After the twin highs of primary victories and better-than-expected poll numbers carried them through the last couple of months, Democratic electoral hopefuls Lupe Valdez and Beto O'Rourke got a reality check Wednesday afternoon. According to a new poll from Quinnipiac University, both candidates face double-digit deficits in their bids to unseat Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, respectively.
Six weeks ago, the same poll showed both O'Rourke and Valdez in good spots, at least for Democrats in Texas. Valdez, according to the poll, trailed Abbott by just 9 points, 49 percent to 40 percent. O'Rourke was in even better shape, the poll said, losing by just 3 points, 47-44, to Cruz.
As of Wednesday, Abbott's and Cruz's leads have ballooned. Valdez trails Abbott 53 percent to 34 percent, and O'Rourke trails Cruz 50 percent to 39 percent. The Republicans lead overwhelmingly among men, white voters and voters over the age of 35. Partisan differences are stark, as well, with Abbott leading Valdez by 92 points (94 percent to 2 percent) among self-identified Republicans and Cruz topping O'Rourke by 87 points (90 percent to 3 percent) among the same cohort.
There are few signs in the polling data that show Texas Democrats are having any luck making inroads with Republican voters, despite O'Rourke's barnstorming of some of Texas' reddest counties and President Donald Trump's comparatively low 47 percent approval rating in the state. According to Rice University political science professor Mark Jones, Texas remains a highly polarized state, one that has big built-in advantages for Republicans.
"The status quo is, we're in a red state where Republicans start off with a 10- to 15-point advantage," Jones says. "The tribalism is really strong. Greg Abbott hasn't just been sleeping and going to county fairs over the last
couple of years. His campaign has been investing millions of dollars in targeting Republican voters throughout Texas. They know who they want to turn out. They have the work done, and they have the money to work to make sure that their voters turn out."
It's hard to see those voters Abbott is fighting to turn out in November splitting their tickets and voting for O'Rourke, Jones says.
"If you believe that Abbott is going to win by, at a minimum, somewhere between 10 and 12 points, then you have to assume that that percentage of people would be willing to vote for Beto O'Rourke over Ted Cruz in this hyperpolarized partisan environment that we find ourselves in," Jones says.
Rather than reflecting any of the national backlash against Trump, Valdez's and O'Rourke's most recent polling numbers are largely in line with polls from the spring and early summer of 2014, when Wendy Davis was challenging Abbott to replace Rick Perry and self-funding businessman David Alameel was taking his best shot against incumbent Sen. John Cornyn.
In three polls taken between April 10, 2014, and July 24, 2014, Davis trailed Abbott by 14, 12 and 17 points. Over the same time period, Alameel trailed Cornyn by 17, 11 and 17 percent.