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Outraised and outhustled, is Sen. Ted Cruz losing his mojo?

Ted Cruz slayed the Texas Republican establishment in 2012 with his Senate win, took Washington by storm as its leading conservative flamethrower and finished second only to Donald Trump for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.

His success was built on a frenetic campaign and tireless travel schedule, raking in small-donor dollars as he hit every sparsely-attended tea party gathering, church forum and Republican women's luncheon he could.

Now seeking a second Senate term, Cruz has been outraised by his Democratic opponent, one-time punk rocker and El Paso Congressman Beto O'Rourke, who also has visited more of Texas lately. Compounding questions about whether Cruz's Texas campaign mojo is slipping is the candidate's own refusal to rule out another White House run post-Trump.

"My focus is on representing 28 million Texans," Cruz, who is only 47 and has time for another presidential bid, said on a recent conference call with reporters. But he continued: "In the presidential race we saw enormous support, in Texas, where we won the state solidly, and we saw enormous support nationwide, winning 12 states across the country and unifying a great many conservatives."

O'Rourke sees it as a sign of Cruz' complacency and is trying to take advantage. Whenever Congress isn't in session O'Rourke packs his days in Texas with events, driving himself between stops. He has vowed to visit all 254 Texas counties and often notes that Cruz brags about hitting each of the 99 Iowa counties on his way to winning that state's caucuses in 2016 — but hasn't done the same back home.

"The best reliable laugh line is to ask when Ted Cruz last held a town hall in their area," O'Rourke said of his extensive crisscrossing of Texas.

Being potentially out-hustled by a high-energy candidate who is now campaigning a bit like Cruz once did may not be enough to flip a Senate seat in deep red Texas, though. Cruz remains the prohibitive favorite, although his profile has been lower since the failed presidential run.

"My view is Senator Cruz came back to Texas, did a lot of hard work meeting with local officials, chambers of commerce, grassroots Republicans and really successfully became ingrained back into the Texas policy and political environment," said Ray Sullivan, who was chief of staff for former Texas Gov. Rick Perry before becoming spokesman of his unsuccessful 2012 presidential campaign.

Sullivan noted that while winning re-election as Texas governor in 1998, George W. Bush answered similar questions about a then-expected 2000 presidential run and "addressed it straight up and said essentially the same thing Cruz did. 'I don't have any plans right now, but I'm not going to take that bait.'"

"I think Texans almost expect their elected officials to be in the national political conservation," Sullivan said.

Cruz frequently visited his native Houston after the devastation of Hurricane Harvey and his campaigning since has often consisted of attending formal Republican county dinners or convening roundtables with business owners. He said he's organized town halls "in virtually every community in the state of Texas" since being elected but he now focuses on policy and defending the president — a departure from the fiery days of 2012 or 2016.

"He was an unknown, and he is well-known now," said JoAnn Fleming, a Texas activist who headed tea party organizing for Cruz's presidential campaign.

Cruz insists he's not taken his eye off the re-election ball, saying, "We're taking nothing for granted." He recalled how nearly every top Texas Republican opposed him in 2012 but he still upset better-known and better-funded Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the Republican primary for Senate.

But O'Rourke raised $2.4 million to Cruz's 1.9 million in 2017's final months, the second time the challenger has topped outraised him in a quarter.

That's a far cry from 2012, when Cruz raised $8 million while being backed by national small-government groups. As a presidential candidate, Cruz was the first one in the race and kept up an exhausting campaign schedule for more than a year. His campaign committee raised nearly $90 million and outside groups took in almost $54 million more. About 40 percent came from small, individual donors.

After months of largely ignoring his opponent, Cruz went on the attack once he had won the primary Tuesday, releasing a country jingle poking fun at O'Rourke's nickname of Beto — calling him "liberal Robert" — and painting his opponent as anti-gun and pro-big government.

O'Rourke countered that Texans "want a full time senator" not a past and future presidential candidate.

But Cathie Adams, former Texas Republican Party chairwoman and early Cruz supporter, said continuing to eye the White House is a good thing.

"We're encouraging him," Adams said. "After Trump, we're going to need a man like Ted Cruz to continue the excellence that has begun."

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  • Struggling to find consensus on immigration reform, the House on Thursday rejected a more conservative Republican immigration reform bill, and then in a bid to salvage the effort, GOP leaders delayed action on a second immigration reform measure until Friday. 41 House Republicans voted against the first GOP bill, which was defeated on a vote of 231-193, as the plan received more votes than most GOP lawmakers had expected. The Republicans who voted against the first GOP bill were a mixture of the Republican Party’s different flanks, featuring more conservative lawmakers who wanted to do more, and moderates who felt it went too far. “This is a difficult issue,” said Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), who voted for this bill, but wouldn’t tell reporters whether he would support a second measure on Friday. “Any jot or tittle one way or the other, you lose people because of the complexities, because of the sensitivities, and the emotions in this particular piece of legislation,” Meadows said. Here is the list of the 41 Republicans who voted “No.” One of the reasons more moderate Republicans voted against the first bill was because of the lack of a path to citizenship for younger illegal immigrant “Dreamers,” who were brought to the U.S. by their parents. While that is in the bill to be voted on Friday, those provisions then could cause some other Republicans to vote against it, arguing it is nothing but amnesty. “I’m a big fat no, capital letters” said Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA), after the first vote. “It doesn’t do anything to stop illegal immigration,” Barletta added. BREAKING: House rejects conservative immigration bill with no citizenship pathway for Dreamer immigrants. — The Associated Press (@AP) June 21, 2018 In debate on the House floor, Democrats focused mainly on the more recent immigration battle over the separation of illegal immigrant families, blaming President Donald Trump for doing little to seek compromise. “On this issue, God is going to judge you as well,” said Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA) said to Republicans who were backing the President’s get-tough effort on the border.
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  • Under growing pressure from lawmakers in both parties, President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order that would allow illegal immigrant families detained by U.S. border authorities to remain together in many situations, ending an outcry over forced separations which took young children from their parents. “I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated,” the President told reporters in the Oval Office, as he signed the new plan, which was drawn up as more and more Republicans publicly said Mr. Trump’s border crackdown had become a PR nightmare. “The border is just as tough, but we do want to keep families together,” the President told reporters, as he repeatedly emphasized that an early May “zero tolerance” prosecution policy for those caught crossing the border illegally would continue. It was that Trump Administration change which resulted in families being separated in recent weeks, spurring multiple news stories about young children, taken hundreds of miles away from their parents. President Trump signs an executive order to stop the family separation policy at the US-Mexico border: “We are going to keep the families together. I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated” https://t.co/LPwcGScxq4 https://t.co/0Eq4JsKT5Z — CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) June 20, 2018 The signing represented a rare retreat for the President on any controversial policy during his administration; in recent days, top officials had repeatedly said there was no requirement that families be separated, but under current federal law, that option was triggered when parents of the kids were prosecuted, under the ‘zero tolerance’ plan. “We have to have strong borders, and ultimately it will be done right,” the President declared. Mr. Trump had tried in recent days to place the blame on Democrats in Congress, saying his hands were tied on the matter of family separations, as top officials said the law left them no leeway for change. “What about executive action?” the President was asked during an impromptu press conference with reporters on the White House driveway last Friday. “You can’t do it through an executive order,” Mr. Trump replied. But that’s what he ultimately did. Trump just signed an executive order to end the policy of separating families at the southern U.S. border. “We’re going to have a lot of happy people” #tictocnews pic.twitter.com/snSEiINKyw — TicToc by Bloomberg (@tictoc) June 20, 2018 The President’s move came amid a growing firestorm of criticism in Congress from members of both parties in the Congress, stirred by stories of young children taken away from their parents. “This must stop NOW,” tweeted Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), as he noted a story from his home state, where an 8-month old baby had been brought, after being taken from her parents. This must stop NOW. Only one person has the power to do so while Congress works through legislation: @POTUS @realDonaldTrump. https://t.co/1FWCuJMB1f — Justin Amash (@justinamash) June 20, 2018 “He can sign an executive order today,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who was blocked on Tuesday from visiting a group of detained children at a federal facility in Homestead, Florida. “This shameful chapter in American history lies with the President and his pen,” Nelson said, arguing the President started these separations, and should halt them. “We must stop the madness, and stop it now,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). “America is weakened in the eyes of the world,” added Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA). “This is a policy straight from the pit of hell,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA). There's nothing in the law that requires children be taken from their parents. There's nothing in the law that requires them to rip an infant from a parent's arms. The decision to enact this shameful policy was a decision made by this administration and this administration alone. pic.twitter.com/8RKeBz9E6g — Senator Bill Nelson (@SenBillNelson) June 20, 2018 GOP leaders also made clear they wanted the Trump Administration to change course. “As I said last week, we do not want children taken away from their parents,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, as he urged GOP lawmakers to unite behind a pair of immigration bills which are expected to be voted on Thursday. But while the Speaker and other Republicans said provisions in those bills would fix the family separation matter – those plans would not advance through the Senate – making it unlikely that Congress could anything done on the family separation matter. That left the President with just one option – an administrative reversal on something that he had fiercely stood behind the effort. President Trump: 'We're looking to keep families together. It's very important. We're going to be signing an executive order.' Full video here: https://t.co/WcckQSGazb pic.twitter.com/Z9aPBmazg2 — CSPAN (@cspan) June 20, 2018 The change on illegal immigrant families came in early May, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy dealing with those illegally coming over the southern border. “Today we are here to send a message to the world: we are not going to let this country be overwhelmed,” Sessions said in that May 7 speech.