State Senator Roland Gutierrez Seeks to Unseat Ted Cruz, Widening Democratic Field

Roland Gutierrez, a Democratic state senator who has been an outspoken gun-control proponent since last year’s massacre in Uvalde, Texas, announced on Monday that he would seek Senator Ted Cruz’s seat next year.

Mr. Gutierrez, whose district stretches from San Antonio to the Rio Grande and includes Uvalde, is the second major Democratic politician to enter the race, most likely ensuring a high-profile primary contest among Texas Democrats. Representative Colin Allred, a second-term congressman from the Dallas area, declared his candidacy in May.

Both candidates have entered the race vowing to focus their attacks on Mr. Cruz rather than on any Democratic rivals.

Mr. Gutierrez gained a measure of national prominence as one of the most strident and uncompromising voices in the Texas Capitol pressing for gun control after the massacre that killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary in Uvalde last May. He is a familiar face on cable news, commenting not only on the killings in Uvalde and the delayed police response but also on other mass shootings.

“I’m a proud gun owner and believer in the Second Amendment, but after 19 children and two teachers died, the Republicans wouldn’t even allow us an opportunity to talk about ways to protect our kids,” Mr. Gutierrez says in a video published on Monday to announce his candidacy. “It’s why we have to do something now.”

The issue of gun violence, and the unwillingness of Texas Republicans in the state and at the federal level to regulate guns, is expected to be a centerpiece of Mr. Gutierrez’s campaign. Aides said that Mr. Gutierrez would not be afraid to show his passion on the issue, as he has done during news conferences and on television.

“There is a special place in hell for people who have this kind of problem staring them square in the face and have done nothing about it,” Mr. Gutierrez said in May, after a gunman killed eight people and wounded seven others at a mall north of Dallas.

Unlike Mr. Allred, who began his campaign in part by presenting himself as a bipartisan politician, Mr. Gutierrez is gambling that a much more combative and potentially polarizing approach will provide a path to unseating Mr. Cruz and winning statewide office in Texas. Democrats have not done so in decades.

As a state senator, Mr. Gutierrez pressed for a range of measures to add restrictions to gun purchases, including raising the age to buy AR-15-style rifles and expanding background checks, which polls have shown are broadly popular in Texas. None of the bills passed the Republican-dominated Legislature.

Beto O’Rourke, the former El Paso congressman, supported the same set of gun control policies during his unsuccessful campaign for governor last year. Mr. Gutierrez is betting that the message would resonate differently coming from someone with his personal biography, a gun-owning Hispanic representative from a largely rural district of South Texas. Mr. O’Rourke also challenged Mr. Cruz, in 2018, and narrowly lost.

Mr. Gutierrez’s aides said that the massacre in Uvalde would serve as the prime example of how low-income and working Texans were being mistreated by those in power like Mr. Cruz.

Mr. Gutierrez begins with a fund-raising disadvantage. Mr. Allred’s campaign said that it had raised $6.2 million in the two months since announcing his campaign. Mr. Gutierrez, by contrast, was prevented by Texas law from raising money until mid-June, after the end of the state’s legislative session.

But aides to Mr. Gutierrez said that they did not anticipate that fund-raising would be a problem, especially in a general election, because Democrats have traditionally been willing and eager to spend money to try to defeat Mr. Cruz.

J. David Goodman is the Houston bureau chief, covering Texas. He has written about government, criminal justice and the role of money in politics for The Times since 2012. More about J. David Goodman

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