One of the best political ads of 2018 was also one of the simplest. Directed by filmmaker Richard Linklater and commissioned by the Fire Ted Cruz PAC, the ad features a distinctly Texan man questioning the senator’s mettle. “Somebody left something on my door the other day. It said ‘Ted Cruz: Tough as Texas,'” the man says, coffee cup in hand. “If somebody called my wife a dog and said my daddy was in on the Kennedy assassination, I wouldn’t be kissing their ass. You stick a finger in their chest and give them a few choice words. Or you drag their ass out by the woodshed and kick their ass, Ted. Come on … Ted.”
On Monday, a second spot featuring the same man was released, this one attacking Cruz’s fast food preferences. “A triple-meat What-A-Burger liberal?” the man says. “What does that even mean, Ted? Everybody I know in Texas likes What-A-Burger.”
The ad then cuts to C-SPAN footage of Cruz praising the “little burgers” sold at White Castle, a burger chain “unfamiliar” to Texans, as the man points out. “I don’t even know what that is,” he says. “There’s not a White Castle within 900 miles of Texas, Ted. Maybe up in Canada, huh? But not in Texas.”
Though Cruz was raised in Houston, he was born in Canada, which, fairly or not, some feel tarnish his Texas bonafides. Cruz’s birthplace was a favorite topic of Trump’s during the 2016 presidential campaign. The president even claimed that if Cruz were to be elected, Democrats would sue him “on the basis that he’s not a naturalized citizen.” Trump described Cruz as coming “straight out of the hills of Canada.”
So popular was Linklater’s first anti-Cruz ad that Last Week Tonight With John Oliver filmed a bit with Sonny Carl Davis, the actor who plays the ad’s confused Texan, for Sunday night’s episode. Playing on the his elongated, contemptuous pronunciation of “Ted,” the show asked Davis to reel off some celebrity names in a similar cadence. Also: Lobster Fest.
Despite the Linklater-directed ads, most polls have Cruz leading Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) by a comfortable, although not insurmountable, margin. The lead is more a result of the state’s conservatism than a distaste for O’Rourke, whose campaign last week announced that it raised $38.1 million during the third quarter of this year, a record for a Senate campaign.