Live at 7 p.m. ET: The first Ted Cruz/Beto O’Rourke debate

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Nothing much at stake here, just a seat that might decide whether the GOP retains control of the Senate and (maybe, if the hearing goes badly for Kavanaugh) whether Trump will still be able to fill the Kennedy vacancy on the Supreme Court next year.

It’s happening on the very day that the Cook Political Report moved its forecast of the race from “lean Republican” to “toss-up,” an almost unimaginable state of affairs for a Senate election in Texas where the Democrat’s running as a true-blue unapologetic liberal. Most of the polling supports their assessment, though, as does the latest fundraising haul announced by O’Rourke. He brought in $9.1 million last month alone, according to a Democratic group. If he ends up losing this race, it won’t be because he ran out of cash.

Tonight is the first of three debates. This one is likely to be the most important, though, because for many Texans it’ll be their introduction to Betomania. A traditional strategy would call for him to move towards the center, to try to vacuum up voters who might lean right but are lukewarm about Cruz. I doubt that’s how he’ll play it. He’s been running to the left for the entire election; it’s what his fans love about him. He’s the progressive so committed to the cause that he won’t water down his message even in Texas, with every consultant in the world screaming at him to do so. I think the smart play for him under those circumstances, when his leftism is destined to shine true sooner or later, is to take it to Cruz as aggressively as possible. Voters might not agree with him on the issues but they’ll respect a pol with the courage of his convictions to go on offense. If nothing else, O’Rourke throwing roundhouses at the incumbent would show the audience that the stereotype that left-wingers are wimps doesn’t apply to him. If Cruz puts him on the defensive by hammering him over the NFL protests, guns, immigration, and so on, O’Rourke’s finished. Not only will he have succeeded in defining the challenger as a liberal weirdo, he’ll have showed on a big stage that Beto can be pushed around.

The debate’s airing in various places online and on TV. C-SPAN will be carrying it live, as will NBC Dallas and the Texas Tribune. I’ll post an embeddable feed below if I can find one.

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