Ted Cruz Vulnerable In Texas?

The first real poll of the Senate race in Texas shows Ted Cruz with a much thinner lead than might be expected in a state like Texas. That doesn't mean we should expect a Democratic upset there, though.

A new poll out of Texas shows Senator Ted Cruz with a far smaller margin over his Democratic rival than one might expect for an ostensibly Republican state, leading many to wonder if the Senator could be vulnerable in November:

A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday shows a tight race in Texas between Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Beto O’Rourke for Cruz’s Senate seat.

Forty-seven percent of Texas registered voters back Cruz, the Republican incumbent, and 44% favor O’Rourke, the Democratic underdog from El Paso. Both figures fall within the margin of error in the poll, the first major look at the blockbuster Lone Star State race. The election is a crucial midterm race, with Republicans attempting to hold on to, if not grow, a razor-thin 51-49 seat advantage in the Senate. Texas is a historically red state, where Democrats haven’t won a statewide election since 1994 and a US Senate race since 1988.

The poll found wide gaps by registered voters’ gender, age and race. Cruz led among voters who are white, male and older than 65. O’Rourke had the edge in the black, Hispanic, female and 18 to 34 years old demographics.

Fifty-nine percent of white voters selected Cruz, while 34% chose O’Rourke. Among black and Hispanic voters, O’Rouke led Cruz by 78%-18% and 51%-33%, respectively.

Men backed Cruz by an 11-point margin (51%-40%), and women favored O’Rourke by a 4-point edge (47%-43%).
O’Rourke attracted a younger group of supporters with a 16-point advantage (50%-34%) among the 18- to 34-year-old demographic. Cruz led among voters over 65 years old by 7 points (50%-43%).

O’Rourke also was winning among independent voters, the poll found, drawing 51% of the independent vote compared with Cruz’s 37%.

“The key may well be independent voters,” said Peter A. Brown, the poll’s assistant director. “O’Rourke’s 51-37% lead among that group is key to his standing today. But Texas remains a strong GOP state, so O’Rourke will need the independent strength to pull the upset.”

Perhaps the most interesting numbers in the race come in response to the questions about President Trump. According to this poll, 43% of Texas voters approve of the President’s job performance while 52% disapprove. This is a marked change considering the fact that Trump won the Lone Star State by more than 800,000 votes and nine percentage points in November 2016. That being side, it doesn’t appear at the moment that the President will play a decisive role in the election. Of those polled, 26% of respondents said that they plan to vote in the Senate race as a means of expressing their support for the President, while 27% said that they saw their vote in the race as a way to express their opposition to him. At the same time, though, 43% of respondents said that the President would not be an important factor in their choice of who to vote for in the Senate race in November. This suggests that the President is likely to be a non-factor in the race.

Polling in this race has been quite sparse up to this point, so it’s hard to say whether this Quinnipiac poll represents a statistical blip, or whether it is telling Republicans that they have something to worry about in the Lone Star State. Prior to this poll, all indications were that Cruz had a strong lead for re-election in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat statewide in quite some time. For example, a Public Policy Polling poll taken in January showed Cruz with an 18 point lead over O’Rourke and a poll taken in December show Cruz with a 13 point lead. Both of those polls, though, were taken prior to the time that O’Rourke won the Democratic Primary on March 7th in a race that got far more attention than the Republican Primary, and that is no doubt reflecting itself in the first poll that was taken in the wake of that victory. Additionally, O’Rourke, currently a Member of Congress representing the Congressional District that includes El Paso and its surrounding area, is a young and energetic candidate who comes across quite well on television. Additionally, his campaign has gotten a lot of national attention from Democrats who would love nothing better than to pull off a surprise upset win over Cruz in particular. As a result, O’Rourke managed to raise more money than Cruz in the first quarter of the year, although it’s worth noting that at least some of those funds were spent in the primary race and that Cruz has spent the last six years in office building up a sizable war chest that will allow him to blanket the state quite effectively when campaigning shifts into high gear. All of this has led Democrats nationwide to look with hope at Texas as a state where they could pull off an upset in November. While that’s not necessarily an impossible goal, it certainly isn’t one that I’d advise Democrats to invest a lot of money in over the next seven months.

While this poll shows a much tighter race than one might expect from Texas even in a midterm election year, I suspect that Cruz is far less vulnerable than these numbers make it out to be. The most important reason for that, of course, is the fact that, on a statewide level Texas is a very Republican state and 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 much evidence of that in the election results to believe that it is going to happen this year, or any time in the foreseeable future.

There are also a few other things to keep in mind that are unique to this election. At the top of the list there’s Cruz himself, who is as much a controversial figure and a magnet for criticism in Texas itself as he is nationwide. Because of this, it’s not surprising that he’s finding the opening stages of this bid for re-election to be a bit bumpier than they might be for an ordinary Republican. Second, it’s typically the case that Senators face their most difficult re-election bids in their effort to obtain a second term than they do in subsequent elections. This is generally true regardless of what state or candidate you’re talking about. Finally, 2018 is likely to be a year in which Democrats nationwide are energized even in deeply red states like Texas. That means that a Democratic candidate will likely do better than expected even if they don’t win. This poll number is interesting and indicates that the race bears being watched. In the end, though, I suspect that Cruz will be re-elected easily although perhaps not by the large margins we ordinarily see from Republicans in Texas.

FILED UNDER: 2018 Election, Congress, 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. Kathy says:

    I wonder how well Beto would do using the “Lyin’ Ted” appellation.

    Also, I would prefer not to find out.

  2. Todd says:

    Living in Texas, I think I share your overall prediction about the eventual outcome … Cruz will likely still be our Senator in 2019. That being said, it will be interesting to watch how this race progresses through the summer. The more that people believe that it may be possible for O’Rourke to win, the more likely it is that more Democrats may show up to the polls in November.

    Even if he doesn’t win though, O’Rourke’s campaign (and the excitement about the possibilities) is already contributing to increased engagement by Democrats on the ground … and that could help in some of the close House races.

  3. MartyinNB says:

    Texan here. I am one of the ones who would crawl over ground glass to vote this year and will happily vote for Beto. Texas has some of the lowest election turnout in the nation. If democrats are sufficiently motivated to get people registered and get out the vote, I believe we have the numbers to indeed turn Texas purple.

  4. Todd says:

    @MartyinNB: What part of Texas are you in? I work in Wichita Falls, so am here during the week, but I own a house in central Texas, near Fort Hood, so that’s where I vote. That district is almost certain to stay Republican (even though it includes parts of west Austin). But I am excited that there may be a competitive Senate race so that I might be able to help get voters to the polls to possibly make a difference, even in deep red areas of the State.

  5. Mister Bluster says:

    …central Texas, near Fort Hood…

    Twenty years ago I spent some time working in Hamilton TX. Nice place. Not far from Fort Hood.

  6. Todd says:

    @Mister Bluster: My house is in Copperas Cove, but I drive through Hamilton nearly every weekend on my trips back and forth from Wichita Falls.

  7. Paul L. says:

    Progressives and Democrats need to spend more money in Texas for the O’rourke campaign.
    They almost won Texas with Wendy Davis.

  8. MarkedMan says:

    For an incumbent as well known as Cruz to be under 50% tells me this is a race the Dems could win. If he is at the same level in October (47% to 44%) I’ll bet he loses. My reasoning is two fold. First, Texans know Cruz and if they are still up in the air 30 days before the election I think they are much more likely to break to the opponent. The second reason is technical. Right now, I don’t know how much we should trust this polling just because state wide races are polled less often and with significantly less resources than presidential races. But if the race remains close for such a famous Republican in a year when the Senate could go either way then it becomes a national story and polling will increase. So by October those numbers will be pretty solid.

  9. @MarkedMan:

    I don’t think you can draw any of those conclusions based on one poll taken seven months from Election Day.

  10. MarkedMan says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I agree, hence my comment about not trusting this poll and my larger point that if we are still seeing these numbers in October then we will have something.

  11. Rick Zhang says:

    Just moved to Texas as well, and undoubtedly will register to be an anti-Cruz vote. Hopefully demographics can overwhelm Texas like it did with Colorado, Nevada, and Virginia. Enough educated knowledge workers moving into cities like Dallas and Austin can turn the state purple, and then blue.

  12. Mister Bluster says:

    Art imitates life. I could have been working in Arlen TX.
    Note the Telephone Company truck at 9 seconds in. That would be me. Up the pole, down the pole.
    When I was working on the telephone lines in the alleys in Hamilton on Saturday mornings, the locals would be standing by the fence drinking Lone Star and yucking it up just like Hank Hill and his buddies.

  13. CSK says:

    Cruz just wrote an embarrassingly fawning mini-essay about Trump for Time magazine. My initial thought was that he did this in order to boost his re-election chances, but Trump is fast losing popularity in Texas. My second thought was, My God, does Cruz have no self-respect whatsoever? Trump nicknamed him “Lyin’ Ted,” derided his wife’s looks, accused his father of assassinating JFK, and got his pal David Pecker to run an article accusing Cruz of being a serial adulterer.

    What is Cruz thinking? Is he pandering to Cruz’s base for a future presidential run? They don’t read Time.

  14. MartyinNB says:

    @Todd: I live in a very red county situated between San Antonio and Austin. I work in SA, though, and have been helping get folks registered there when I have time. SA is blue. We need to get people out to vote here. I already told my boss I’m taking election day off.

  15. Scott says:

    I think O’Roarke is running a very interesting campaign. Extremely retail. And very straight forward. He goes to small town Texas and just says what he believes and what his policies are. Very little spin. The deep red town people, ranchers, etc seem to truly respect that. These are folk who have never had a state candidate come to their town. He also listens respectfully back and those small town halls seem to be getting more crowded as time goes on.

    Found it interesting that he went to West Texas cotton country and heard a lot of complaining about not being able to find farm workers and ranch hands to work. They would to hire immigrants (legal or not!) to do the hard work.

    I also think Cruz is being to get a reputation (deservedly so) as a weak, spineless, fawning suckup. Hardly Texan at all. People may agree, in principal, with his views but, by God, he should at least stand tall!

    BTW, Beto is fund raising better than Cruz and it is all small donors, not PAC money at all. Pretty impressive.

    At the end of the day, the millenials, Hispanics, and other have to show up at the polls or it will all be for nothing.

  16. Scott says:

    @MartyinNB: San Antonio is having some interesting elections here. Governor Abbot challenged (by supporting competing candidate) a sitting Republican State Senator and got kicked back pretty convincingly. Our pretty conservative northern suburb elected last year a pretty liberal city councilman. A trend or an aberration? Time with tell.

  17. Kylopod says:

    @Scott: Back during the Alabama race I noticed how Doug Jones was going around meeting voters practically everywhere in the state while Roy Moore was largely sitting on the sidelines, and I felt that there were “shades of Dewey vs. Truman.” I wasn’t overconfident about Jones’ chances; in fact I still considered Moore the favorite to win, and I think the same thing now about Ted Cruz. Nevertheless, this is the sort of sign that should strike fear into Ted Cruz.

    Of course Cruz (so far) isn’t the subject of sexual misconduct allegations or any other big scandal. But Texas isn’t anywhere near as red a state as Alabama (it went to Trump by just 9 points, compared to a 26-point lead in Alabama), and Cruz’s approval rating among Texans is underwater (40% positive, 48% negative according to a recent poll). It goes without saying that polls this early aren’t necessarily predictive. I keep thinking back to the 2014 Senate race in Kentucky, where the polls made the race seem quite competitive through most of the year (with the Democrat leading at some points), and in the end McConnell ended up winning by more than 16 points, despite having an approval rating in the 30s. But 2014 was a Republican year in the same way 2018 is shaping up to be a Democratic one–exactly the sort of condition that could pull seemingly unlikely candidates across the finish line, as we’ve already seen happen in some of the special elections.

  18. Maurice Story says:

    @Paul L.:
    “They almost won Texas with Wendy Davis.”
    I wish that were true but Greg Abbott beat Wendy Davis by 20% (almost a million votes) in 2014.
    Here’s hoping Beto improves on that.

  19. gVOR08 says:


    does Cruz have no self-respect whatsoever?

    I trust this is meant as a rhetorical question. Ted Cruz will sacrifice anything to his ambition, including his self respect.