Texas Elections 2018

WATCH: With New ‘Tough As Texas’ Slogan, Ted Cruz Launches Re-Election Bid Emphasizing Harvey Recovery

“Texans aren’t afraid,” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said Monday, April 2, 2018, in Beaumont. “Texans are strong. Texans are free… Texans are tough.”

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz at a campaign event for congressional candidate Chip Roy in New Braunfels on Saturday, Feb. 10. 2018.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, formally kickstarted his re-election campaign Monday, April 2, 2018, with a focus on Texas’ heroic response to Hurricane Harvey and his involvement in the recovery.

Cruz, who is defending his bid for a second term against U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, released a two-minute video Monday morning trumpeting the recovery, punctuated by a new campaign slogan: “Tough as Texas.” He kept up the theme a few hours later at a rally here, extolling the bravery of everyday Texans as they responded to the storm that battered the Gulf Coast last fall.

“The people of Beaumont didn’t sit here and just cry — what can we do, we’re hopeless, we’re helpless, there’s nothing that can be done — the people of Beaumont said there’s a job, let’s roll up our sleeves and let’s go do it,” said Cruz, who also singled out some audience members for their own post-Harvey initiative. “That’s part of what it means being a Texan. You know, Texans don’t wait. Texans aren’t afraid. Texans are strong. Texans are free … Texans are tough.”

The rally marked the beginning of a 12-city, three-day tour of Texas to kick off Cruz’s 2018 bid. The main attraction is an event Monday evening at the Redneck Country Club in Stafford, a favorite haunt of Cruz supporters in the Houston area.

Cruz is revving up his campaign almost a year to the day after O’Rourke launched his underdog effort to unseat the incumbent. O’Rourke has since proven to be a relentless campaigner and strong fundraiser, though Cruz largely ignored him until last month, when he began tearing into his challenger as too liberal for Texas.

Cruz did not mention O’Rourke in his remarks to a crowd of about 100 people gathered at an airport firehouse for the rally. But he spoke of a stark choice in November and alluded to what’s quickly become his favorite area of contrast with O’Rourke — gun rights — while discussing the recent call by former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens to repeal the Second Amendment.

“Now here’s a dirty little secret: There are an awful lot of Democrats in Washington who long in their heart for the repeal of the Second Amendment,” Cruz said. “They’re not necessarily as honest — they’re not necessarily as candid — as John Paul Stevens.”

Speaking with reporters afterward, Cruz said a “great question for enterprising reporters” to ask O’Rourke would be if he agrees with Stevens. On the campaign trail, O’Rourke has spoken warmly about the state’s long tradition of gun ownership but has also said steps can be taken to prevent senseless violence, such as instituting universal background checks and banning the AR-15 rifle. The latter proposal has particularly drawn the ire of Cruz, who reminded reporters Monday that his opponent has bragged about getting an “F” rating from the National Rifle Association — “an extreme position, even within Washington Democrats.”

O’Rourke’s campaign is not letting Cruz’s statewide swing go unanswered. It posted a Snapchat filter in Beaumont Monday, which allowed users of the app in the area to layer a cartoon of a frowning Cruz atop their posts. The filter also included a jab at Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign, which O’Rourke has said distracted Cruz from representing Texas for much of his first term.

“Ted Cruz visited 99 of Iowa’s 99 counties,” the filter said. “When’s the last time he listened to Texans in Beaumont?”

Cruz fired back on Twitter, contrasting the number of recent visits he has made to Beaumont with O’Rourke’s apparent tally. “Maybe that's why you lost Jefferson County in the Dem primary,” Cruz said to O’Rourke.