Texas poll: Abbott cruises, Beto bruises, and McConaughey snoozes?

Texas poll: Abbott cruises, Beto bruises, and McConaughey snoozes?
(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

All right all right all right all right. Or all wrong if you’re Beto O’Rourke or Matthew McConaughey, both of whom come up short in the latest Texas Tribune poll for the Lone Star State. Contrary to other recent polling, Greg Abbott maintains a significant lead in a re-election gubernatorial bid, although not exactly commanding:

Gov. Greg Abbott has a comfortable lead over potential Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, according to a new poll from the University of Texas at Austin and The Texas Tribune.

The survey of registered voters found Abbott with a 9-percentage-point advantage over O’Rourke, 46% to 37%. Seven percent of respondents picked someone else in the hypothetical matchup, and 10% said they have not thought about it enough to have an opinion.

That’s quite a gap considering the source, which usually isn’t overly kind to Republicans. What about Wooderson? The highly likable McConaughey turns out not to play quite as well in politics as he does in the entertainment industry:

One other potential gubernatorial candidate who has captured the attention of the political world is actor Matthew McConaughey. He has teased a possible run for months, without saying which primary he would run in — or whether he would run as an independent.

The poll discovered that the movie star is not universally beloved by Texans. Close to a third of voters — 29% — have neither a favorable nor unfavorable opinion of McConaughey. Thirty-five percent registered a favorable opinion of him, and 24% said they had an unfavorable impression.

Those aren’t bad numbers for someone looking to make an entry into politics for the first time. O’Rourke, for instance, has a 35/50 favorability rating for a -15, with a lot less upside to go. The former Senate and presidential candidate is already pretty well defined in Texas, while McConaughey at least starts off with a +11 and twice as many undecideds. One other point in McConaughey’s favor is that independents don’t much care for either O’Rourke (22/48) or Abbott (27/57). However, Republicans are plentiful enough in Texas to counter that, or at least that’s the operating assumption. You’d expect a celebrity as genuinely likable and approachable as McConaughey to start off with better numbers than this poll shows, though.

Meanwhile, popular or not, Abbott appears to be cruising while Beto takes more of a bruising. That wasn’t the case in last week’s Rice University poll that put Abbott up only one at 43/42, or even in the Dallas Morning News poll in early September (42/37 Abbott). The one consistent feature in all of these polls, though, is the very notable lack of traction for O’Rourke despite his well-known persona in Texas. He’s only polled outside of the thirties once, in the Rice survey, which is a very bad sign for Democrats. They might be better off running an unknown in his place instead.

Not that it will make much difference, especially if McConaughey decides to take a pass. Joe Biden’s approval rating had been surprisingly reasonable in Texas until mid-summer — about the same time as the Afghanistan bug-out — but it’s been diving ever since:

Any Democratic candidate will have to contend with a president from their party, Joe Biden, who is deeply unpopular in Texas. In the poll, voters gave him a net approval rating of negative 20 points, with 35% approving of his job performance and 55% disapproving. That is wider than the 11-point deficit that the survey found between the two ratings for Biden in August.

With a fired-up Republican base, angry independents, and morose Democratic voters, one has to wonder whether anyone will seek the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. O’Rourke might be their best shot, but he’s running the risk of becoming a joke along the lines of Harold Stassen. Where does a politician go after losing a Senate race, a presidential primary, and then a gubernatorial election? There aren’t many career paths that branch out from that kind of hat trick.

At the moment, though, O’Rourke seems to be their man. He gets 70% of the primary vote from Democrats in this survey, and only 5% want “someone else.” A quarter are undecided, but if Beto’s getting 70%, no other Democrat is likely to mount a serious challenge. Although it would be amusing if an Edward Durr-esque figure managed to steal the nomination from O’Rourke, it’s tough to see that happening, as O’Rourke knows how to spend money and campaign. It seems to be his only real talent, in fact.

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