For the first time in their long campaign slog, independent polls are showing the so-called movement candidate, tea party favorite Ted Cruz, leading the GOP establishment favorite, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
They are trying to replace Kay Bailey Hutchison in the U.S. Senate and face off once again in the July 31 runoff election.
“If less than a million people vote and Cruz wins, he’s likely to have coattails,” said Mustafa Tameez, a Houston political consultant. “He’ll pull in a lot of the movement candidates.”
Cruz has insisted all along that his supporters have the enthusiasm, and a new survey suggests that he may be right. The survey, by Wenzel Strategies, shows Cruz leading Dewhurst 47 percent to 38 percent with two weeks to go. Dewhurst won the first round of voting by 10 points but did not get the 50 percent required to avoid a runoff.
The Columbus, Ohio-based Wenzel Strategies is the Republican pollster that projected the tea party-fueled defeat of longtime Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar this year.
The poll, commissioned by the Citizens United Political Victory Fund, a Super PAC that backs Cruz, found 14 percent remain undecided.
“Ted Cruz clearly has the momentum in this pivotal race, because he believes deeply in the core conservative principles that Texans live by,” said David Bossie, Citizens United president.
Dewhurst, 66, the longtime lieutenant governor who announced his candidacy before most voters had ever heard of Cruz, a former Texas solicitor general, also released a poll this week, one that contradicted the Citizen’s United survey.
The Dewhurst poll, conducted by Gov. Rick Perry’s polling firm, Baselice & Associates, showed the lieutenant governor leading 50 percent to 42 percent.
SMU political scientist Cal Jillson said he still is predicting a Dewhurst win, but he and other analysts agree that Dewhurst is in trouble.
“I am not convinced by the polls of the last couple days,” he said. “The Cruz people are praying for low turnout, hoping to win one to nothing if Dewhurst forgets to vote. I still think Dewhurst wins by six, but I have been surprised before.”
Dewhurst’s most prominent supporter is Perry, who has tea party bona fides himself, but he and the candidate are the state’s best-known establishment politicians, a potential liability this year.
Cruz, 41, who touts endorsements by Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, Sean Hannity and other nationally known movement favorites, released an internal poll that had him leading Dewhurst by 9 points, 49 to 40 percent.
Although most political analysts are skeptical of internal polls, another poll by the independent Public Personality Polling, has Cruz leading 49 percent to 44 percent.
“This race is one of the most stark examples of the tea party movement propelling a candidate that we’ve seen to date,” said PPP polling director Tom Jensen.
The winner of the GOP runoff will face the winner of a Democratic runoff between retired educator Grady Yarbrough, of San Antonio, a perennial also-ran in primaries for both parties, and Paul Sadler, a former state representative from Henderson, who is little known statewide.