DALLAS — After church on a recent Sunday, Emily Mooney smiled as she told her girlfriends about her public act of rebellion. She had slapped a “Beto for Senate’’ sticker on her S.U.V. and driven it to her family’s evangelical church.
But then, across the parking lot, deep in conservative, Bible-belt Texas, she spotted a sign: the same exact sticker supporting Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat who is challenging Senator Ted Cruz.
“I was like, who is it?” she exclaimed. “Who in this church is doing this?”
Listening to Ms. Mooney’s story, the four other evangelical moms standing around a kitchen island began to buzz with excitement. All of them go to similarly conservative churches in Dallas. All are longtime Republican voters, solely because they oppose abortion rights. Only one broke ranks to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. But this November, they have all decided to vote for Mr. O’Rourke, the Democratic upstart who is on the front line of trying to upend politics in deep-red Texas.
In the Senate race, one of the most unexpectedly tight in the nation, any small shift among evangelical voters — long a stable base for Republicans — could be a significant loss for Mr. Cruz, who, like President Trump, has made white evangelicals the bulwark of his support.
To Democrats nationwide, who have largely written off white evangelical voters, it also sends a signal — not just for the midterms but also for the 2020 presidential campaign — that there are female, religious voters who are open to some of their party’s candidates.
The women, who are all in their 30s, described Mr. O’Rourke as providing a stark moral contrast to Mr. Trump, whose policies and behavior they see as fundamentally anti-Christian, especially separating immigrant children from their parents at the border, banning many Muslim refugees and disrespecting women.
“I care as much about babies at the border as I do about babies in the womb,” said Tess Clarke, one of Ms. Mooney’s friends, confessing that she was “mortified” at how she used to vote, because she had only considered abortion policy. “We’ve been asleep. Now, we’ve woke up.”
Ms. Clarke, who sells candles poured by refugee women in Dallas, began to weep as she recalled visiting a migrant woman detained and separated from her daughter at the border. When an older white evangelical man recently told her that she couldn’t be a Christian and vote for Mr. O’Rourke, Ms. Clarke was outraged.
“I keep going back to who Jesus was when he walked on earth,” she said. “This is about proximity to people in pain.”
It’s far from clear how much influence voters like Ms. Clarke and her friends will have in the Senate race. Texas remains a deeply conservative state. One in three Texans are evangelical, according to the Pew Research Center, and 85 percent of white evangelical voters in Texas supported Mr. Trump in 2016, higher than even the national average, which was a record high for a presidential election. Republican strategists dismiss the notion that their Texas base shows any signs of cracking.
“It’s not worrisome at all. That would be an anomaly,” said Chris Wilson, a strategist for Mr. Cruz, citing data from his firm showing Mr. Cruz leading Mr. O’Rourke 87 percent to 11 percent among evangelical activist voters.
The New York Times’s Upshot section has been polling the race, and most public opinion polls show Mr. Cruz holding a small lead.
Still, Ms. Mooney and her friends may represent an under-the-radar web of white, evangelical women in Texas whose vote in November may be more up for grabs than at any time in the recent past. They are angry with many of Mr. Trump’s policies, and frustrated because they feel their faith has been weaponized to support his agenda.
Sarah Damoff, who is a court-appointed special advocate for children, voted a straight Republican ticket after Kermit Gosnell, a Pennsylvania physician, was indicted in 2011 for murdering babies born alive in botched abortions. But she was moved watching Mr. O’Rourke sit with migrant women separated from their children, and reflected on her own vulnerability growing up with a single mother who was blind.
“How does my vote represent the little girl that I used to be?” she said. “The Republicans used to be the party of family, and morals and values, and now they are not.”
Kelsey Hency, who graduated from the conservative Dallas Theological Seminary, talked about how she had adopted a black infant as Mr. Trump swept the Republican primaries and had realized how much she needed to learn about race. “It brought the torrent of everything else,” she said. “When I look at Cruz, I think he sees Republican politics. When I look at Beto, I think he sees vulnerable people who need to be supported.”
The women were especially frustrated with pastors in their own backyard, like Robert Jeffress, who leads the nearby First Baptist Dallas and who is one of Mr. Trump’s most vocal supporters.
“You are doing so much damage,” added Sarah Bailey, as if Mr. Jeffress were in the room.
“He’s a pastor, so I should identify with what he says,’’ Ms. Bailey said. “That’s how I grew up. For me, it was finally knowing that it was O.K. to push back.”
At times, however, their support feels hush-hush. A few of their other friends who support Mr. O’Rourke are married to men who support Mr. Cruz and have refused to let them speak about it publicly. One friend said she wanted to protect her marriage, and worried she’d be “crucified, burned at the stake” if people found out, Ms. Clarke said.
“My hope would be that women in similar places as us would feel liberated from the expectation that you’re just doing the same thing you’ve always done, because it’s safe, because it’s what your pastor is telling you to do, or your husband,” Ms. Clarke said. “We have to own it.”
Unlike many other Democratic candidates ahead of the midterm election, Mr. O’Rourke is doing strategic, if limited, outreach to white evangelicals, especially women. On his way to his concert with Willie Nelson in Austin recently, he recorded a podcast segment with Jen Hatmaker, a Christian author whose prominent show “For the Love” is followed by tens of thousands of evangelical women. The episode is scheduled to air Thursday.
Mr. O’Rourke is expected to join a group of progressive Christians that is urging evangelicals to vote for Democrats at a rally in the Houston area this month, one of the group’s six stops in Texas to turn out support for him.
In an interview last week, Mr. O’Rourke said that he wants everyone to find a home in his campaign, regardless of political party, and that he is listening to conservatives.
Texas has the highest rate of repeat teen pregnancies in the country, he said, and when family planning clinics close, there are women who lose the ability to see a provider at all, or to gain access to a cervical cancer screening.
“We acknowledge with any given issue that people can come to different conclusions, and it should in no way exclude them from the ability to work together on other issues they may agree on,” he said. “There’s more common ground there than we might know.”
On Ms. Hatmaker’s show, Mr. O’Rourke spoke of the American value of compromise. “If we allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good, we’ll never get anywhere,” he said.
Ms. Hatmaker said many evangelicals “are hungry for a new brand of leadership.”
“His ideas are in my ears, in the way I understand faith, in great part very fundamentally Christian,’’ she said in a phone interview from her Austin home.
Ms. Hatmaker made headlines two years ago when she publicly supported gay marriage, prompting evangelical bookstores to pull her books from their shelves. She has also denounced Mr. Trump.
“The whole notion of the evangelical female voter is fatally flawed,” she said, listing a slew of issues important to women in her community, like ending white supremacy and the culture of sexual assault. “What I hope for Ted Cruz is that he is paying attention to an opponent that has managed to capture the collective imagination of Texas in a state where our vote is a foregone conclusion.”
These evangelical women may seem invisible, Ms. Hatmaker said, but they dot the state, and reflect a broader dissatisfaction among some Christian conservatives that their faith has been politicized for what they see as an agenda that opposes what Jesus represents.
The church in Texas is becoming a testing ground for the future of the evangelical voice in politics, and for evangelicals who oppose the new religious right’s momentum. Beth Moore, an influential author and Christian teacher based in Houston, signed a letter urging Congress and Mr. Trump to protect Dreamers and reunite immigrant families. After the Senate confirmed Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, she tweeted to her nearly a million followers to not lose heart.
Some evangelical pastors around the country have felt torn about Mr. Trump since his rise; many support Republican stances on issues like abortion and Israel, but are repelled by the racism and sexism they see in his policies. In Texas, since the 2016 election, black worshipers have been leaving white churches, and some white evangelical women have tiptoed away from Mr. Trump.
Mr. O’Rourke’s pull is more thematic than structural, and Democrats more broadly may see white evangelicals as unattainable. Spending money to win over evangelical voters is not as much of a priority as trying to turn out people who voted for Ms. Clinton, says Jason Stanford, a former longtime Democrat strategist in Texas.
“It would be unlikely that an evangelical who has a Republican primary voting history would be on a Democratic call sheet,” he said.
Plenty of white evangelical women still support Mr. Cruz. Pam Brewer, who leads women’s ministries at Mr. Jeffress’s First Baptist Dallas, does because she wants to end legalized abortion and increase border security, to stop allowing “criminals to come kill our babies,” she said.
But even in her largely conservative church, Ms. Brewer knows some women may be drawn to Mr. O’Rourke. “We have a lot of immigrants here, we have foreign nationals here, we are a downtown church,” she said. “He comes across as disarming, he’s very likeable.”
Potential swing voters may also be hard to turn. At an annual conference of the American Association of Christian Counselors, which met recently in Dallas, Brittney Mangum, a Christian counselor from College Station, said she knows Mr. O’Rourke is all the rage.
“But I’m not going to vote on emotion,” she said. “I’m going to educate myself on where both candidates stand.”
But Ms. Hency believes that more evangelical women are upset with Mr. Cruz than he might think.
“What Trump did was almost give us permission to take back nuance,” she said. “That’s why it’s a tossup now.”