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Poll: U.S. Senator Ted Cruz has a lead over Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke

New Quinnipiac survey finds Cruz up by 9 points, more than the margin of error

AUSTIN (CFP) — On the eve of the first debate in the Texas U.S. Senate contest, a new poll of likely voters shows that Democratic hopes — and Republican fears — of a competitive race this November may be overblown.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz

A Quinnipiac University poll, released Sept. 18, found that Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz had a lead of 54 to 45 percent over his Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke , a statistically significant lead in a poll with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

An August poll by Quinnipiac had found Cruz’s lead within the margin of error and his support under 50 percent. However, that was a survey of registered voters, rather than likely voters; likely voter polls are designed to weed out respondents who are unlikely to vote.

The poll found that women and voters who classify themselves as independents were evenly divided between the two candidates. But men favored Cruz by 15 points, and he led by 34 points among white voters.

O’Rourke’s support is stronger among Latinos, where he leads Cruz by 9 points, and among African Americans, where he leads by 94 points.

The biggest hurdle for O’Rourke may be that Cruz is viewed favorably by most likely voters in Texas, with 53 percent approving of his job performance, according to the poll.

His approval numbers are better than those for President Donald Trump, who is viewed favorably and unfavorably by 49 percent.

Cruz and O’Rourke are scheduled to meet in their first debate on Friday, Sept. 20.

Cruz, 47, was elected to the Senate in 2012 on his first try for political office. In 2016, he made an unsuccessful run for the Republican presidential nomination, carrying 12 primaries and caucuses and finishing second in the delegate count behind Trump.

O’Rouke, 45, has represented metro El Paso in the House since 2013, after serving on the El Paso City Council. Although he is Irish and his given first name is Robert, he was nicknamed “Beto” — a Spanish nickname for Robert — from childhood.

His campaign has excited the Democratic base, drawing large crowds and media attention in a state that hasn’t seen a competitive Senate race in 30 years.

O’Rourke has also raised $23.6 million for the race, according to the latest Federal Elections Commission reports, slightly more than Cruz. The last time Cruz ran, in 2012, he outraised and outspent his Democratic opponent by a 2-to-1 margin, on his way to a 16-point victory.

Still, the odds against a Democrat in Texas are daunting. Republicans have won the last nine Senate races by an average margin of 19 percent.

Despite an often contentious relationship during the 2016 presidential race, Trump has announced that he would be “picking the biggest stadium in Texas we can find” for a rally for Cruz in October. No date has been announced.

The Texas race is one of six Southern states with open seats in 2018; the others are Virginia, West Virginia, Florida, Tennessee and Mississippi, where both seats are on the ballot.

Four of those races are shaping up to be potentially competitive — Florida and West Virginia, which are currently held by Democrats, and Texas and Tennessee, held by Republicans.

Democrats need to make a net gain of two seats to take control of the Senate.

New poll shows Texas U.S. Senate race shaping up as the most competitive in a generation

Quinnipiac poll finds Democrat Beto O’Rourke within striking distance of Republican incumbent Ted Cruz

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

AUSTIN (CFP) — The last time a Democrat was within striking distance in a U.S. Senate contest in Texas, Ronald Reagan was president, people rented movies from a store and tweeting was only for the birds.

Since the last Democratic victory in 1988, the party’s nominees have lost nine Senate races in a row, all by double digits. The average size of their loss? 19 points.

Ted Cruz

Beto O’Rourke

But a new poll shows Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke is closing in on Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, cutting Cruz’s lead in half since May and raising the specter of seeing something this fall that hasn’t been seen deep in the heart of Texas for 30 years — a truly competitive Senate race.

A close race in Texas could also have national implications, as Republicans try to hang on to their slim one-vote majority in the Senate.

A Quinnipiac University poll released August 1 put Cruz at 49 percent and O’Rourke at 43 percent among registered voters in the Senate contest. With a sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percent, that means that, statistically, Cruz’s lead is small enough to be the result of sampling error, rather than an actual lead.

But perhaps the most alarming bit of data in the poll for the Cruz campaign is that his 6-point lead now is down from an 11-point lead three months ago, and Cruz is now below 50 percent, a danger sign for an incumbent.

“O’Rourke has done a good job making the race competitive,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of Quinnipiac Poll in a statement. “He is clearly in contention. A Democratic victory in the Lone Star State would be a serious blow to GOP hopes of keeping their U.S. Senate majority.”

The poll of 1,118 registered voters found Cruz leading among men and white voters, while O’Rouke was leading among women and African-American voters. O’Rourke has a 12-point lead among Latino voters, and the two men are running even among voters who describe themselves as independent.

The poll found Texans generally have a good opinion of Cruz — 50 percent approve of his job performance and view him favorably, while 42 percent disapprove and view him unfavorably. However, he is polling far behind the Republican running in the other marquis statewide race, Governor Greg Abbott, who had a 13-point lead over his Democratic challenger, former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez.

By contrast, 43 percent of voters surveyed said the didn’t know enough about O’Rourke to offer an opinion of him, which means he remains something of an unknown quantity. And that could give the Cruz campaign an opening to try to define him negatively with voters over the rest of the campaign.

The poll also found that President Donald Trump’s approval rating in Texas was mixed, with 46 percent approving of his performance and 49 percent disapproving, which was within the margin of error.

The Quinnipiac poll surveyed registered voters rather than likely voters, making the results somewhat less indicative of what might happen on election day. However, two other polls taken in July that surveyed likely voters — by the Texas Lyceum and Gravis Marketing — also found Cruz’s lead in single digits.

Federal Election Commission reports also show that O’Rourke has been competitive with Cruz in fundraising. As of the end of June, he had raised $23.6 million to $23.4 million for Cruz and had $14 million in cash on hand, compared to $9.3 million for the incumbent.

The last time Cruz ran, in 2012, he outraised and outspent his Democratic opponent by a 2-to-1 margin, on his way to a 16-point victory.

O’Rouke, 45, has represented metro El Paso in the House since 2013, after serving on the El Paso City Council. Although he is Irish and his given first name is Robert, he was nicknamed “Beto” — a Spanish nickname for Robert — from childhood.

Cruz, 47, was elected to the Senate in 2012 on his first try for political office. In 2016, he made an unsuccessful run for the Republican presidential nomination, carrying 12 primaries and caucuses and finishing second in the delegate count behind Trump.

The Texas race is one of six Southern states with open seats in 2018; the others are Virginia, West Virginia, Florida, Tennessee and Mississippi, where both seats are on the ballot.

Four of those races are shaping up to be competitive — Florida and West Virginia, which are currently held by Democrats, and Texas and Tennessee, held by Republicans.

Texas primaries narrow crowded fields in U.S. House races

Valdez, White face off in Democratic governor’s primary; Cruz, O’Rourke in U.S. Senate race

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

AUSTIN — Texas primary voters have narrowed crowded fields vying for 11 open or potentially competitive U.S. House seats and the U.S. Senate, while the Democratic race for governor is heading to a May runoff to pick a nominee for an uphill climb against Republican Governor Greg Abbott.

And while Democrats have high hopes of riding a wave of enthusiasm to put a dent into the GOP’s 25-to-11 advantage in the Texas U.S. House delegation, more than 530,000 more voters chose the Republican over the Democratic ballot in the March 6 primaries, although that was a better showing by Democrats than in the last midterm primary in 2014.

O’Rourke

Cruz

In the U.S. Senate race, as expected, Republican incumbent Ted Cruz and Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke both easily won their primaries, setting up a November race likely to draw national attention. O’Rourke took 62 percent, and Cruz, 85 percent.

In the governor’s race, Abbott, seeking a second term, won outright with 90 percent of the vote. The Democratic runoff will be between former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Andrew White, a Houston investment banker and son of the late former Governor Mark White. Valdez had a strong lead in the race, 43 percent to 27 percent, over White.

George P. Bush

Republican incumbents also won in six other statewide races, including Land Commissioner George P. Bush, son of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who took 58 percent of the vote to beat back three challengers.

In the U.S. House races, Democrats’ top targets in November are three GOP incumbents who represent districts Hillary Clinton won in 2016:  John Culberson in the 7th District in Houston; Pete Sessions in the 32nd District in Dallas; and William Hurd, who represents the 23rd District in West Texas stretching from the suburbs of San Antonio over to El Paso. All three easily won their primaries.

In the 7th District, the two Democrats who qualified for the runoff are Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, a Houston lawyer, and Laura Moser, a journalist who carried the endorsement of Our Revolution, a liberal group that sprang from Bernie Sanders’ failed presidential campaign.

This race heated up when Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of House Democrats, intervened by publishing opposition research critical of Moser because of fears she won’t be competitive against Culberson in November. However, she used the DCCC’s memo to raise money and made it past five other Democrats into the runoff with Fletcher.

In the 32nd District, Collin Allred, an attorney and former player for the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, topped the Democratic primary with 39 percent and will face Lillian Salerno, who served as a deputy undersecretary on the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the Obama administration, who got into the runoff with 18 percent.

In the 23rd District, Gina Oritz Jones, an Iraq war veteran from San Antonio who worked as a U.S. trade representative, led the race with 42 percent and will face Rick Trevino, a high school teacher from San Antonio who served as a Sanders delegate in 2016. The majority Latino 23rd District, where Hurd is seeking a third term, is a perennial swing seat that changed hands in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

In addition to the races that Democrats are targeting, there are also eight other open seats in Texas that drew crowded primaries:

Report: Tennessee U.S. Senator Bob Corker to stick with retirement

Decision clears way for Senate showdown between GOP U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — After reconsidering his decision to retire from the U.S. Senate, Republican Bob Corker has now ruled out seeking another term this year, setting up a general election match-up between U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen that could determine control of the Senate.

U.S. Senator Bob Corker

In an February 27 interview with Politico, Corker’s chief of staff, Todd Womack, said the senator has decided to stick with the decision he made last September not to seek a third term, despite being urged by other Republicans to reconsider amid fears that Blackburn could have trouble keeping the seat in GOP hands in November.

A week earlier, former U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, Blackburn’s chief opponent in the Republican primary, ended his campaign and publicly called on Corker to run again.

Central to the considerations about whether to reverse course was Corker’s contentious relationship with President Donald Trump.

Last August, the senator said Trump “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful” and also referred to the White House as an “adult day care center.” After his criticisms triggered a presidential pillorying on Twitter, Corker said Trump “debases our country” and has “great difficulty with the truth.”

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn

Blackburn, 65, who was first elected in 2002 to represent Tennessee’s 7th District, which takes in Nashville’s southern suburbs and the west-central part of the state, served on Trump’s transition team and has positioned herself as a strong supporter. She has also been critical of the current Republican leadership in the Senate, in which Corker chairs the Foreign Relations Committee.

Although the departures of Fincher and Corker have cleared the Republican field for Blackburn, she will face a formidable obstacle in Bredesen, 74, who served as governor from 2003 to 2011 and has the distinction of being the last Democrat to win a statewide election in the Volunteer State. He is also a multimillionaire who could pour his own resources into the campaign.

Former Governor Phil Bredesen

Bredesen had initially declined to run for the Senate seat after Corker announced his retirement. But in December, a week before Democrats picked up a Senate seat in Alabama that had been thought to be unwinnable, Bredesen jumped into the race. Nashville attorney James Mackler, who had been seen as the presumptive Democratic nominee, then dropped out.

With Republicans holding a slim 51-49 majority in the U.S. Senate, the unexpectedly competitive race in Tennessee complicates the GOP’s efforts to keep control. However, Democrats haven’t won a Senate race in Tennessee in 28 years.

The contest in Tennessee is one of five Southern U.S. Senate races that could potentially be competitive in 2018:

Of the 28 senators representing Southern states, only four are Democrats, three of whom are up for re-election in 2018. The fourth is Doug Jones, who won a special election in Alabama in December.

Texas U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold won’t run in 2018 after questions about harassment settlement with employee

Farenthold denies wrongdoing but blames political inexperience for allowing “unprofessional” work environment

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas has announced he won’t seek re-election in 2018 in the wake of revelations about his use of taxpayer dollars to settle a sexual harassment claim made by a former employee, which he said has become a “political distraction.”

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas

In a statement posted to Facebook on December 14, Farenthold insisted that the sexual harassment charges made against him by his former communications director, Lauren Greene, are false, but he conceded that his lax management style in his Washington office created a “decidedly unprofessional” work environment — a  situation he blamed on his lack of political experience after being elected in 2010.

“I had no idea how to run a congressional office and, as a result, I allowed a workplace culture to take root in my office that was too permissive and decidedly unprofessional,” Fahrenthold said. “It accommodated destructive gossip, offhand comments, off-color jokes and behavior that in general that was less than professional.”

“And I allowed the personal stress of the job to manifest itself in angry outbursts and, too often, a failure to treat people with the respect that they deserved,” he said. “Clearly, that was wrong. It is not how I was raised, it’s not who I am, and for that situation, I am profoundly sorry,” he said.

In  2014, Greene, sued Farenthold for gender discrimination, sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment, alleging that she was fired after complaining about sexually suggestive comments made to her by the congressman and another male staffer. The Office of Congressional Ethics investigated and cleared Farenthold, and he reached a mediated out-of-court settlement with Greene in 2015.

Farenthold’s decision not to seek re-election came two weeks after after Politico reported that the $84,000 paid to settle that case came from the Office of Compliance, a federal agency that handles sexual harassment complaints by congressional staffers. The congressman then announced that he would take out a personal loan to reimburse the government for the settlement.

In his Facebook video, Farenthold said he planned to make “meaningful changes” in the operation of his congressional office.

“I owe that to everyone — my constituents, my family, and this institution,” he said.

Farenthold, 55, was elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010 to represent the 27th District, which sprawls across the Texas Gulf Coast between Corpus Christi and Houston. He was already facing a 2018 primary challenge from Michael Cloud, the Republican chairman in Victoria County. After the Politico story was published, Bech Bruun resigned from his post as chairman of the Texas Water Development Board to enter the GOP race.

Farenthold is the eighth member of Texas’s 36-member congressional delegation to forego re-election in 2018, joining Republicans Joe Barton, Ted Poe, Sam Johnson, Jeb Hensarling and Lamar Smith and Democrats Beto O’Rourke and Gene Green.

All except O’Rourke are leaving Congress; he is running for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican Ted Cruz.

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