Will white evangelical women push Ted Cruz challenger Beto O'Rourke over the top? Not so fast

My baby sister, Christy, is a conservative Christian and a registered Republican in Texas. She never has voted for a Democrat (she insists her vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 general election actually was a vote against Hillary Clinton).

However, Christy, who is in her mid-40s, told me she’s torn on the high-profile U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Ted Cruz and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke.

“I can’t support Beto because he’s pro-choice, and I just think Cruz is a liar,” my sister said in a text message.

I thought about Christy this week as I read a New York Times story from Dallas on some white evangelical women — who have supported anti-abortion candidates in the past — putting their support behind O’Rourke:

DALLAS — After church on a recent Sunday, Emily Mooney smiled as she told her girlfriends about her public act of rebellion. She had slapped a “Beto for Senate’’ sticker on her S.U.V. and driven it to her family’s evangelical church. 

But then, across the parking lot, deep in conservative, Bible-belt Texas, she spotted a sign of support: the same exact sticker endorsing Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat who is challenging Senator Ted Cruz.

“I was like, who is it?” she exclaimed. “Who in this church is doing this?”

Listening to Ms. Mooney’s story, the four other evangelical moms standing around a kitchen island began to buzz with excitement. All of them go to similarly conservative churches in Dallas. All are longtime Republican voters, solely because they oppose abortion rights. Only one broke ranks to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. But this November, they have all decided to vote for Mr. O’Rourke, the Democratic upstart who is on the front line of trying to upend politics in deep-red Texas. 

In the Senate race, one of the most unexpectedly tight in the nation, any small shift among evangelical voters — long a stable base for Republicans — could be a significant loss for Mr. Cruz, who, like President Trump, has made white evangelicals the bulwark of his support.

If you’re unfamiliar with O’Rourke, he’s a rock star among the national Democratic Party and a favorite of national news media eager to explore whether his candidacy might turn Texas — long a red state — blue:

Less clear is whether O’Rourke actually has a chance to win:

As regular GetReligion readers know, I’m a fan of Elizabeth Dias, the Times Godbeat pro who wrote the O’Rourke piece.

As always, her report from Texas is nicely written and full of vivid details. If I’m honest, though, this story is not my favorite. The evidence for white evangelical women shifting toward O’Rourke seems more anecdotal than concrete. Plus, straight-party voting in the Lone Star State might give Cruz an edge that O’Rourke finds hard to overcome, as the Houston Chronicle has noted.

I don’t entirely agree with the person who tweeted this:

But the Times’ coverage of O’Rourke does come across as extremely friendly and one-sided. Cruz is presented as a villain who has lost the moral high ground. Meanwhile, no mention is made of a drunk driving crash in which O’Rourke was involved in his younger years. (Toward the end, the story finally does quote a white evangelical woman who supports Cruz.)

Finally, I should note that I have a few good friends in Texas who are both Christians and vocal O’Rourke supporters. If they feel obliged to explain to me why O’Rourke really might beat Cruz in Bible Belt Texas, I am fine with that. But I’ll believe it when, and if, it actually happens.

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