The former Texas solicitor general is thought to have a commanding lead against ex-Democratic state Rep. Paul Sadler. Cruz has largely ignored his opponent to concentrate on fundraising and mending fences with a Texas GOP establishment he spent months attacking during the fiercely contested Republican senatorial primary.
"It's almost like the actual election is an afterthought," said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston. "But to the extent to which it's not, Cruz doesn't want to do anything to raise Sadler's profile."
Six months ago, Cruz lambasted primary opponent and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst for using the same strategy against him.
How times have changed. Last week, Cruz held a Houston fundraiser with Dewhurst, and he was at a Dallas event more recently with the woman he's vying to replace, retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison -- who has been a staunch defender of federal spending for the state's military bases, the kind of protectionist politics tea party activists usually despise.
At an Austin fundraiser for Cruz on Thursday, Gov. Rick Perry was among the attendees, even though he appeared in past campaign ads for Dewhurst. Perry had angrily accused Cruz of putting the interests of out-of-state tea partiers -- including South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin -- ahead of Texans.
Making nice with those he once bashed is part of Cruz's transformation from insurgent to a would-be senator who has his home state behind him. Still, such willingness to court top Texas Republicans seemed unthinkable during the primary campaign, when Cruz was busy painting Dewhurst as a wish-washy moderate beholden to the party establishment.
Back then, though, Cruz was still the underdog against Dewhurst, who had overseen the powerful Texas Senate as lieutenant governor since 2003. After Cruz stunned Dewhurst in a runoff election in July, he embraced a less-combative role as prohibitive favorite. A poll released this week by nonpartisan Texas Lyceum showed Cruz leading Sadler 50 percent to 24 percent.
Jones said Cruz learned from Dewhurst not to increase the name recognition of a little-known opponent. "His best option is to ignore Sadler," he said.
Also, Cruz can likely use the extra cash. According to his most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission in July, his campaign held nearly $800,000 in debt compared to the $1.4 million cash-on-hand.
Cruz spokesman Sean Rushton said the campaign was working on an updated finance report due out soon, but that he couldn't comment on outstanding debt until then.
Sadler has tried to label his opponent as an extremist who scares all but hard-right voters. He says that Cruz calls for a wall stretching the length of Texas' roughly 1,200-mile border with Mexico and refuses to pledge his support for protecting Social Security and Medicare.
"Every single day -- and that's not an embellishment or exaggeration -- I have people come up to me and say, `I've been voting Republican but I'm voting for you. I cannot vote for that other guy,"' Sadler said.
But Cruz has refused to respond to his opponent's claims and has kept a low profile with the media of late. Rushton declined to comment on whether Cruz is ignoring Sadler.
The pair bickered bitterly during a televised debate on Tuesday, with Sadler saying Cruz's positions were crazy and even calling him a "troll." But a second debate takes place on Friday night, Oct. 19, when many Texans may be watching high school football.
Cruz admits to quashing a proposed third debate. When asked about that during Tuesday's debate, he insisted Sadler was just "working to get free media." It's a bit ironic since, during the primary, Cruz hammered Dewhurst for skipping more than 40 grassroots and community forums where the two could square off.
"He has become exactly what he criticized and what he ran against," Sadler said.
The second debate may be Sadler's last chance. He admits he's having trouble raising money -- his campaign reported having only about $31,000 cash-on-hand in July -- and advertising in the state's 20 media markets is extremely expensive. He also says he has not received any financial support from the national Democratic Party.
The Democrat Senate Campaign Committee did not return messages seeking comment, but Bill Brannon, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, said state officials understand that national operatives have to spend on tighter races.
"Are we, as Texans, disappointed? Yes we are. We feel that Paul is a highly competitive, very deserving candidate," Brannon said. "He's well qualified and, if he were on a level playing field from a resource standpoint, there would have been an excellent chance to win."
Without enough money, though, even Brannon conceded, it's "going to be difficult under the circumstances."