This race in a state that isn’t usually competitive for Democrats in statewide races has generated an unusual amount of attention. Most of it is thanks to U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic nominee, who is running an unconventional yet successful campaign that has piqued the interest of Democrats around the country. Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz also gets some of the credit as a conservative lightning rod. The result is a closer than expected contest that moves to the Lean Republican column.
In many ways, O’Rourke is running a very modern campaign that thrives on social media. He has visited all 254 counties in the state at least once, posting parts of his journey on Facebook where he has 354,000 followers. O’Rourke has 255,000 followers on Twitter, and a very active Instagram account. He doesn’t have a pollster or a media consultant. The campaign released its first ad in late July; it was produced entirely from footage shot with an iPhone during campaign stops over the last few months. For now, it is only airing online.
O’Rourke has also proven to be a very adept fundraiser. As of June 30, he had $23.8 million receipts for cycle, including $10.4 million in the 2nd quarter; 41 percent of the 2nd quarter receipts were in contributions of less than $200. After spending almost $4.5 million last quarter, he finished with $13,961,359 in the bank. O’Rourke doesn’t accept contributions from PACs and has asked super PACs to stay out of the race. By contrast, Cruz had $23.7 million in receipts for the cycle, including almost $4.1 million in the second quarter. The campaign spent $2 million in the second, posting a cash-on-hand total of $9,299,366 as of June 30.
Both campaigns are going to need every dime they raise in a state that is as expensive as Texas. Neither candidate is on the air, but it will be interesting to see if the O’Rourke campaign adopts a more conventional broadcast media strategy after Labor Day.
Recent polling has indicated that the race has closed. According to RealClearPolitics, there have been eight polls released since April, including three in July. The RCP moving average has Cruz ahead of O’Rourke by 6.5 points, 46.5 percent to 40 percent. The most recent survey is a Quinnipiac University poll (July 26-31 of 1,138 registered voters) that showed Cruz leading O’Rourke, 49 percent to 43 percent. In Quinnipiac’s May 23-29 survey, Cruz had an 11-point advantage over O’Rourke, 50 percent to 39 percent. In the July poll, Cruz’s job ratings were 50-percent approve to 42-percent disapprove, while O’Rourke’s favorable/unfavorable ratings were 33 percent to 23 percent. Another 43 percent said that they didn’t know enough about the Democrat to give him a rating.
A Texas Lyceum poll (July 9-26 of 441 likely voters) put the race within the margin of error with Cruz at 41 percent and O’Rourke at 39 percent. One of the surprising findings in the poll was President Trump’s job ratings. Among the entire sample of 1,178 adults, 44 percent approved of the job Trump is doing while 52 percent disapproved.
Finally, a Gravis Marketing (R)(IVR) poll (July 3-7 of 602 likely voters) gave Cruz a 9-point advantage, 51 percent to 42 percent for O’Rourke.
Of the eight general election polls aggregated on RealClearPolitics, six showed Cruz at between 47 percent and 51 percent. In those same six polls, O’Rourke was between 39 percent and 43 percent. While O’Rourke has room to grow, Cruz is consistently closer to and in some cases at or above 50 percent. In a state as Republican as Texas, those last few points that O’Rourke needs to hit 50 percent are going to be very hard (and very expensive) to get. There are some observers who believe that there simply aren’t enough Democratic and Democratic-leaning independents voters to push O’Rourke across the line. In fact, a Democrat hasn’t represented Texas in the Senate since 1993 when appointed U.S. Sen. Bob Krueger served for six months (Democrat Lloyd Bentsen served from 1971 – 1993). There are others who believe that O’Rourke can attract some more establishment Republicans who just don’t like Cruz. In a cycle like this, it is hard to simply dismiss such a proposition.
Suffice it to say that O’Rourke has made incredible progress in a pretty red state, at least when it comes to running for statewide office. The race moves to Lean Republican. Whether it ever gets to Toss Up remains to be seen.