The real, hard news coming out of the U.S. Senate race between Ted Cruz and Beto O'Rourke on Friday is hard to read as anything but good for the challenger. Over the last three months, El Paso U.S. Rep. O'Rourke raised an astounding $38.1 million, the most ever in a quarter for any Senate candidate and more than three times the $12 million-plus Cruz's camp says the incumbent raised over the same period.
It's the soft news, the polls and the narrative of the race, where things have gone bad for O'Rourke over the last couple of days.
Thursday, Quinnipiac University released its latest poll of the race, showing Cruz with a 54-45 lead over O'Rourke. In the same survey last month, Cruz had the same lead, 54-45.
"Is the Beto bubble bursting or just hissing away with a slow leak?" Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said, summing up the poll's results. "With less than four weeks until Election Day, Congressman Beto O'Rourke has hit a wall and remains the same 9 points behind Senator Ted Cruz as he was when Quinnipiac University polled the race last month. The election is far from over, but Senator Cruz would have to suffer a major collapse for him to lose. That is even more unlikely since 97 percent of Cruz voters say they are sure they won't change their minds."
A poll of 800 likely voters completed by The New York Times on Thursday night had a similar takeaway, showing Cruz up 8, with strong advantages among white voters and men.
Polls from earlier this month by Emerson College and YouGov show Cruz ahead by 5 and 6 points respectively.
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Thanks to the polls, Nate Silver's projection model at FiveThirtyEight now gives Cruz about a 78 percent chance to keep his seat, classifying the race as "Likely Republican." University of Virginia politics guru Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball is a bit more generous, saying that the race "leans Republican," and the Cook Political Report is friendlier to O'Rourke still, calling the race a toss-up.
It's clear now that Cruz's polling advantage has hardened in the mid-to-high single digits. If Quinnipiac, The New York Times and YouGov have their likely voter screens right, O'Rourke is going to lose. That doesn't mean that things are hopeless for the challenger. O'Rourke and Democratic activists have contended all along that to beat Cruz, Texas' 2018 mid-term electorate needed to be far different from what it was in 2014 or 2010 or 2006 or 2002.
That, or the polls could just be wrong. On the morning of Nov. 8, 2016, FiveThirtyEight gave President Donald Trump just a 28 percent chance to beat Hillary Clinton. Like 22 percent, that's not great, but it doesn't mean it won't happen.