After fighting for Uvalde residents, Roland Gutierrez struggles to break through crowded field to challenge Ted Cruz

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, holds a press conference to go over legislation on gun safety laws at the Texas Capitol on Feb. 14, 2023. (Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune, Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune)

Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

Recommended Videos

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, raised about $630,000 in the first months of his U.S. Senate campaign, according to a campaign finance report covering July through September.

He’s one of eight Democrats running for his party’s nomination to take on U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2024, along with U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, a three-term congressman from Dallas who brought in $4.7 million in the same span.

Gutierrez reported having about $380,000 on hand as of Sept. 30, while Allred had $7.9 million.

Filing for the March 5 primary opens Nov. 11 and closes Dec. 11.

Cruz reported raising about $3.1 million from July through September and maintained roughly $5.8 million on hand for his reelection race as of Sept. 30.

“It will be a tough fight in general to go up against mountains of money, but we’re proud to have broad support from Texans investing their hard-earned dollars in our campaign to beat Ted Cruz,” Gutierrez’s campaign said in a statement. “Roland has flipped a Republican district while being out-spent before — he is not afraid of a tough fight.”

Cruz’s campaign says that his actual fundraising is higher when you combine his reelection campaign account with his Jobs, Freedom & Security PAC and two other joint fundraising committees. Among those four groups, he raised $5.4 million between July 1 and Sept. 30 and had $6.7 million on hand, according to his campaign.

While Allred’s congressional district includes some of the wealthiest zip codes in the state, Gutierrez represents a state Senate district that encompasses some of its most economically disadvantaged parts.

Gutierrez’s allies characterize his campaign message as “more agitational than aspirational” as he seeks to highlight how the state’s Republican leadership has left rural Texas behind.

From his perspective in the state Senate, Gutierrez has blasted GOP leaders for prioritizing issues like border security and private school vouchers over access to health care and public school funding. Those decisions combined with Texas’ lax gun laws, Gutierrez says, created an environment that led to the massacre at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary.

Uvalde is in Gutierrez’s district, and he’s dedicated significant energy to hunting down answers about what happened that day, as well as probing law enforcement’s response.

“I made a decision to run for the United States Senate because I was a little angry, and I’m still a little angry,” Gutierrez told a gathering of the Bexar County Young Democrats at the Friendly Spot in August. “It might not be the right reason to run for something, but it’s why I’m running.”

While the audience seemed to appreciate that sentiment, plenty of Democrats who like Gutierrez still question why he would enter a race against Allred, even before the most recent fundraising reports. Gutierrez launched his campaign on July 10, after Allred had already started campaigning and raising big money.

One audience member at the Friendly Spot asked Gutierrez what his supporters should say when they’re out door-knocking and encounter people who are already supporting Allred.

“A lot of the attention right now is on your opponent,” the woman said. “If [we’re] trying to flip them, what can they say?”

Gutierrez replied that a competitive primary is good for Democrats, to sharpen the candidates and raise awareness about their priorities. He advised the woman that he’s the “more progressive candidate” in the race, but added that he had no plans to attack Allred, a former NFL player and Baylor football standout who ousted a Republican incumbent to win his seat in 2018.

“He’s a nice fella. He’s spent a lot of money, a lot more money than we did. … I know he’s getting more media than I am, and we do our fair share,” Gutierrez said of Allred. “… But I’m not going to start a fight with him.”

In a statement Monday, Gutierrez’s campaign took a veiled swing at both Cruz and Allred, noting “D.C. politicians spend all their time in places other than Texas.”

“Senator Gutierrez has been working hard, traveling all corners of the state to connect with voters about the real issues that affect Texans today,” his campaign said. “All the while, broken Republican politics have kept Roland in the Capitol for three special legislative sessions and Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial.”

While Gutierrez’s approach is far different from the high-energy events Democrat Beto O’Rourke held in his 2018 Senate race, and again in his 2022 governor’s race, Nicolette Ardiente, president of the Bexar County Young Democrats, said Gutierrez’s style works in San Antonio.

“I think he comes across in a way that our community actually really resonates with,” Ardiente said. “It was authentic.”

Ardiente said the Bexar County Young Democrats plan to host a town hall for Allred in the coming weeks, as well as events with two other Democratic Senate candidates.