Texas showdown: Ted Cruz is now running neck-and-neck with his Democratic rival

Beto O'Rourke, the Democrat challenging Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, is surprisingly close to him in polls, fundraising

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published April 18, 2018 4:45PM (EDT)

Ted Cruz   (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
Ted Cruz (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

A new poll has even more bad news for Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as he seeks re-election in 2018.

Cruz is only ahead of the Democratic candidate, Rep. Beto O'Rourke, by 3 percentage points, which falls within the poll's 3.6 percentage point margin of error, according to Quinnipiac University Poll. Cruz currently has the support of 47 percent of the Texas voters polled, while O'Rourke has the support of 44 percent of the Texas voters polled.

Perhaps the most troubling statistic for Cruz is his fading support among independent voters.

Although both candidates are predictably popular among their bases — Cruz has the support of 88 percent of Republicans, O'Rourke of 87 percent of Democrats — independents prefer O'Rourke over Cruz by a margin of 51 to 37 percent. Even in a heavily red state like Texas, such lopsided support for O'Rourke is enough to put a damper on Cruz's reelection prospects.

Other figures are similarly ominous for Cruz.

Women slightly prefer O'Rourke by a margin of 47 percent to 43 percent, while O'Rourke has crushing advantages over Cruz among Hispanic voters (51 percent to 33 percent) and African American voters (78 percent to 18 percent). Cruz, on the other hand, has a significant advantage over O'Rourke among male voters (51 percent to 40 percent) and white voters (59 percent to 34 percent).

Cruz also suffers from a low approval rating of 47 percent and a low favorability rating of 46 percent. While O'Rourke only has a 30 percent approval rating, this can be attributed to the fact that 53 percent of Texas voters said they don't know enough about him to form an opinion.

Perhaps Cruz's best hope is the fact that the poll identified a number of issues where Texas voters believed he would do a better job than O'Rourke, including the economy (51 percent to 35 percent), taxes (49 percent to 36 percent), immigration (46 percent to 38 percent) and gun control (50 percent to 37 percent). On the issue that was tied with immigration as being most important for Texas voters, health care, Cruz and O'Rourke were basically tied, with 43 percent saying Cruz would do a better job and 42 percent saying O'Rourke would do a better job.

While 25 percent of voters said immigration or health care were the most important issues for them, the economy came a close second with 22 percent, followed by firearm policy with 16 percent.

The tight re-election race in which Cruz now finds himself is a considerable fall from where the United States senator from Texas stood less than two years ago, when he placed second to Donald Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries after winning 11 states and more than 7.8 million votes. Since that time, Cruz's increasing political vulnerability has made his seat a prime target for Democrats who are anxious to have a win in a state which — despite its electoral appeal as the second most populous in the United States — has seemed to be in the solid grip of the Republican Party.

This isn't the first sign that Cruz may be in trouble. Earlier this month, it was revealed that O'Rourke had raised more than $6.7 million during the first fiscal quarter of 2018. Not only did this surpass the money raised by any other Democratic candidate during that same period, but it was also more than twice as much as O'Rourke's previous hauls, which had amounted to $1.7 million and $2.4 million.

By contrast, Cruz had only raised $803,000 during the first 45 days of the year and $3.2 million overall during the first fiscal quarter of 2018, according to The Texas Tribune.

O'Rourke celebrated his impressive haul by announcing in a statement, "Campaigning in a grassroots fashion while raising more than $6.7 million from 141,000 contributions, we are the story of a campaign powered by people who are standing up to special interests, proving that we are more than a match and making it clear that Texans are willing to do exactly what our state and country need of us at this critical time."

By contrast, Cruz has emphasized red meat attacks against O'Rourke that depict him as the type of liberal which the Republican's far-right supporters have grown accustomed to despise.

"This election presents a contrast, between Democrats promising higher taxes, more regulation, more Obamacare, more government, more debt, fewer freedoms and less rights, versus standing for Texas values of lower taxes, less regulation, less government, less Obamacare, repealing Obamacare, abolishing the IRS, and protecting our fundamental rights as Americans," Cruz told an audience in the Texas city of Beaumont earlier this month.

So far, fewer Texans seem to buying what Cruz is selling this time around.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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2018 Midterm Elections Beto O’rourke Senate Ted Cruz Texas Texas Senate Election