said Sadler, who has been quietly going from town to town, waging his own Democratic grassroots campaign just below the radar of big market media. After winning the Democratic nomination without major advertising, he promises to roll out a statewide media campaign for the general election.
When it comes to the reality of pulling off an upset in the one of the nation's most consistently red states, Sadler argues it isn't impossible. The East Texas native believes the numbers to pull off a Democratic win are achievable.
"I'm going to win the Hispanic vote because my policies are right. I'm going to win the African-American vote because my policies are right, and they've always supported me," said Sadler. "I won 14 out of 16 counties in East Texas, which is where I need to win. Even if I just do 45 percent, I win the United States Senate seat."
Sadler points to several issues when it comes to his opponent, including the fact the Ted Cruz was born in Canada and not a "native son" of Texas. He also takes issue with the amount of support Cruz received from out of state super PACs such as Club for Growth, national conservative radio hosts including Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity and Tea Party celebrities Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum.
"I don't want to owe anybody outside the State of Texas our Senate seat. I don't want to owe some group outside the State of Texas our Senate seat," said Sadler. "We'll all own this seat, and we won't owe it to Club for Growth or some other big super PAC; we'll answer to each other for it."
"I'm from here. I've seen the hurricanes on the coast. I've seen the wind storms and the dust storms in West Texas; I've lived through them. I've lived through the drought in Central Texas. I've seen the hot, humid days in the summer in East Texas," said Sadler. "I know this state, and that's what we need in the United States Senate. We don't need some Washington hand-picked lobbyist."
The ad campaigns launched by super PACs in the Republican primary are particularly bothersome to Sadler. The primary's most contentious ad paid for by pro-Dewhurst Texas Conservatives Fund featured mother Sandy Fonzo chastising Cruz for her son's suicide. Sadler called the ad, which has since been deleted from YouTube, "the absolute worst thing I've ever seen."
Sadler says after Tuesday's results, those behind the controversial ad called him, but he dismissed them as representing a political element not welcome as part of his campaign.
"I am not interested at all. That's not who I am. That's not who we are as a people in the state of Texas," said Sadler. At the same time, he isn't expecting a friendly fight. "They will come after me, they will tell whatever lies they want to tell if they think I have a chance of winning."
The next step for both will be a head-to-head debate, pitting firebrand Harvard debate champ Cruz against Baylor grad Sadler. So far no dates have been set, and Sadler seems anxious to get started.
"I've done it for years. Let's go," challenged Sadler. "Come on with me to East Texas. Let's go to El Paso, and you explain your border policies out in El Paso. This is a wide, diverse state. If he's man enough to do that, I'll win in November, I promise you."