Roland Gutierrez, a Democratic state senator who has been an outspoken proponent of gun control since last year’s massacre in Uvalde, Texas, announced Monday that he will seek Sen. Ted Cruz’s seat next year.
Mr. Gutierrez, whose district stretches from San Antonio to the Rio Grande and includes Uvalde, is the second major Democratic politician to enter the race, most likely ensuring a high-profile primary contest among Texas Democrats. Representative Colin Allred, a second-term congressman from the Dallas area, declared his candidacy in May.
Both candidates entered the race vowing to focus their attacks on Mr. Cruz rather than on any Democratic rivals.
Mr. Gutierrez gained some national prominence as one of the most strident and uncompromising voices in the Texas Capitol pushing for gun control after the massacre that killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary in Uvalde last May. He is a familiar face on cable news, commenting not only on the killings in Uvalde and the delayed police response but also on other mass shootings.
“I’m a proud gun owner and a believer in the Second Amendment, but after the deaths of 19 children and two teachers, the Republicans wouldn’t even allow us an opportunity to talk about ways to protect our children,” Mr Gutierrez says in a video released on Monday to announce his candidacy. “That’s why we have to do something now.”
The issue of gun violence, and the reluctance of Texas Republicans at the state and federal level to regulate guns, is expected to be a centerpiece of Mr. Gutierrez’s campaign. Aides said Mr. Gutierrez would not be afraid to show his passion for the cause, as he has done during press conferences and on television.
“There’s a special place in hell for people who have this kind of problem staring them in the face and haven’t done anything about it,” Mr. Gutierrez. said in Mayafter a gunman killed eight people and wounded seven others at a mall north of Dallas.
Unlike Mr. Allred, who began his campaign in part by presenting himself as a bipartisan politician, Mr. Gutierrez is betting that a much more combative and potentially polarizing approach will provide a path to unseat Mr. Cruz and win statewide office in Texas. Democrats haven’t done that in decades.
As a state senator, Mr. Gutierrez pushed various measures to add restrictions on gun purchases, including raising the age to buy AR-15-style rifles and expanding background checks, which polls have shown are widely popular in Texas. None of the bills passed the Republican-dominated legislature.
Beto O’Rourke, the former congressman from El Paso, supported the same set of gun control policies during his unsuccessful campaign for governor last year. Mr. Gutierrez is betting that the message would resonate differently coming from someone with his personal background, a gun-owning Hispanic representative from a largely rural South Texas district. Mr. O’Rourke also challenged Mr. Cruz, in 2018, and narrowly lost.
Mr. Gutierrez’s aides said the massacre in Uvalde will serve as the prime example of how poor and working Texans are mistreated by those in power like Mr. Cruz.
Mr. Gutierrez is starting with a fundraising disadvantage. Mr. Allred’s campaign said it had raised $6.2 million in the two months since announcing his campaign. Mr. Gutierrez, by contrast, was prevented by Texas law from raising money until mid-June, after the end of the state legislative session.
But aides to Mr. Gutierrez said they did not foresee fundraising being a problem, especially in general elections, because Democrats have traditionally been willing and eager to spend money to try to defeat Mr. Cruz.