Gulp: Is the Texas Senate Race Slipping Away from Ted Cruz?

Posted: Aug 29, 2018 11:45 AM

The fact that I'm even asking this question semi-seriously could be interpreted as an indication that an expected 2018 blue wave is growing into a towering tsunami.  But I'm not convinced that's the case at all, especially on the Senate side -- even if Ted Cruz's Texas lead is tenuous.  I'll explain why in a moment, but let's first take a look at the poll that set off alarm bells in Republican circles earlier this week.  This is something of an outlier, but not entirely:

The good news for Republicans is that the RCP average still shows his lead at a more substantial 5.5 percentage points, and that this same Emerson poll shows Texas Governor Greg Abbott cruising toward re-election by 20 points.  But there are two sides to that latter coin: Sure, it's a signal that Texas is still pretty reliably red, and that the GOP-leaning electorate may still be expected or inclined to break toward its natural partisan alignment in other races.  On the other hand, though, it's not an accident that Abbott is running far ahead of Cruz in numerous polls.  That's a real phenomenon.  And if turnout becomes a serious factor in Democrats' favor, Cruz could conceivably get swept under.  Also, of the five statewide surveys of this race taken in July and August, Cruz leads relatively comfortably in just two; he's up by six and nine points, respectively, in those.  But two more of those polls peg the race as within one or two points, with lots of undecideds.  

It's long been my contention that undecideds could well be swayed away from liberal Democrat Beto O'Rourke, whose views on a whole litany of issues -- impeachment, abortion, guns, and immigration among them -- are notably out of step with Texas values.  O'Rourke also recently endorsed the controversial and divisive NFL anthem protests, declaring that he could think of nothing more American.  Some of his points were sound, but nothing?  Really?  Cruz, understandably, is jumping on the issue, betting (almost certainly correctly) that most Texans won't agree.  But part of persuading undecideds and exposing Beto's record and worldview as too left-wing for Texas requires a major and expensive messaging push.  That shouldn't be a problem, except liberals are flooding O'Rourke with contributions, and Team Cruz is reportedly getting concerned about the disparity in fundraising:

I'd guess that this seat is still probably safe (I mean, Cruz has already beaten one liberal darling this year), but it's become too competitive to just shrug off.  Similarly, in spite of some growing buzz, I still count Bob Menendez's New Jersey seat as a heavy Democratic lean.  Yes, I'm aware that Garden State voters aren't pleased with Menendez's ethics problems, and yes, I know his polling position is fairly weak against a self-funding GOP rival.  But I also lived through the 2006 cycle in New Jersey.  Menendez was dogged with corruption baggage back then, too.  He looked vulnerable all the way into September against a competitive Republican opponent, even trailing in a spate of surveys.  Democrats were anxious.  And then the anti-GOP cycle and the state's Democratic electorate asserted themselves, and he won pretty comfortably.  Until I see a lot more evidence that Menendez is in trouble, I expect to see something of an '06 rerun this year.  This may not count as "a lot" of proof to that effect, but it's something:

I promise you this: With so many competitive seats in the offing this cycle, national Democrats do not want to be putting any resources into New Jersey.  The same applies for Republicans and Texas.  As we wrap up, let's chew over this observation from a top political prognosticator:

At this stage, I'd say that Republicans are behind in Arizona, precariously tied in Nevada, and in some danger of losing Tennessee and/or Texas.  Democrats are behind or precariously tied in North Dakota (I've now heard from multiple sources that incumbent Heidi Heitkamp looks like she's in real trouble), Missouri, and Florida -- and could definitely drop contests West Virginia and Indiana, too.  Montana and Wisconsin may also be on the board.  I'll leave you with a really tough ad from newly-minted Republican Senate nominee Martha McSally in Arizona, hitting her (recently reclusive) Democratic opponent.  Damn: