Although known throughout the state for its barbecue, the purpose of Sen. Ted Cruz’s Thursday evening visit to Underwood’s Cafeteria in Brownwood wasn’t for a meal.

Cruz visited Underwood’s while barnstorming across the state as he defends his senate seat from Democrat challenger Beto O’Rourke, who Cruz believes he will need a significant voter turnout to defeat.

“We still have a lot to worry about. Everyone knows we have a real election on our hands,” Cruz said at the Underwood’s campaign stop. “This is a divided and polarized time in our country and the far left are energized. They’re angry. Many of them hate our president and they’re going to show up in massive numbers in November. Here’s the good thing, there are a whole lot more conservatives than liberals in the state of Texas. This election will turn on one thing — turnout.”

With Texas typically swinging to the right of politics, previous politicians have not had many significant challenges after the primary, but Cruz believes the O’Rourke campaign is different. Cruz believes O’Rourke’s populist platform does not fit with the culture of Texas and, so long as voters go to the polls, he will return for another term as senator.

“Congressman Beto O’Rourke is running hard, hard left on immigration,” Cruz said. “He opposes a wall. In fact, he said we have too many walls and fences on the border as it is. We need to tear down the walls we have. He supports sanctuary cities and, just a few weeks ago, he said he is open to abolishing ICE and when he got pushback on that he decided to double down and said ‘Maybe we should not abolish ICE. Maybe, we should also abolish the entire department of homeland security. That is a radical view.’” 

Although facing a stiffer challenge in more densely populated districts with more Democrat and Independent voters, Cruz said he came to Brownwood in order to uphold a grassroots philosophy that originally put him in his Senate seat when he first won office in 2012.

“It’s a big state, but, really, the strength of my campaign has always been the grass roots. When I ran the first time in 2012, I had never been elected to anything before,” Cruz said.  “… Our campaign was built on the grassroots. It was built on the men and women you saw there in Underwood’s barbecue. It was built on young people, small businesses, owners, veterans, police officers and working men and women. Those are the men and women who elected me and to who I am accountable. My entire time serving in the Senate I have endeavored to listen to them.”

Cruz’s stop at Underwood’s came after dropping by Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene and Brownwood resident Mary Alice Edwards, who was in attendance Thursday, said Cruz’ decision was based more on strategy than anything else. Although a considered a small city, with a population of just under 20,000, she believes Brownwood has far more political power than one would expect.

“There was a nice crowd here tonight. [Cruz] knows the value of Brown County and Brownwood, Texas. We have far reaching tentacles at times. It’s surprising the influence that people in Brownwood have away from here,” Edwards said. 

For Underwood’s Cafeteria Co-Owner Leo Underwood, he was proud to bring a sitting senator to his restaurant. He said hosting Cruz was more of a civic duty than a political gesture.

“A general rule is we try not to get involved in political races and take sides. It’s not what we’re doing right now. We’re hosting our senator,” Underwood said. “I don’t think politics influenced their decision to choose us as a venue. It was more from the standpoint of a longstanding family business, a small business. He wanted to be with ordinary people and meet them. There are too many times the people in Washington don’t listen to us. I commend him for wanting to be here for that. We were all excited for it, but a little apprehensive. We were expecting a big turnout and we got a big turnout. It was a packed house for sure.”