After what are shaping up to be easy primary wins in March for the leading gubernatorial candidates, Republican Greg Abbott starts the general election race for governor with an 11-point lead over Democrat Wendy Davis, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
And several statewide races in the Republican primary — for lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller — appear headed for May runoffs. None of the leaders in those races looks close to the 50 percent support they would need to win next month’s primary outright.
In the governor’s race, Abbott would beat Davis 47 percent-36 percent in a general election held today, with 17 percent of registered voters saying they have not made up their minds about which candidate to support, according to the poll.
In the October survey, Davis’ announcement and sudden political celebrity cut the Republican’s lead over her to 6 percentage points. Now, the distance between the two has widened a bit.
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“The story of the last four months is, Davis loses a couple points, Abbott gains a couple of points,” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a professor of government at UT Austin. “He had a pretty good couple of months. She had a pretty bad couple of months, all without many people paying attention.”
Before they get to the general election, each faces a primary election. On the Republican side, the poll found Abbott well ahead of his rivals, with 90 percent support among likely Republican voters, followed by Miriam Martinez at 5 percent, Lisa Fritsch at 4 percent and Larry Secede Kilgore at 1 percent. Davis leads Ray Madrigal 87 percent to 13 percent among likely Democratic voters.
In the heated Republican primary for lieutenant governor, incumbent David Dewhurst leads the pack with 37 percent of likely Republican primary voters at his side, followed by state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, at 31 percent; Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples at 17 percent and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson at 15 percent.
“Each of them has run a conservative — that’s a small C — risk-averse campaign,” Shaw said. “I get that, but I think two of them are going to really regret it.”
The Republican nominee will face state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, who is unopposed in her primary. Van de Putte lagged behind each of the four Republicans in hypothetical general election matchups, trailing Dewhurst 44 percent-32 percent, Patrick 41 percent-32 percent, Staples 41 percent-29 percent and Patterson 41 percent -30 percent. Undecided voters made up the difference in each race.
Cornyn runs strong
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, facing a field of seven other Republican primary candidates in his bid for re-election, won the support of 62 percent of those polled, followed by U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Friendswood, who got 16 percent. Support for the rest was in single digits: Linda Vega, 7 percent; Dwayne Stovall and Ken Cope, 4 percent each; Reid Reasor and Chris Mapp, 3 percent each; and Curt Cleaver, 1 percent.
In the Democratic primary, the candidate who has been on the ballot the most times, Kesha Rogers, leads the best-financed candidate, David Alameel, 35 percent to 27 percent. Maxey Scherr had 15 percent, followed by Harry Kim at 14 percent and Michael Fjetland at 9 percent. Voters are largely unfamiliar with those candidates; 74 percent initially expressed no opinion before being asked whom they would vote for if they had to decide now.
“This is what it looks like when you have a bunch of candidates, no infrastructure and no money,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at UT Austin. “The first person to raise some money and run some ads could really move this.”
The Republican primary for attorney general is very close between state Rep. Dan Branch of Dallas, at 42 percent, and state Sen. Ken Paxton of McKinney, at 38 percent — a difference smaller than the poll’s margin of error. Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman got 20 percent. When they were initially asked about the race, 47 percent expressed no preference among the candidates.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is the most popular Republican candidate for president among Texas Republicans right now, winning 28 percent of the votes in a hypothetical primary. Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky were next at 10 percent each, followed by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 8 percent each, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 6 percent, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania at 4 percent. An additional 12 percent said they haven’t decided which they would support.
Voters who identify with the Tea Party remain an important constituency for conservatives. Asked how they would identify themselves if that were a formal party, 37 percent said they would be Democrats, 21 percent said Republican and 21 percent chose the Tea Party. A little more than a third — 35 percent — said the Tea Party has too much influence within the GOP, 29 percent said it has too little, and 18 percent said it has about the right amount.
Abbott has burnished his reputation with voters since October: 45 percent said they have a favorable impression of him now, up from 36 percent in the October UT/Tribune Poll. His unfavorable ratings were pretty stable: 25 percent now, 24 percent then. Davis got favorable marks from 36 percent, compared with 37 percent in October; her unfavorable marks rose to 35 percent now from 31 percent then.
“We’ve been talking since the beginning of this race about whether anything would be different, and we’re not seeing anything that’s different,” Henson said. “There was some talk about how Davis had done better in our last poll, and that was partially an artifact of her rise in the fall, and we’re seeing something of a reassertion of the normal pattern.”
Abbott and Davis appear to be evenly matched in terms of whether voters know who they are. “Abbott is not Perry, and he’s not Bush,” Shaw said. “Democrats up to now have been dealing with huge name ID deficits. That’s not true for Davis and Abbott. He’s not one of the 800-pound gorillas of state politics.”
The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted Feb. 7-17 and has an overall margin of error is plus or minus 2.83 percentage points. For questions of likely Republican primary voters, the margin of error is 4.56 points.