Guns become issue in key U.S. Senate race in Texas

Incumbent U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz this week picked up the endorsement of the National Rifle Association in his fierce race against his Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

Cruz, a Republican who has served as the junior senator from Texas since 2013, is fighting to stay in Washington and help ensure a thin GOP majority in the chamber. O’Rourke, a 45-year-old congressman who represents the El Paso area in Congress, has matched Cruz dollar-for-dollar in a campaign that has seen nearly $47 million thrown in the ring. A win by the O’Rourke, depending on the outcome of other races to be decided in November, could flip the Senate to the Dems.

In Cruz’s court is the NRA, a group he has long embraced, often speaking at the organization’s annual meetings. In their endorsement this week, the group’s lobbying arm pointed out that Cruz has voted against universal background checks while voting to confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch, seen by the NRA as a pro-Second Amendment justice, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Sen. Cruz is a champion of our Second Amendment freedoms and has always fought to protect the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans,” said Chris Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist.

With O’Rourke running on a platform that includes expanded background checks on gun sales, a ban on some semi-automatic firearms, federal research on gun violence and opposing national concealed carry reciprocity, he has the solid endorsement of groups such as Giffords, Everytown and the Brady Campaign. Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts in recent weeks has taken to twitter casting the latest O’Rourke news.

Buoyed by support from the likes of Willie Nelson and a report this week from Reuters that at least some Texas gun owners are warming to the prospect of more gun control, O’Rourke himself has blended talk of healthcare, protecting immigration, and NAFTA in recent months while slamming Cruz for his association with the NRA.

In gauging the likelihood of Cruz being unseated, polling, in general, has skewed in favor of the Republican. The depth of a blue wave in the Lone Star State is further thrown into question by the result of this week’s runoffs that showcased a shocking upset when a Republican candidate– retired game warden Pete Flores– defeated former state and U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego for a spot in the state Senate that has been held by a Democrat since 1879.

Texas voters head to the polls on Nov. 6.

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