The Cruz vs. O'Rourke Senate Race Explored in Run Like the Devil
Meet the men behind the campaigns
Most election documentaries are an autopsy, retold with the results. Not so for Steve Mims' Run Like the Devil, a study of the ongoing fight between sitting Republican Senator Ted Cruz and his Democratic challenger Beto O'Rourke. Coming out two months before election day, it's Mims' take on the runners, not the race. The UT lecturer and documentarian behind Starving the Beast explained, "I wanted this to come out before the election, because I wanted people to have a real idea about what each candidate is about."
For Mims, the starting pistol for Run Like the Devil was fired in 2012, when the freshly nominated Cruz steamrolled his then-Democratic challenger Paul Sadler in the November election. It was the typical story of a hardscrabble Dem who never stood a chance in GOP-dominated Texas – or rather, that's what was sold to voters. What Mims saw was something different: That Sadler's defeat was a self-fulfilling prophecy. "He raised $700,000, he spent $500,000, but Cruz spent $14 million. For all the talk about Texas is a red state, hell yes, if one guy has $14 million to dump into the race. If Sadler had $14 million, he might have lost, but not by the same margin."
There were multiple reasons for that lop-sided result (not least, as one of the talking heads in his documentary points out, the national Democrats' habit of treating Texas like a piggy bank, not a battleground), but Mims decided he would tackle the only one within his reach: the lack of meaningful reporting on the candidates. After seeing the scant press coverage of the Sadler campaign, he said, "I wanted to make a film that came out before the election, that maybe did the job that did not get done in the last election, and that's to lay out, in as nonpartisan a way as possible, what was happening."
It's not just the film that began in that last election cycle, but for Mims that's where the roots of this current fight lay. In 2012, Cruz was on what seemed like a Hail Mary campaign to derail Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's quest to replace retiring Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. Meanwhile in El Paso, Council Member O'Rourke mounted a fool's errand to unseat popular Democratic incumbent Rep. Silvestre Reyes in the primary. Dewhurst's insistence on pushing through a highly controversial gerrymandering meant that the primaries were pushed back from March to May. Those extra weeks gave both Cruz and O'Rourke more time to campaign, and more time to push their ultimately successful messages as the underdog reformer.
That's just the beginning of the similarities that Mims saw in the two. "They're virtually the same age, they're both Ivy League educated, they both had fathers who really shaped them. The same state, the same influences, but if you were writing a fictional story about a Senate election, you could not come out with two characters more diametrically opposite."
Mims never takes sides in the narrative (as he explained, "It can't be a propaganda film. There's no value in that.") but in part that's because he wants people to appreciate the massive importance of this race, not just for Texas, but for the U.S. "It really is pivotal," Mims said. "This is like Al Gore losing to George Bush. Depending on who wins and who loses, it could shape everything."
The Run Like the Devil world premiere is Sept. 6-7 at AFS Cinema with Steve Mims in attendance. Tickets at www.austinfilm.org.