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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.

Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis launches campaign for governor of Texas

Davis, who gained national attention for leading a filibuster against abortion restrictions, will likely face off against GOP Attorney General Greg Abbott.

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

texas mugFORT WORTH, Texas (CFP) – Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis has launched a bid for Texas governor, hoping to ride notoriety from her filibuster against new abortion restrictions last summer all the way to the Lone Star State’s top office.

Davis, 50, kicked off her campaign at a high school in suburban Fort Worth. But despite her very public association with the issue of abortion, she did not mention the a-word during her opening announcement.

Instead, Davis chose a populist focus on fulfilling what she called “the promise of Texas,” including improving education and battling big-money interests in state politics.

“Real leaders know that real problems deserve real solutions,” Davis said. “That’s the approach I brought to Austin, and that’s what I’ll do as your next governor.”

Davis, a single mother who worked her way through college and then Harvard Law School, also said that “Texas deserves a leader who understands that making education a priority creates good jobs for Texans.”

Texas State Senator Wendy David

Texas State Senator Wendy Davis

With no other major Democrat yet in the race, she is seen as the most likely opponent for the expected Republican nominee, Attorney General Greg Abbott. The incumbent, Governor Rick Perry, is retiring after 14 years in office.

Given that no Democrat has won a statewide race since 1994, Abbott starts the race as the prohibitive favorite. He also currently has a more than 20-to-1 advantage in fundraising over Davis, although her national profile will probably enable her to narrow that gap.

However, a poll released October 2 by the Texas Lyceum, a non-partisan public interest group, showed Abbott leading Davis by only an eight-point margin, 29 percent to 21 percent, with half of Texas voters saying they’re still undecided. (The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percent.)

While Abbott’s lead is slight, the poll also showed that 55 percent of Texans approved of Perry’s job performance and 62 percent thought the state’s economy was better than the national economy — both figures that bode well for the GOP nominee.

Davis, who represents a Fort Worth-area district, is best known nationally for leading a more than 11-hour filibuster last June that delayed efforts by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature to pass a anti-abortion bill.

The bill would have prohibited bill abortions after 20 weeks, required abortion clinics to meet the same requirements as outpatient surgery centers and forced abortion doctors to get admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

Her filibuster ran out the clock on a special legislative session called by Perry. He promptly called another special session – which cost Texas taxpayers $800,000 – and the legislature passed the abortion restrictions, which are now being challenged in court.

Republicans who supported the measures said they were an effort to protect the health of women getting abortions at clinics and to protect unborn children past the fifth month of pregnancy. But Texas abortion clinics and their Democratic allies assailed the new rules, claiming that they would force many clinics to close and make abortions harder to obtain.

WATCH COVERAGE OF DAVIS ANNOUNCEMENT FROM KDFW-TV

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