Ted Cruz

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks to the crowd Friday at Clem Mikeska’s Pit Bar-B-Q in Temple.

Standing in the middle of the packed Clem Mikeska’s Pit Bar-B-Q in Temple, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on Friday pledged his support for President Donald Trump’s proposed Space Force.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Cruz said, responding to a question at the town hall-style event. “I think the president is exactly right to elevate the attention of defending space because it is a theater of war.”

The first-term senator’s backing of a new military branch capped off a day in which he visited Fort Hood. The visit to the world’s largest military post was part of Cruz’s statewide “Texas Defends America” tour.

About 200 people filled the Temple barbecue joint to see Cruz. The Friday stop in Bell County marked the Texas Republican’s first event here since late 2016.

Cruz is facing a tough re-election bid. His challenger — U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso — has outraised him and is crisscrossing the Lone Star State this month. Most recently, O’Rourke trounced Cruz in fundraising, raising $10.4 million to the incumbent’s $4.6 million.

The fact that the El Paso congressman is mounting a strong bid for the Senate was not lost on Cruz.

“What this means is that this race is real and serious,” Cruz said. “We are in all likelihood to be outspent if he continues on his trajectory, and we’re going to see a record-shattering Democratic turnout.”

The senator pitched O’Rourke as a Bernie Sanders-type liberal who is out of touch with Texans.

“Typically in the general election, Democrats at least pretend to go to the middle,” Cruz said, pointing to what he described as O’Rourke’s extreme positions on immigration, drug policy and impeaching Trump.

CJ Grisham, the founder of Open Carry Texas and former Texas House District 55 candidate, asked Cruz when Congress will act to remove gun-free zones and how the senator will defend the Second Amendment.

Cruz, 47, acknowledged that many of the recent mass shootings have occurred in gun-free zones. He pointed to the May Santa Fe High School shooting in the Houston area as an example.

“It is horrific, it is messed up that we’re dealing with this as an issue,” Cruz said. “When you and I were kids, this wasn’t a thing. You might have worried about getting a bloody nose or a black eye at school. But you weren’t worried about some lunatic coming in and murdering a bunch of students."

Cruz attributed the increase in school shootings to the lack of religion in society, what he says is the decaying moral fabric of society and the glorification of violence.

“There is a lot that we can do about school shootings,” he said.

First, Cruz said, schools need to be safer. That means fewer entrances and exits, and more armed law enforcement patrolling campuses, Cruz explained. And, the senator continued, teachers need to be armed with guns.

“The No. 1 thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” Cruz said, as the audience completed his sentence.

Next week, Bell County will see Cruz’s opponent make a campaign stop.

O’Rourke, 45, will host an hour-long town hall at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Frank W. Mayborn Civic & Convention Center, 3303 N. Third St. in Temple.

Cruz assured the mostly friendly crowd  — he was briefly interrupted by a woman who was part of a group with Beto signs outside— that he will be victorious in November.

“We’re going to win November,” he said. “And we’re going to win because of you, and we’re going to win because this is Texas.”