U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke of El Paso got some good news Wednesday from one of the first major nonpartisan polls of his U.S. Senate contest with incumbent Ted Cruz. According to Quinnipiac University's polling department, O'Rourke trails Cruz by just three points, 47 percent to 44 percent, within the poll's 3.6 percentage point margin of error.
"Democrats have had a target on Sen. Ted Cruz's back, and they may be hitting the mark," Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll, said Wednesday afternoon. "The key may well be independent voters. O'Rourke's 51-37 percent 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."
Within 40 minutes of the poll's released, O'Rourke sent out a email to supporters, attempting to raise money off the news. The race, his subject line said, was "too close to call."
O'Rourke's competitive showing stems in large part from his performance with Texans under 35, a cohort whose registered voters favor him by a 50-34 margin. O'Rourke also leads Cruz 47-43 among Texas' female voters and 78-18 among black voters.
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According to a tweet from MSNBC polling soothsayer Steve Kornacki, O'Rourke is closer to a Republican front-runner than any Democratic U.S. Senate candidate since May 2002, when former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk trailed Sen. John Cornyn 46 percent to 44 percent in a May poll.
The last time I can find a poll showing a TX Sen race this close at roughly this point was 02, when a May survey put Cornyn up 46-44 over Dem Ron Kirk— Steve Kornacki (@SteveKornacki) April 18, 2018
Cornyn went on to win by 12, but...the GOP president in 02 was a Texan w/ a mega-approval rating. Trump's is 43% now...in Texas https://t.co/SFaJ2PsJpc
Beyond the headline number, the Quinnipiac survey also paints an unexpectedly rosy picture of Democrats' chances against incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. Both contenders in the ongoing Democratic primary runoff, former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Houston businessman Andrew White, are within 10 points of Abbott, according to the survey. Abbott leads White 48 percent to 41 percent and Valdez 49 percent to 40 percent.
As is the case with O'Rourke, both Valdez and White get their strongest support from voters under 35, who support Valdez by a 51-30 margin and White by a smaller but still formidable 48 percent to 31 percent.