Endgame: Cruz 52, O'Rourke 45 in new CNN poll

Many thanks to CNN for producing this, the fifth poll of Texas in 11 days, instead of polling Indiana, Florida, Missouri, or Montana, all of which are much tighter races and none of which have been polled since October 2nd. There are many ways to measure Betomania! in the media but the fact that they keep polling and re-polling the Lone Star State, hoping against hope for some movement towards Team Blue, is an underrated one.

The margin is less significant here than Cruz’s overall vote share, I think. He’s hit 50 percent or better in five of the last six surveys, suggesting that undecideds in Texas have made up their minds and they’re sticking with the incumbent. It’s one thing to have, say, a 47/44 race, with O’Rourke making his pitch to late-deciders to swing towards him for a majority. It’s another thing to already have a majority siding with Team Cruz, with Beto now forced to somehow convince them to switch sides.

But if you’re hung up on the margin, note that Cruz’s seven-point lead happens to precisely match his lead in the RCP poll of polls. Every poll taken recently is converging on seven points. O’Rourke has three weeks left to do something dramatic to somehow put a dent in that solidifying number. There’s a debate tonight. He’d better make his mark or he’s done.

Just 9% of likely Texas voters say there’s a chance they could change their mind about the Senate contest before Election Day, although O’Rourke’s voters are more apt to be locked in to their choice (92% say their minds are made up) than are Cruz’s backers (87% say they’ve made a final decision)…

The gender gap in this race is tighter than what CNN has measured in nationwide polling on the House generic ballot and in other Senate contests. In four other critical battlegrounds, the gender gap has been 30 points or higher in three states, and stood at 21 in the fourth. In this contest, it’s a narrower 18 points. O’Rourke holds just a 2-point edge among women, the smallest for a Democrat among women in the states CNN has polled so far. The next closest is Jacky Rosen’s 14-point lead among women in Nevada earlier this month in her race against Republican Sen. Dean Heller…

Both Senate candidates hold net-positive favorability ratings with voters in Texas generally, and that holds among those most likely to vote. Cruz is viewed positively by 51% of Texas voters, 41% have an unfavorable view, and O’Rourke is seen favorably by 45%, with 36% holding a negative opinion. Cruz fares better among his own partisans (92% favorable among Texas Republicans) than O’Rourke does with Democrats in the state (81% favorable among Democrats).

That last bit is really surprising. Plenty of righties nationally are leery of Cruz, especially after he passed on endorsing Trump at the convention in 2016, whereas Beto is a coast-to-coast liberal phenomenon to hear the media tell it. Who are the Texas Democrats who are standoffish about O’Rourke? It boggles my mind to think that a major contributing factor to him losing fairly narrowly to Cruz might be weak-ish support within his own party (and among women, whom Dems are counting on to drive the big blue wave in the House). Presumably there’s a small but significant segment of moderate Dems in Texas who like Beto’s economic views but dislike his cultural ones, or vice versa.

Here’s another surprise:

Rep. Beto O’Rourke announced Monday that he will not share any of his $38.1 million war chest, even though Democratic bosses want the cash for more competitive states…

“No,” O’Rourke told a reporter when asked if he would commit to sharing funds with Senate Democratic candidates who are in closer races. “I’m focused on Texas. Most of our contributions have come from Texas. All of them have come from people. Not a dime from PACs.”

“Folks contributed to this race because they want us to win this race. If they want to contribute to another campaign, of course they’re welcome to do that,” O’Rourke said. “No, we’re going to spare no expense. We will bear any burden to make sure that we deliver for this state and for this country. That means a victory on the 6th of November.”

There are seven battleground states where the Democratic candidate is more competitive than O’Rourke is with Cruz right now. In some of those states, like Indiana, Missouri, and Montana, a Democratic incumbent is clinging to a lead of three points or less; if those seats flip, the GOP margin in the Senate will soar. People like Claire McCaskill and Joe Donnelly need every dollar they can get. It’s shocking that Beto, whose fate seems to be more or less sealed in Texas and who might well have presidential aspirations after this, wouldn’t seize the opportunity to make himself a national kingmaker. Share the wealth, buy a few friends who might be willing to support him in 2020. It could be that he is planning to do that but isn’t quite ready to give up on his own race just yet, particularly before the debates with Cruz are finished. If he’s still down seven, eight, or nine points 10 days from now, he might have to make a hard decision about what the best use of his war chest is going forward.

It’s also possible that he’s already thinking ahead to running for president and wants to save what cash he has left to launch his presidential campaign. Or, relatedly, he might be willing to spend a bit more in Texas even in a losing effort simply to keep the race close, with an eye to perceptions in 2020. Democrats will tolerate a failed Senate run on the resume of a presidential candidate, I think, particularly given the stiff odds O’Rourke faced to begin with in Texas. He might even argue that losing was a badge of honor: Maybe he could have won if he’d moved towards the center (not really, but that’s what he’ll say) but he was too damned principled to compromise on his left-wing beliefs. A seven-point loss for an unapologetic progressive will be “respectable” to 2020 Democratic primary voters. A 15-point loss might not be, though. Getting blown out, especially by a figure as loathed on the left as Cruz, would raise at least a little doubt about how broadly Betomania might translate nationally. O’Rourke needs to keep his defeat respectable. If that means spending big bucks the rest of the way, that’s what it means.

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Jazz Shaw 7:31 PM on October 02, 2022