A Time For Panic?

Senator Ted Cruz and U.S. Representative Beto O'Rourke. Compilation by TNB.

Two new polls released recently suggest that the race is tightening between Texas Senator Ted Cruz and his challenger, Democratic representative Beto O’Rourke, drawing the attention of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for the first time in Texas since 1993. A Quinnipiac University poll has Cruz up by six points, while the Texas Lyceum Poll has him up by just two points with less than three months to go before Election Day.

Cruz’s pollster, Chris Wilson, responded (medium.com) to the Texas Lyceum poll prior to its release, criticizing the methodology used. In his piece he predicted that the poll would find Senator Cruz, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and Attorney General Ken Paxton in a dead heat. Of the three, only Cruz finds himself in one.

Among likely voters in the poll, who are defined as being “extremely” or “somewhat” interested in politics and who voted in either the 2018 Texas primary elections or the 2014 Texas general election, Lieutenant Governor Patrick enjoys a ten point lead over his challenger, Mike Collier, a retired business executive. Attorney General Paxton also leads his challenger, Justin Nelson, a lawyer and adjunct professor at the University of Texas law school, by ten points. Governor Greg Abbott enjoys a healthy lead of sixteen points over former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez. So why is Cruz underperforming among his Republican colleagues?

The Lyceum poll may provide some clues. When asked how well President Donald Trump is handling his job as President, thirty-four percent of Texans who responded in the poll said that he was doing a “very poor job”. Only twenty-one percent said that Trump was doing a “very good job”. Congress was given extremely low marks on healthcare, and fifty-three percent said that they disapproved of the way Donald Trump has handled the issue. Although most said that the economic situation in the country has improved from a year ago, when asked about their own family’s economic situation, forty-nine percent said that it was about the same.

Overall, fifty-three percent of Texans surveyed in the poll said that the country is “off on the wrong track”, and thirty-four percent said that Trump is doing a “very poor job” of handling his job as president, while twenty-one percent said that he is doing a “very good job”.

Cruz’s transition from a feisty foe to faithful ally of the president in a state where the president’s popularity has been lukewarm could prove to be a risky political gamble. Unlike O’Rourke, who- despite visiting all 254 counties in the state- is still struggling with name identification, Texans know Cruz. O’Rourke has room to gain support; Cruz does not. As of now, Cruz has agreed to five debates with O’Rourke, which he wants scheduled on Friday nights in the fall, almost guaranteeing a small audience. O’Rourke is pushing to move some of those debates to earlier in the week.

In an email to donors shortly after the polls were released yesterday, Cruz asked for help to stem the tide of O’Rourke’s growing momentum.

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