DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The controversy surrounding NFL players’ protests of the national anthem is now front and center in the marquee race in Texas this year: U.S. Senate.

It began with a question to Democrat Beto O’Rourke during a Houston rally August 10 about whether he felt the players taking a knee during the anthem was disrespectful.

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The El Paso Congressman’s comments supporting the players went viral. “I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand-up or take a knee for your rights, anytime, anywhere, anyplace.”

O’Rourke told supporters the NFL players wanted to highlight a problem before a nationwide audience. “Black men unarmed, black teenagers unarmed, and black children unarmed are being killed at a frightening level right now, including by members of law enforcement without accountability and without justice.”

While some superstar athletes and actors and actresses are praising O’Rourke’s remarks, Republican Senator Ted Cruz is using that against him.

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In Corpus Christi, he hit back in front of a friendly crowd of his own. “When Beto O’Rourke said he can’t think of anything more American, I can. Those soldiers, those sailors, those airmen, those Marines who fought to protect the flag, that’s something more American.”

SMU political science professor Matthew Wilson says while O’Rourke’s and Cruz’s supporters are behind them, the question is how will it play with the general electorate.

The average of polls between May and August show Cruz leading O’Rourke by six points, but SMU political science professor Matthew Wilson says to win the race, O’Rourke will need to attract independents and moderate Republicans. “This national anthem question speaks to the fine path Beto O’Rourke has to tread. “The national anthem issue plays well to the base of the Democratic party. It’s not a good issue to reach to disaffected moderate Republicans.”

The issue over the national anthem is just one of the many stark differences between Cruz and O’Rourke.

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Wilson says, “On issue after issue, abortion, second amendment, taxation, healthcare, foreign policy, President Trump, they’re going to have dramatically different positions, and I think the national anthem situation is just one more illustration of that.”