Ted Cruz Vulnerable? A New Poll Says It’s Possible.

A new poll shows Ted Cruz in a much tighter than expected race for re-election, but it's going to take more to consider Texas a state that Democrats could pick up in the fall.

Earlier this year, shortly after Congressman Beto O’Rourke won the Democratic nomination to take on Senator Ted Cruz in November, there was at least some indication that Cruz could be in for a real challenge from the three-term Congressman from the Lone Star State’s 16th Congressional District. 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 in the hopes of unseating Cruz, or at least outperform where a Democrat might otherwise be expected to end up in a non-Presidential election year. Now, at least one new poll shows the race between Cruz and O’Rourke closer than might be expected at this point in the race:

As Texas Democrats attempt to win a major statewide contest for the first time in almost three decades, a new NBC News/Marist poll finds Democrat Beto O’Rourke trailing Republican Sen. Ted Cruz by just 4 percentage points.

O’Rourke, a congressman from El Paso who has ignited Democratic hopes with his impressive fundraising, has 45 percent support among registered voters compared with Cruz’s 49 percent. Six percent of voters remain undecided.

While both candidates have largely consolidated their bases — with O’Rourke capturing the support of 90 percent of Democrats and Cruz securing 91 percent of Republicans — independents in the state are equally split: Forty-six percent of them back O’Rourke, while 45 percent support Cruz.

Looking at the race geographically, Cruz has majority support by about a 2-1 margin in both the more rural eastern and western parts of the state. But O’Rourke is holding steady with Cruz in Dallas/Fort Worth (both at 48 percent) and besting him in Houston (51 percent to 42 percent).

Among those firmly in Cruz’s camp are conservatives (81 percent support), white evangelicals (79 percent), whites without a college degree (67 percent) and rural voters (66 percent).

O’Rourke’s strongest constituencies include liberals (84 percent support), African-Americans (82 percent), moderates (62 percent), and voters under 45 (52 percent).

Among Latinos, who make up 20 percent of the registered voters sampled in the poll, O’Rourke gets 53 percent support compared with Cruz’s 42 percent.

Both candidates share similar levels of intensity among supporters, as well. More than six-in-10 voters say they strongly support their candidate — 63 percent for O’Rourke and 65 percent for Cruz.

They also both enjoy net favorable ratings among registered voters, although O’Rourke is still unknown to about a third of them (36 percent).

Cruz’s favorability stands at 49 percent favorable and 41 percent unfavorable, while O’Rourke’s is 41 percent favorable and 23 percent unfavorable.

The most interesting thing about these numbers is the fact that this same poll shows that Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who is also up for re-election this year, has a nineteen point lead over his Democratic challenger, a strong indication that he and the other state-level officials who will be on the ballot in November, all of whom are Republican, will coast to an easy win and a second term in office. For whatever reason, though, those numbers are not translating over into Cruz’s race against O’Rourke and that, even if he manages to pull out a win in November, it’s going to be by a far narrower margin than those of his fellow Texas Republicans. This can especially be seen in the RealClearPolitics averages for these respective races. In the Governor’s race, Abbott (49.5%) leads Democratic nominee Lupe Valdez (35.8%) by an average of 13.7 points. In the Senate race, meanwhile, Cruz (46.9%) leads O’Rourke (40.7%) by an average 6.2 points. If nothing else, this shows that many of the people who intend to vote for Abbott and other Republicans running for statewide office are inclined to cross over the aisle and vote for O’Rourke for Senate. Right now, that number isn’t nearly high enough to put O’Rourke inside the margin of error in the polling average, but it could very easily get to that point if Cruz is unable to win back the support of the Republican-leaning voters who seem to be gravitating toward his Democratic opponent.

One other interesting data point in this most recent poll is what it tells us about the President’s popularity and job approval in what is traditionally seen as a solidly red state. Among registered voters, the poll shows that 47% of respondents approve of the President’s job performance while 45% disapprove. Among all adults, though, 46% disapprove of the job the President is doing while 43% approve. This is something of a remarkable change given the fact that Trump won the Lone Star State by more than 800,000 votes and nine percentage points in November 2016. While his numbers in Texas are better than they are nationwide, this is still a fairly significant change in a state that was a relatively easy win for Republicans just two years ago.

All this being said, I’m still not willing to say that Cruz is vulnerable or that O’Rourke is a real contender who could pull off a surprise win over a candidate that, by all accounts, ought to win easily. In part, this is due to the fact that even the polls that have shown O’Rourke closer than expected in a head-to-head match against Cruz, those same polls also show that Cruz is still far enough ahead to suggest that he’s likely to pull off a win in November. Additionally, there’s the fact that this is Texas, that on a statewide level Texas is a very Republican state, and that there is no reason to believe that will change any time soon. No Democratic has won the state in a Presidential election since Jimmy Carter won the state by just over one million votes in 1976. On the Senate side,  Ted Cruz’s seat has been in Republican hands since Kay Bailey Hutchinson won the seat to succeed Lloyd Bentsen in 1993 and John Cornyn’s seat has been in Republican hands since John Tower won a Special Election to succeed Lyndon Johnson in 1961. (Source) Additionally, the state has had a succession of Republican Governors since George W. Bush defeated Ann Richards in 1994 and Republican Lt. Governors since Rick Perry was elected to that position in 1998. While there has been much talk about the state turning “purple” at some point due to the influx of Latino voters, there hasn’t been enough evidence of that in the election results to believe that it is going to happen this year, or any time in the foreseeable future. Perhaps this will be the year that the dam breaks, and Beto O’Rourke manages to unseat a Republican who is obviously not entirely popular even among his fellow Texas Republicans, but we’re going to need to see a lot more evidence before I’ll believe that.


FILED UNDER: 2018 Election, 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. Michael Reynolds says:

    Nah. It’d take a miracle.

  2. CSK says:

    Cruz’s lack of popularity probably has far more to do with his innate loathsomeness than it has to do with him being a Republican or a Trump supporter. The guy is creepy.

  3. Kylopod says:

    Even if Beto doesn’t manage to win, that doesn’t mean it’s a waste of time: it’ll probably boost Democratic turnout, which could have a real effect on other races in the state.

  4. Kylopod says:

    OT – As of this moment, the thread on Trump as the unindicted co-conspirator seems to have strangely disappeared:


  5. SKI says:

    For whatever reason, though, those numbers are not translating over into Cruz’s race against O’Rourke and that, even if he manages to pull out a win in November, it’s going to be by a far narrower margin than those of his fellow Texas Republicans.

    The reason is because Cruz is an odious (presumably) human being who no one, including his own family, likes.

  6. SKI says:

    @Kylopod: it is now back

  7. CSK says:


    Your link works fine for me.

  8. Mister Bluster says:

    @Kylopod:..@Kylopod:..thread on Trump as the unindicted co-conspirator seems to have strangely disappeared:..

    It was gone from my feed but it’s back now. Russian squirrels no doubt.

  9. James Pearce says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Nah. It’d take a miracle.

    Nah, it would take ignoring the Texas naysayers.

    Then all it would take is effort and will.

  10. Gustopher says:

    If we could trick Cruz into do a more hands on campaign — going out and meeting the undecideds and his own weak supporters — than his personal loathesomeness would make this a cakewalk for Beto.

    If he wins, Republicans should try to find some way to keep him from running again. He makes what should be a solid seat vulnerable by being so unpleasant.

  11. HarvardLaw92 says:

    I expect Beto to lose, but his usefulness was never, IMO, centered around the possibility that he might win.

    It’s centered around the mountains of cash Republicans will now have to expend defending a seat that should have been a no brainer. It weakens them as a whole, and that’s helpful for Dems.

  12. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Pearce: In the business that I used to work in, we had a saying–if you wish in one hand and s[p]it in the other, you know which hand will fill first.
    You can substitute “effort and will” in this case because they mean the same as “wish” and to deny that is simply disingenuous.

  13. Neil Hudelson says:

    Miracles and luck seem to be pretty similar–the harder you work, the more luck (and miracles) seem to come about.

    Everything will have to come together perfectly for Beto to pull this off, but so far he’s doing all the right things. His name recognition is building, he holds himself well on the campaign trail, his gap has been steadily closing (albeit polling is light) and his opponent is a loathsome, ferret-faced zodiac killer who has tied himself to a President who, well, you’ve seen the last week.

    I give him…15:1 odds of beating Cruz. And after Trump and Doug Jones’s victories, that’s a bet I’d be willing to take.

  14. Kari Q says:

    Between multiple polls showing a single digit lead for Cruz and Cruz’s offer to debate (which he wouldn’t make if the race wasn’t close), I am convinced that this race will be very close, probably around 5 points. For O’Rourke to get closer than that would take an Act of God. A victory would be shocking.

  15. James Pearce says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    You can substitute “effort and will” in this case because they mean the same as “wish” and to deny that is simply disingenuous.

    Dude, I remember when the governor of Texas was a Democrat. It’s been a long time, yes, but the situation down there isn’t hopeless.

  16. Kathy says:

    If this were fiction, and I were writing it, say a prequel to Kornbluth’s “The Marching Morons,” with Beto as the hero, I’d do two things:

    1) El Cheeto would do something so bad, he’d either depress GOP turnout or drive many Republicans to vote Democratic (or both). Netting a Blue Tsunami rather than a Blue Wave.

    2) Beto’s race would be so close it would take weeks to certify, with many court battles involved. Ultimately he would win by a very small margin. His victory would give the Democrats 67 seats in the Senate.

    Of course, as a prequel, the epilogue would have Anthony Scaramucci launching his campaign for the presidency, knowing full well he can’t win and not expecting to even get the nomination.

    BTW, I realize point 2 makes no sense given point 1. That’s what handwavium is for.

  17. Scott says:

    O’Rourke has been running an extremely unconventional race. First of all, it is very retail. He has visited practically every small town in West Texas. Places that haven’t seen a statewide candidate in decades. Second, he hardly says anything about Ted Cruz or bashes him. He just talks about what he believes. And he’ll tell his beliefs to people of the entire spectrum of political thought. And converses with them in an honest and respectful manner.

    I’ve watch his campaign through the various social media platforms (and Cruz’ also). It seems the crowds he is talking to are just getting bigger and bigger. Whether that is real or not, I cannot tell.

    One thing you cannot underestimate here in Texas is the power of the right wing Christians. And their most un-Christian-like ruthlessness. They have Cruz’ back.

    All I can hope is that enough people loathe that oleaginous weasel as much as I do.

  18. grumpy realist says:

    @Mister Bluster: Russian squirrels have been playing with the USPTO internal computer systems for the last week. Those of us in docketing have been talking our attorneys off ledges for a while.

  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Pearce: I didn’t say it was hopeless; I was commenting on your propensity to resort to bromides as a substitute for thinking.

  20. Mister Bluster says:

    He has visited practically every small town in West Texas.

    It might work.
    Though ya’ gotta wonder if he wants the ghost of Dapper Dan Walker of Illinois smiling down on him or not.

    Walker announced his candidacy for Governor of Illinois in 1971 and attracted wide attention by walking 1,197 miles (1,926 km) across Illinois in 1971. In the 1972 general election, he defeated incumbent Republican Richard B. Ogilvie by a 51% to 49% margin. In the early 1970s, Walker was discussed as a possible presidential candidate.
    In 1976 Walker was defeated in the Democratic primary, losing to Secretary of State Michael Howlett, the candidate supported by Mayor Daley,..
    Walker became the second of four Governors of Illinois in the 20th and 21st century to be convicted on Federal criminal charges. The others were Otto Kerner Jr., George Ryan, and Rod Blagojevich. However, unlike Kerner, Ryan, and Blagojevich, Walker’s crimes were not related to his term as governor.

    Daniel J. “Dan” Walker (August 6, 1922 – April 29, 2015)
    36th Governor of Illinois

  21. An Interested Party says:

    I wonder…it is so obvious that Cruz is a loathsome, repulsive person…what do those who actually like see in him…

  22. Mister Bluster says:

    @An Interested Party:..Cruz is a loathsome, repulsive person…what do those who actually like see in him…

    Let me take a wild guess…themselves

  23. An Interested Party says:

    Let me take a wild guess…themselves

    Damn…that’s a lot of nastiness in Texas…

  24. Gustopher says:

    @Neil Hudelson: He’s running the type of campaign I wish Democrats were running everywhere where they have little chance — an energetic, positive campaign where they present themselves as a plausible alternative.

    Beto will probably lose, unless Cruz does something dumb. But, if we were running campaigns like that everywhere, we would pick up a few seats here and there, since inevitably someone does something dumb. And with everything so closely divided, that might make all the difference.

  25. Mister Bluster says:

    I’m just wildly guessing. Don’t have any rational basis for this.
    Many of the Texans that I met while working in Houston, Dallas, Texarkana, San Antonio and Hamilton treated me just fine.
    Like the hitchhiker I picked up one Sunday while I was driving in the Lone Star countryside outside of McKinney in ’83.
    He saw the Illinois plates on my truck and we traded small talk. I took him a couple of miles down the trail and as he got out he flipped me a small bag of weed and said “Welcome to Texas!”
    “Thanks man!” I think I might have flashed him the peace sign.

  26. SC_Birdflyte says:

    The DNC needs a farm system. Candidates like Beto, who can make a strong effort in a deep red state, should be at a AAA franchise, from which they can move back into a national race with DNC support. As loathsome as Trump is, when he called Cruz “Lyin’ Ted,” he was (for once) telling the truth.

  27. James Pearce says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I was commenting on your propensity

    Yawn. I’m always interested to hear other people’s opinions about my propensities. Endlessly fascinating, let me tell ya….

  28. Matt says:

    @Kylopod: Holy crap I had no idea who Beto was. I’ve been seeing signs for him all over the place here and I just thought he was a local politician. I have yet to see a single Ted Cruz sign. I went to check out some of the houses that had pro trump signs in 2016. You know the “trump the bitch” and all those joyous signs. Not a single one has a Cruz sign. The house that had 12 Trump signs doesn’t even have a Cruz sign.

    Ted swung by here last week and I tried to get into the event but for some reason I couldn’t RSVP a spot for myself . There were quite a lot of people outside and none of them were fans of Ted Cruz.

    Meanwhile the video of Beto responding to a question about the NFL and the kneeling stuff went viral and I’ve even had a couple conservative minded people share it on facebook.

    Oh and Tyrell Willie Nelson invited Beto to attend his fourth of july bash in Austin. Beto got to give a speech and he joined Willie in playing some songs.

    Win or lose election night Beto has already won by energizing and engaging people in Texas. The Democratic party desperately needs more people like him.

    EDIT : I checked on the houses because I wondered what might of popped up there since the mid terms are coming up. I was hoping that the 12 trump sign house in particular would have something funny (unintentionally) to read.

  29. grumpy realist says:

    OT, but has anyone been following the Duncan Hunter fiasco? Looks like the little twerp might be getting a divorce as well on top of everything….

    Dear Duncan: you may think you can pull off the “everyone has to be loyal to me but I don’t have to be loyal back” schtick that Trump has done for so many years. Note: it isn’t even working for Trump now. Love and kisses
    —U.S. history