Clash of styles as Colin Allred prepares to challenge Ted Cruz in 2024 race

U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, arrives at a subcommittee hearing at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Feb. 9. (Graeme Sloan/Sipa Usa Via Reuters, Graeme Sloan/Sipa Usa Via Reuters)

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Colin Allred is gearing up to challenge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2024 election, and the Democrat’s measured approach poses a sharp contrast to Cruz’s bellicose style.

Allred doesn’t shout during committee hearings or deride those he disagrees with — both signature Cruz moves. He hasn’t made headlines for epic political showdowns, nor has he positioned himself as a leader of an ideological movement.

Colleagues instead describe Allred as level-headed, eager to work across the aisle and accessible to constituents in his Dallas-based district.

“Knowing how to work with everyone, knowing how to listen to people, how to engage, how to come up with solutions, and really, how to bring people together — that’s what leadership is,” said U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, a Houston Democrat whose friendship with Allred grew after both flipped Republican-held seats in 2018. “And frankly, that’s the leadership we need in our state right now.”

Allred’s path to Congress wasn’t typical but has deep roots in his district.

A Dallas native, Allred was born to a single mother who taught in Dallas public schools. The Hillcrest High School football star played for Baylor University on a scholarship before deferring law school for four seasons as an NFL linebacker for the Tennessee Titans beginning in 2007.

After attending law school at the University of California, Berkeley, Allred became a civil rights lawyer and served in the Office of General Counsel for the Department of Housing and Urban Development under then-Secretary Julián Castro, another Texas Democrat.

Allred’s history has been integral to his campaigns and his time in office. He was the first member of Congress to take paternity leave from office and is part of a bipartisan group working to advance paid parental leave legislation.

“I never knew my father, so I made a promise to myself a long time ago that when I became a dad, I would do it right,” Allred said in his campaign announcement video.

Allred was elected to the U.S. House as part of a Democratic wave in the midterm elections during Donald Trump’s presidency, defeating Republican Rep. Pete Sessions by 6.5 points. Sessions was a formidable opponent, an 11-term incumbent and chair of the powerful House Rules Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Allred approached the election as a moderate who focused on kitchen-table issues such as health care access. Sessions returned to Congress representing a new district in 2020, and the two have since served together.

Since joining Congress, Allred has worked across the aisle to bring federal funds to local projects, including with Rep. Jake Ellzey, R-Waxahachie, on creating a medical center for veterans in Garland and on acquiring almost $300 million for a Veterans Affairs health facility in Dallas. He collaborated with other North Texas representatives to ensure that Dallas-area projects received federal money in the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure package, including upgrades at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Allred made a mark as an affable colleague shortly after arriving in Congress, according to others who were first elected in 2018. He was selected co-class president in his freshman term, and in his second term was elected to represent early-term candidates to Democratic leadership. House Minority Whip Katherine Clark named him as one of her 10 deputies in December.

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, also joined Congress after the 2018 election and said Allred was someone who could “turn down the temperature” in sometimes volatile internal discussions on gun safety legislation and trade agreements with Canada and Mexico.

“Colin was always a voice of reason, a voice of commonsense solutions, but also someone whose input was always very strategic and thoughtful,” Escobar said. “The Democratic Caucus is definitely a big tent, and we have very diverse views.”

Allred is little known outside of Dallas or the halls of Congress. He rarely deviates from party leadership on votes and hasn’t been fully tested in the rougher aspects of the job.

His committee assignments have been largely policy-focused and bipartisan, though that could change now that he serves on the House subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government — a Republican-created panel formed to investigate the Biden administration and its policies. Allred said he wants to keep discussions grounded in reality on the subcommittee, which other Democrats have dismissed as a partisan farce.

“The House Republicans ran, and won their narrow majority on lowering costs and reining in inflation – something I am more than happy to work with them on,” Allred said in a statement shortly after the panel was formed. “Yet one of their first acts in power is to set up a committee to investigate civil servants across the federal government they disagree with.”

Allred’s methods sharply contrast with the rabble-rousing fire that Cruz brings to his Senate job.

Cruz bitingly told The Dallas Morning News that Allred was “a Democrat congressman from Dallas who’s done very little. I’ve had no occasion to interact with him because he’s not been involved in many significant issues in his limited time here.”

Cruz will be a behemoth to conquer, a mainstay on the conservative stage whose influence has grown since he joined the Senate in 2013.

Cruz has a handsome campaign war chest starting with well over $3 million available and a deep presence in the right-wing media ecosystem with his thrice-weekly podcast. Democrats may revile him, but Cruz remains one of the most popular elected officials among Republicans in Texas.

After Allred announced his campaign against Cruz, Republicans immediately singled out his loyal voting record to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, casting him as a far leftist.

“Allred wants men to compete in women’s sports, isn’t serious about addressing the crisis at the border, wants to take away law-abiding Texans’ guns, and is soft on punishing murderers,” Cruz spokesperson Nate Maddux said. “Bottom line, Allred is too extreme for Texas.”

But Allred has a history of pushing back at times on his party’s left flank. While negotiating the climate and clean energy provisions of Democrats’ cornerstone Inflation Reduction Act last year, Allred brought in his perspective representing oil and gas interests to push back on progressive talking points on fossil fuels. He voted with all Republicans and just over half of his party in favor of a resolution “denouncing the horrors of socialism.”

U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, a fellow moderate Democrat from North Texas, said he valued Allred’s perspective.

“He’s been just someone that has been really good and gives a lot of really good insight on different pieces of legislation, particularly around the committees that he serves on … before they go to the negotiating table with the Republicans to be able to hammer some agreements,” Veasey said.

Veasey, who like Allred is Black, said some Republican representatives have approached him when they meant to speak to Allred. Though amusing, Veasey said it was a “good sign” that members from across the aisle so often look to talk to Allred.

In the 2018 election, Allred built a coalition of some unlikely bedfellows, gaining endorsements from the pro-business U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the powerful AFL-CIO union.

Byron Sanders, president and CEO of the Dallas-area youth organization Big Thought, has worked with Allred on youth issues and said Allred is accessible to community members, often forming committees of local leaders in a highly diverse district.

“He’s held and maintains respect across the board, whether you’re talking about law enforcement or community activists,” Sanders said. “It’s kind of hard to give both of those camps the impression that you’re willing to hear them out.”

Allred’s campaign also isn’t shying away from attacking Cruz. His social media has repeatedly highlighted Cruz gaffes, including his infamous trip to Cancun during the 2021 winter storm that left millions of Texans without power. He contrasted himself with Cruz on the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, when Cruz played a central role in objecting to certifying the 2020 election results.

“He’ll do anything to get onto Fox News but can’t be bothered to help keep rural Texas hospitals open,” Allred said in his campaign announcement video. “The struggles of regular Texans just don’t interest him.”

The Senate in 2024 looks difficult for Democrats, with nearly all of the Republican seats that are up for election in comfortably red states. Democrats will be straining to maintain their razor-thin majority, while Republicans will be itching to flip the chamber after failing to do so in 2022. But Allred is off to a solid start, raising more than $2 million in the 36 hours after announcing his run.

Allred also may have to run a primary campaign against state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, who is expected to announce his own run against Cruz after the regular legislative session ends May 29.

In Cruz’s last election, Democrat Beto O’Rourke lost by only 2.6 points, serving as a wakeup call for Texas Republicans.

John Cornyn, Texas’ senior Republican senator, said he heartily supports Cruz and that he doesn’t see much opportunity for a Democrat to win in the state. But he added that if 2018 taught anything, it was that Cruz shouldn’t rest on his laurels.

“We can’t take anything for granted,” Cornyn said. “It’s going to perhaps set a new record for spending. All of these state Senate races in individual states now are national races because they determine the balance of power here in the U.S. Senate and in Congress. So I think this is going to be a big shootout.”

Disclosure: Baylor University and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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