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New polls show Ted Cruz could really lose in 2018

Democrat Beto O’Rourke is closing in on Cruz in Texas — but people still don’t know who he is.

Beto O’Rourke Joins Protest Against Trump Zero Tolerance Immigration Policy
Meet Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat who is making the Senate race in Texas against Ted Cruz competitive.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

There’s a Beto surge in Texas.

Democrat Rep. Beto O’Rourke is within single digits of beating Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, two recent polls find — a development that has pushed the Cook Political Report to change the state’s partisan rating from “Likely Republican” to “Lean Republican.”

A new poll from Quinnipiac University released Wednesday put O’Rourke just 6 points behind Cruz. Cruz drew the support of 49 percent of registered Texas voters; 43 percent of registered voters backed O’Rourke. The poll, which has a 3.5-point margin of error, shows the Texas Senate race tightening since an earlier poll in May when O’Rourke was 11 points behind Cruz.

Another poll from Texas Lyceum, with a slightly smaller sample size, had Cruz up by just 2 points — a statistical dead heat. Cruz had the support of 36 percent of registered voters, and O’Rourke had the support of 34 percent. The Real Clear Politics polling average has Beto behind by 6.5 points.

Put simply: It’s becoming a very real possibility that Cruz could lose reelection to a Democrat — an upset that would seriously imperil Republicans’ hold on the Senate majority. Texas has not had a Democratic senator in more than 20 years.

“Congressman Beto O’Rourke has done a good job making the race competitive. With three months until Election Day, he is clearly in contention,” Peter Brown, the assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll, said. “A Democratic victory in the Lone Star State would be a serious blow to GOP hopes of keeping their US Senate majority.”

O’Rourke, a third-term Congress member who represents El Paso, a largely remote and isolated district in Texas, was an unrecognizable name in national politics only a year ago.

He hasn’t hired a political consultant or pollster on his campaign; he live-streams almost every aspect of his life, from his kids eating breakfast to his morning runs with voters. He brags that he’s not taking any money from PACs. His campaign still raised more than $10 million in the past three months, more than double what Cruz pulled in.

O’Rourke’s team released its first campaign ad this week. Shot completely on an iPhone, the short spot is far from the viral campaign video sensations put out by other long-shot Democratic congressional candidates like Amy McGrath in Kentucky or M.J. Hegar in Texas. It shows O’Rourke driving through every single Texas county, and is called “Showing Up.”

The video is emblematic of O’Rourke’s biggest obstacle in this race: Texas is a big state, and despite his having won the hearts of liberals across the country through countless features in the national media market, voters in Texas still don’t know who this Democrat is.

O’Rourke notably underperformed in the Texas primaries; he won the primary and avoided a runoff but still lost some crucial border counties to a complete political unknown, Sema Hernandez. In March, it was a sign that O’Rourke didn’t have name recognition. Now, in July, the Quinnipiac poll finds 43 percent of voters still haven’t heard enough about O’Rourke to form an opinion about him. Only 7 percent of voters said the same of Cruz.

This can be read two ways: Either Texas is too big for O’Rourke’s in-person style of campaigning or, with still slightly more than three months until Election Day, O’Rourke has a lot of room for growth in what is already a very close race. With Cruz, on the other hand, voters have largely already decided what they make of him.

Some things are clearer. O’Rourke has a lot of money, and voters who do know him overwhelmingly like him. The Quinnipiac poll shows black, Hispanic, and women voters prefer him to Cruz.

It’s still a long shot, but as one strategist told Vox of O’Rourke’s campaign in October of last year, “sometimes a Hail Mary works.”

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