New day, new poll: This time it’s good news for Beto O’Rourke, bad news for Ted Cruz

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Houston.
U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Houston. Star-Telegram archives

Is Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz ahead? Or is Democrat U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke ahead?

Two polls issued in two days paint two different pictures in the Texas-size battle for the U.S. Senate.

A poll released Wednesday put O’Rourke up by 2 percentage points in the race. A poll released Tuesday put Cruz up by 9 percentage points.

“These are snapshots of the race, they show a range,” said Matthew Wilson, an associate political science professor at SMU. “It’s not a pronouncement from on high about the state of the race.

“Right now, it is unlikely that O’Rourke is really ahead by 2 points. It’s also unlikely that Cruz is ahead by 9 points,” he said. “The truth is somewhere in between these two polls.”

Wednesday’s poll, which showed O’Rourke ahead 47 percent to 45 percent, was an online survey by Ipsos, released with Reuters and the University of Virginia. Tuesday’s poll, which showed Cruz up 54 percent to 45 percent, was conducted on landlines and cellphones by Quinnipiac University.

The race for this U.S. Senate seat in Texas, represented by Republicans since 1993, has become one of the most watched battles across the country, especially as polls have shown the race tightening.

Republicans had been confident in Cruz’s ability to win re-election, until O’Rourke — who traveled around the state visiting voters in all 254 counties — began exceeding fundraising expectations.

The question is which voters will turn out on Election Day, political observers say.

Will it be Democrats who have been active and motivated since President Donald Trump took office? Or will it be the most dependable set of voters, who tend to be older and whiter and lean Republican?

“You can believe it’s closer than Democrats have been in a hell of a long time,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at SMU. “Watch this race.”

Dueling polls

The two polls are trying to show how likely voters will cast their ballots come Nov. 6.

Wednesday’s online poll, conducted Sept. 6-14, focused on 992 likely Texas voters: 423 likely voter Democrats, 463 likely voter Republicans and 90 likely voter independents. The margin of error for likely voters is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Tuesday’s Quinnipiac poll, conducted Sept. 11-17, surveyed 807 likely Texas voters on landlines and cellphones. This sample was made up of 35 percent Republicans, 26 percent Democrats and 33 percent independents. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

“Don’t take any one poll as gospel,” Wilson said. “A lot of people choose to go with the poll that’s most favorable to their one candidate.”

For O’Rourke to win this race, Jillson said, he must have two things: momentum and strong poll numbers.

“If O’Rourke is not visibly up by 4-5 points with a month to go, he’s unlikely to win the election,” Jillson said.

Other results

Wednesday’s poll also showed that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has a 50 percent to 41 percent lead over Democrat Lupe Valdez.

When asked about the most important issues, 19 percent said immigration and 18 percent said health care.

Likely voters were divided on Trump’s job performance: 47 percent said they approve of his job performance, 53 percent disapproved.

And when asked what will motivate them to vote, 53 percent said they’ll vote for a candidate who will oppose Trump and 48 percent said they’ll vote for a candidate who will support Trump.

Race for Senate

This Senate race has captivated the attention of many outside traditional political circles, particularly as O’Rourke has appeared on TV talk shows hosted by Ellen DeGeneres and Stephen Colbert.

The Democrat caught up with Cruz in fundraising, as both hover around $23 million, according to OpenSecrets.org, which reviewed campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission between Jan. 1, 2017, and July 31, 2018.

Republicans have said they believe O’Rourke’s election bid “is a serious threat” to Cruz’s re-election.

Congressional leaders have stepped up to help Cruz, as has Trump, who plans to hold a rally at the “biggest stadium in Texas” to help out.

Texas music icon Willie Nelson, meanwhile, plans to perform at a Sept. 29 Austin rally for O’Rourke.

The two will face off in the first of three debates Friday at SMU.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley
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