Perhaps there is no surer sign of the impending apocalypse than Texas Democrats voting for Ted Cruz. And yet, consider energy expert Marty McVey. The fifty-year-old bespectacled Houstonian, who sports slicked-back brown hair, has voted in all but one Democratic primary. But in the fall of 2022, he listened to Cruz speak to a few dozen energy-industry insiders at a conference in Washington, D.C., about the importance of the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. “He should be talking about this more,” McVey recalled thinking. “I was surprised. I just couldn’t find something I disagreed with him on—at least as it related to energy policy.” Afterwards, McVey shook Cruz’s hand and thanked him. He remembers Cruz taking a moment to chat with him.

McVey ran into Cruz again at an event in Houston, last October, meant to showcase the city’s solidarity with Israel at the start of war in Gaza. McVey told me that he’s convinced that Cruz didn’t recognize or remember him when they shook hands again there. But he clearly made an impression: McVey now features prominently in a video for the junior senator’s newly announced Democrats for Cruz Coalition, a Hail Mary effort launched by Cruz’s campaign in early March, in hopes of winning over more voters who typically cast ballots for Democrats. McVey still plans to vote for President Joe Biden and Democratic congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher, of Houston. But he won’t be voting blue in the Senate race—one that national Democrats are targeting in hopes of maintaining their narrow 51–49 majority in the chamber. “While I haven’t voted for Cruz in the past, now is different,” McVey said. “In this race, in 2024, I came to the decision that Cruz is the stronger candidate who aligns with the things that I think are important.” 

McVey is one of almost a dozen Democrats featured in Cruz’s initial video announcing the coalition. It’s hardly a large constituency, yet it’s an intriguing one. How did one of the nation’s most disliked senators—who is not terribly popular even with members of his party—manage to get a handful of Democrats to publicly endorse him? Is it likely that more will peel away from Cruz’s opponent, Dallas congressman Colin Allred?

The senator admitted to Texas Monthly that most of the folks in the coalition so far are ones he’s known since before the campaign heated up, but he thinks that he has a message that will resonate far beyond his circle of friends and acquaintances. “We need to find common ground and talk about policy from the position of its merits,” Cruz said. “So much of politics right now is nasty, it’s personal. People are dragging each other in the gutter. People are insulting each other. I’ve tried to refrain from that and keep my focus on policy and substance. I want to have real conversations, and I think that’s what Texans are looking for.” 

The Cruz most Democrats know is a blackout-fleeing, Big Bird–hating, culture-war crusader and troll, who is apt to attack those who disagree with him, using tactics that are light on policy and substance. But the Democrats who support Cruz told me they see a version of the senator that few in the news media present. “The Ted Cruz I know is someone who’s willing to reach across the aisle,” said Javier Palomarez, a Dallas-based Democrat and the president and CEO of the United States Hispanic Business Council. Despite Cruz’s ranking by independent monitors as one of the most partisan Senate Republicans by independent monitors, Palomarez said he was impressed by how the senator worked in tandem with Arizona senator Mark Kelly, a Democrat, on parts of the National Defense Authorization Act last year. “I’ve always found him willing to sit and listen to me despite the headlines we often hear about the way he is,” Palomarez said. He added that his support for Cruz wasn’t a knock against Allred, but rather an expression of faith in the incumbent. 

Other Democrats who support Cruz said they agreed with his positions on border security and the economy, and think that the Democratic Party is becoming “too liberal.” The border, in particular, is an issue Cruz is leveraging to appeal to swing voters. According to a February 2024 poll from the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, 24 percent of registered voters listed border security as the top issue facing the state; immigration, as a separate matter, ranked second, at 18 percent. While Allred has taken more conservative stances on border-related issues than most Democrats have, including by condemning Biden’s immigration policy, he has also attacked Republicans, including Cruz, for exploiting a crisis for political gain. 

Typically, few Republican candidates in Texas spend much time or money trying to court voters who have demonstrated a preference for Democratic candidates, said Steve Munisteri, the former chairman of the Texas GOP and the leader of one of its main voter-registration efforts. Munisteri advises that candidates’ first priority should be turning out the occasional voters in their party. Second, they should focus on courting independents who have voted for both Democrats and Republicans. Only then should they invest in peeling away disaffected voters from the other party. “That’s the hardest to do because you’re trying to get people who already identify with one party to switch their mind,” he said. For Cruz, those challenges might be particularly pronounced: according to February polling data from the Texas Politics Project, only 17 percent of Democratic respondents said they held a favorable view of the senator, compared with 70 percent who rated him unfavorably. 

Cruz’s sudden hankering for Democratic support comes as polls show him facing an increasingly tight race. Texas has not elected a Democrat to a statewide seat in three decades, and the bid for reelection is still the incumbent’s to lose. According to FiveThirtyEight, the Republican has a solid lead, but the most recent poll of the race, fielded in mid-to-late February, showed the men running neck and neck, with each winning the support of 41 percent of the state’s registered voters. And Democrats might have good reason to pour resources into Texas. The national Senate landscape looks perilous for the party, which is defending nearly two dozen seats—three of which are in states that twice voted for Donald Trump. Given Allred’s relative popularity and fundraising prowess, Texas is seen as one of Democrats’ more favorable pickup opportunities and could draw more deep-pocketed donors than usual. 

Trying to appeal to members of the opposite party when faced with a tight race is, of course, not a new campaign tactic. In 1976, when Texas was solidly blue, Ronald Reagan convinced hundreds of thousands of Texas Democrats to vote for him in the GOP primary, Munisteri said. Four years later, that paid off: Reagan flipped Texas red—and every subsequent GOP presidential candidate has won it. Democrat Beto O’Rourke campaigned in all of Texas’s 254 counties, hoping to win over voters of every political persuasion, when he ran against Cruz in 2018. According to Republican data guru Derek Ryan, that paid dividends. Roughly 400,000 Texans who voted for Governor Greg Abbott also cast a ballot for O’Rourke. Since that race, the number of voters splitting their ballot has decreased markedly. In 2020, 171,000 more Texans voted in the presidential race than in the Senate one, but Republican John Cornyn received nearly 73,000 more votes than Donald Trump, indicating some typical GOP voters voted for Biden or refused to cast a ballot in Trump’s favor. 

In the race for Senate, Cruz’s opponent is also trying to appeal across party lines. Throughout Allred’s campaign during the Democratic primary, in which he won 59 percent of the vote, he staked positions that many thought were too conservative for a Democrat running statewide: in addition to criticizing Biden on the border, he also opposed calls for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war. Indeed, in order to win statewide, Democrats need to earn the support of voters who identify as conservative on issues such as immigration, oil and gas, and policing. But Munisteri said Cruz’s efforts make more sense in light of Allred’s outreach—if your opponent is making a pitch to your voter base, he said, it’s smart to try and win over part of theirs. “If it’s a close election, efforts like this could make a difference,” he said.

If there are indeed few Democrats who might be convinced to vote for Cruz, the senator seems to be fishing for them to display as prize catches. Early this year, McVey talked with a friend who used to work for Cruz and expressed his plans to support the Republican. A week or so later, McVey was contacted by a Cruz staffer who asked whether he would like to talk more about his decision. He was surprised by the attention from Team Cruz, but welcomes it. “I want both parties to reach out to other people who are not necessarily aligned with them on all issues because at the end of the day we’re still Texans,” McVey said. “I think it’s better for candidates and officeholders if they’re getting those other opinions and letting people who are not one hundred percent aligned with them have a seat at the table.”