Why the close Cruz-O'Rourke poll should make the GOP nervous

The perennial speculation about whether Texas could turn blue flared up with fresh legitimacy on Wednesday after ...

Posted: Apr 19, 2018 9:02 PM
Updated: Apr 19, 2018 9:02 PM

The perennial speculation about whether Texas could turn blue flared up with fresh legitimacy on Wednesday after a new poll from Quinnipiac University indicated incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz could have a tight race on his hands.

The survey showed Cruz earning the support of 47% of registered voters vs. 44% supporting his opponent, Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke. That topline alone is bad news for the former 2016 presidential hopeful in Texas, where Democrats haven't won any statewide race in a quarter century.

But before Democrats start popping the champagne, the poll lays out some contours of the race that will shape the Lone Star State battle in the months to come. Here's the good news (and the bad) for Cruz and O'Rourke in the Quinnipiac survey.

Good news for Cruz: This poll result came among all registered voters, a traditionally more Democratic-leaning group than likely voters are. But it's possible Democratic enthusiasm could make up some or all of that difference.

Bad news for Cruz: Incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is ahead by 7 and 9 points in the same poll over his own Democratic opponents, dwarfing Cruz's lead with a margin similar to Donald Trump's in Texas in 2016. So -- this might just be Cruz's problem.

Good news for O'Rourke: Cruz is down 14 points among independents, a group Trump won by the same margin in 2016, according to exit polls. Plus, 59% of independents disapprove of Cruz's job performance and 57% say he doesn't share their values.

Bad news for O'Rourke: O'Rourke holds only a 4-point lead among women, similar to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's 2-point win among women on her way to a statewide loss. He'll likely need to grow that to double digits to win in November.

Good news for Cruz: O'Rourke has a lot of name-recognition work to do. A majority of Texas voters -- 53% -- hasn't heard enough about O'Rourke to share an opinion of him.

Bad news for Cruz: Texans like what they see of O'Rourke so far. His favorable numbers with Democrats are a staggering 54% favorable to 2% unfavorable. Independents like him as a person by 3-to-1. Even Republicans are evenly split on that question.

Good news for O'Rourke: Trump's approval rating is underwater: 43% approve and 52% disapprove. Plus, by 3-to-1, independents say their vote is more to oppose Trump than to support him.

Bad news for O'Rourke: People think Cruz would do a better job than O'Rourke on the economy, taxes, immigration and gun policy. They're even virtually tied on health care, a key issue where Democrats have a wide advantage nationally.

Good news for Cruz: Cruz still has his head above water on key personal qualities like honesty, leadership skills and caring about average Texans.

Bad news for Cruz: The groups with the highest share of undecided voters are Hispanics and people under 35 years old, key Democratic groups who will likely come home.

This Quinnipiac University poll was conducted April 12-17 among 1,029 registered voters in Texas. The margin of sampling error is -3.6 percentage points; it is larger for subgroups.

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