Cook Report Moves Texas Senate Race To ‘Toss-Up’

While one must give the benefit of the doubt to Ted Cruz, the Senate race in Texas is getting very interesting.

One of the most surprising races of the summer has been the match-up in Texas pitting Republican Senator Ted Cruz against Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who represents the area around El Paso in far-western Texas. Notwithstanding the fact that Texas has been a deeply red state for at least the past twenty-five years, the three-term Democratic Congressman has been running a very close race with the freshman Republican Senator. After O’Rourke won his party’s nomination, there was at least some indication that Cruz could be in for a real challenge in the form of polling that showed Cruz with only a three-point lead over the Congressman, which was within the poll’s margin of error. Polling taken about a month later, though, seemed to show that the initial bounce in O’Rourke’s favor had fizzled out and that Cruz was well-positioned to be comfortably re-elected notwithstanding the fact that national Democrats were pouring money into O’Rourke’s campaign. More recent polling, such as a poll taken just under a month ago, though, showed the race back to being a close race and an indication that Cruz could be in real trouble in a race that he should be winning easily.

More recent polling has been somewhat confusing, A recent poll from Emerson College, for example, shows Cruz with just a one-point lead over O’Rourke. A Reuters/Ipsos poll, meanwhile, actually gives Congressman O’Rourke a two-point lead over Cruz, the first poll showing Cruz trailing even within the margin of error. Another poll from Quinnipiac, though, gives Cruz a nine-point lead over O’Rourke, which is far more normal for what one might expect from a race in Texas.  Another recent poll from Public Policy Polling puts the race at 48% for Senator Cruz to 45% for Congressman O’Rourke. Finally, a poll from an outfit called Vox Populi Polling has the race tied at 50% apiece. In the RealClearPolitics average, which includes most but not all of these polls, Cruz (47.0%) with a +4.5 point lead over O’Rourke (42.5%) in a race that, as the chart shows is exceedingly close:

As I’ve said before, these numbers are best viewed in contrast to other statewide races in Texas such as Greg Abbott’s bid for his own second term in office where Abbott has an average lead of 19.3 points over his Democratic opponent. The polling for other statewide races in the Lone Star State, such as Lt. GovernorAttorney General, and Commissioner of the General Land Office, a position currently held by George W. Bush’s nephew George P. Bush, shows Republicans with similarly strong leads.

In the midst of all this, The Cook Political Report has officially moved the Texas Senate Race into the Toss-Up category:

The Cook Political Report on Friday updated its rating for Texas’s heated Senate race, moving it from leans Republican to toss-up amid new polls showing Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) in a tightening race with Sen. Ted Cruz (R).

The change in rating Friday came amid two other Senate race changes, with the prediction website changing the race for Sen. Jon Tester’s (D-Mont.) seat from “likely” to “leans” Democratic, while the West Virginia Senate race moved from a toss-up to leaning in favor of incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin (D).

Cook’s authors did not immediately give any explanation for the ratings change, but the move follows a series of polls showing Cruz with a small single-digit lead over his insurgent opponent, who has outraised Cruz by millions since the campaign began.

Most other rating services continue to list the Cruz-O’Rourke race as either leaning or likely Republican but it has been some time since they have updated their ratings, so it’s possible we’ll be seeing changes there.

As I’ve said before, I’m still skeptical about the idea of a Democrat winning statewide in Texas even in a year such as this when anti-Republican animus appears to be motivating Democrats to vote in numbers not typically seen in midterm elections. This, after all, is a state that has not gone for a Democrat in a Presidential Election since the 1976 Presidential Election,  has not elected a Democratic Governor since Ann Richards in 1990, has not elected a Democratic Lt. Governor since Bob Bullock in 1994, and which has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since Lloyd Bentsen won re-election in 1988. While this trend of Republican wins is bound to come to an end at some point, I’m still not convinced that this year, and this race, is when it will happen. That being said, the fact that this race is as close as it is in a state like Texas is something that should have Republicans nationwide worried. For one thing, it could be an indication of how things like likely to go in states that aren’t nearly as Republican as Texas and an indication that the national Republican Party will have to expend resources in states previously believed to be safe rather than concentrating their resources in states that they hope to flip this year. Even if it’s a matter of just a few million dollars, it could make all the difference.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2018, Congress, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Hal_10000 says:

    I think Cruz will win in the end. But boy I’m enjoying watching that little viper squirm. You’d think I’d feel guilty about that, but … nah.

  2. Kathy says:

    An O’Rourke victory in Texas would provide a much needed shock to the GOP, and hurt its morale for a while.

    I’d like to think if the Democrats were to take both the House and Senate, that El Cheeto would be dead politically. Past the obvious fact the Democrats would obstruct Trump and investigate him and his administration minutely, the GOP might dump him like a sack of s**t. Why keep kissing up to him and his base if all it gets them is a huge electoral defeat?

    But reality tends to lag behind my preferences.

  3. Hal_10000 says:


    I’d like to think that. But they’ll blame the media, claim the election was rigged and refuse to learn.

  4. MarkedMan says:

    Texas is an odd bird of a state. A lot of Trump states, you just know they will always pick the stupidest choice. Declining school scores? Cut the school budget and spend millions in lawsuits to bring back school prayer. Poor government services? Focus exclusively for months and spend millions of dollars on ensuring a county level official can withhold marriage certificates from gay people. The world around us is changing and we need to update regulations to account for things like email, the internet, and wireless communications? Spend 90% of the legislatures time on protecting Civil War statues erected in 1927.

    But Texas often seems like a Trump state superimposed over a functioning state. Who knows, maybe the reasonable people will win one there…

  5. Kylopod says:

    Recently I’ve been wondering if Cruz’s internal polls are even worse than what we’re seeing publicly. It would go a long way in explaining his bizarre recent behavior, such as his comment earlier this week that Beto wants to ban BBQs. Cruz sure sounds like a losing candidate in the final death throes of a campaign, where he’s just flailing wildly and trying to latch onto anything that might stick. I’m reminded a little of the guy who lost to Rand Paul after bringing up the “Aqua Buddha” business–but it’s worse, because that attack, as petty and irrelevant as it was, at least was based on something that actually happened. In contrast, the BBQ attack is just plain idiotic–even if Beto wanted to do such a thing, how could he possibly achieve it as US Senator? And is there anyone today who finds tofu weird anymore, let alone scary? These attacks are worse than inane–they’re also lame. And they say a lot about Cruz, who is an intelligent man yet believes this drivel will be effective. It gives us a sense of what he thinks of the average IQ of Texans. What’s most pathetic is that they’re coming from a Canadian with a Harvard degree trying to out-redneck a born-and-bred Texan. He just comes off sounding ridiculous.

    He may still win. But just the fact that he’s acting this way says a lot about how scared he is. This isn’t the behavior of a rational, disciplined campaign, it’s a sign of panic.

  6. grumpy realist says:

    Rather than a vote, we should have a BBQ cook-off.

    (Well, makes as much sense as most elections.)

    (Oh, and in your friendly Brexit reporting today, the EU finally lost its temper, told Theresa May NO-GO on her Chequers plan because it’s so stupid and doesn’t solve the problems, she has come back screeching about how this just shows how she is treated with disrespect by the EU and everyone looks to be stampeding towards a no-agreement-exit. The pound has been dropping in consequence.

    I suspect the EU has come to the decision that having the U.K. inside the tent is more trouble that it’s worth and good riddance, they’ll figure out a way to cope.)

  7. Todd says:

    I’m volunteering for Beto here in Wichita Falls. The campaign (at this point) is focused almost exclusively on targeting marginal voters (open to support but maybe not motivated to vote) and getting them to the polls in November. There is absolutely no time wasted even engaging with Cruz/Trump voters … let alone trying to change their minds. This very much fits with my own philosophy.

    Our office (in this very red part of the state) is one of dozens all across Texas run entirely by volunteers … and every meeting or event I’ve been to so far has been a packed room. I’m not entirely sure that we’re going to win, but I’ll tell you what there’s a whole lot of people here who absolutely believe it’s possible.

  8. Kathy says:


    They clearly didn’t follow the lessons learned from the 2012 election.

    Near the end of the campaign in 2016, there was some speculation as to whether the Democrats had helped Trump get nominated. The reasoning was that Clinton would have lost badly against just about anyone else. My own view is that El Cheeto would have lost badly against anyone else.

    I suspect that plenty of people who voted for Trump were rather voting against Clinton, and even then, they expected Trump to pivot to the center, and certainly to ease up on the inflammatory rhetoric. It was a reasonable expectation given past experience, and the fact that he lost the popular vote by a big margin.

    He didn’t. And that explains much of his low approval ratings, and the blue wave building up. While the party in the White House tends to lose seats in Congress at the midterms, this doesn’t mean losing the House.

    Hopefully the US will learn the lessons of 2016, and not take seriously a joke in the next few elections.

  9. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Kylopod: I think reporters should ask Cruz what his favorite barbecue place in Texas is. I doubt he frequents such places; the patrons tend to be too commonplace for him. We could at least have the fun of watching him squirm.

  10. SenyorDave says:

    @SC_Birdflyte: How about asking him what a typical BBQ meal would cost a family of four? My guess is that he has no clue whatsoever about what things cost.

  11. Kylopod says:

    @SC_Birdflyte: And you know what’s even funnier? His wife is a vegetarian from California.

    Over the years I’ve found plenty of reasons to loathe Cruz, but it wasn’t until recently that I would have ever thought of him as a phony.

  12. Scott says:

    From my perspective in Texas, it is fascinating how O’Rourke is running this campaign. One, he made a point to visit every county in this state, many of whom has never seen a live candidate or office holder. Two, when he does visit he simply states his views, honestly and clearly and without fudging for the audience. Three, he pretty much ignores Ted Cruz and campaigns as if he doesn’t exist. The most I have O’Rourke say about Cruz is that he has visited all 254 Texas counties while Cruz has visited all 99 Iowa counties.

    I’m sure this must drive Cruz nuts (a short drive) because Cruz would like nothing more than to get into a back and forth with O’Rourke.

    Unconventional but that may be why his campaign is working. People who even agree with Cruz think he is a weasel so they may just vote for the straight shooter. It would be very Texan to do so.

  13. James Pearce says:

    Never give up on Texas.

  14. wr says:

    @grumpy realist: “The pound has been dropping in consequence.”

    They couldn’t do this two weeks ago when I was in London?

  15. Kari Q says:

    If O’Rourke wins in Texas, the Democrats almost certainly won’t need that vote to take control of the Senate. But it would probably be the sweetest victory of the night.


    After every election since 2010, I think “surely the California Republican Party has gotten the lesson it needs and will start taking positions more in line with the majority of residents of the state.” After every election, they move even farther from the California mainstream. I will believe the national GOP is capable of learning only after the California state GOP demonstrates a capacity for change,

  16. Teve says:

    Lawrence Tribe quickly deleted it, but not before someone got a screen capture of his tweet that Ted Cruz was a “Dickhead.” 😛

  17. de stijl says:


    I think reporters should ask Cruz what his favorite barbecue place in Texas is.

    All of them, Katie.