(Bloomberg) -- Republican Senator Ted Cruz is confronting an increasingly close race for re-election in GOP-dominated Texas with Democratic U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke pulling within striking distance in a new poll, aided by support from younger voters, women and minorities.
Cruz drew 47 percent support from Texas voters and O’Rourke drew 44 percent in an April 12-17 Quinnipiac University Poll released Wednesday. That’s within the poll’s 3.6 percentage point margin of error.
Democrats are targeting Cruz in the November congressional elections “and they may be hitting the mark,” Peter A. Brown, assistant editor of the poll, said in a statement.
A Cruz loss in Texas would be a major upset for Republicans, who are trying to hold or expand their two-seat Senate majority in what is already a challenging election year for the party. Although Democrats are defending 10 Senate seats in states that President Donald Trump won in 2016, they have a chance to flip Republican-held seats in Tennessee, Nevada and Arizona. Democrats are counting on Trump’s low approval ratings, historical trends and a raft of Republican retirements to make a bid for control of the House.
Cruz already was showing signs of vulnerability. O’Rourke’s campaign said this month that he raised $6.7 million for his Senate bid in the first quarter of 2018, more than twice the $3.2 million that Cruz’s campaign said the senator raised during the same period.
But Cruz, who was first elected to the Senate in 2012 with 57 percent of the vote, retains enormous advantages in Texas, where Republicans dominate in statewide offices. In the March 6 primary, 1.5 million Texans cast votes for the Republican Senate candidates compared with the 1 million who voted in the Democratic contest. Texas has voted to send a Republican to the White House, Senate and governor’s mansion in every election since 1994.
Cruz said in an interview that the odds remain significantly in his favor.
“I recognize that every two to four years the press and Democrats get very excited about turning Texas blue, but that’s not going to happen this year anymore than any previous year, and that’s because there are a lot more conservatives than liberals in Texas,” he said.
The Quinnipiac poll found O’Rourke leading among self-identified independent voters, those 18 to 34 years old, and black and Hispanic Texans. He holds a slight edge among women with 47 percent support to Cruz’s 43 percent.
Texas voters are closely divided on Cruz, giving him a 47 percent job approval rating compared with 45 who disapproved. He was rated favorably by 46 and unfavorably by 44 percent. O’Rourke, who represents the El Paso area, drew a 30 percent to 16 percent favorability rating, with 53 percent of Texas voters surveyed saying they didn’t know enough about him to have any opinion.
The two leading issues among all voters surveyed were immigration and health care, pulling 25 percent each.
The poll also found that Trump’s approval rating was 43 percent, with 52 percent disapproving, in line with his national rating in poll averages compiled by RealClearPolitics. But 43 percent of Texas voters said Trump won’t be an important factor in their choice for the Senate. Twenty-six percent said their votes in the Senate race will be more to show support for the president and 27 percent said their vote will be more to express their opposition.
Cruz was elected to the Senate as part of a Tea Party wave in 2012. He’s best known for helping to spark a funding standoff in 2013 that led to a partial government shutdown, and working as a lead opponent to Obamacare. As a 2016 presidential candidate, he unsuccessfully portrayed himself as the best GOP alternative to Trump.
O’Rourke, a second term House lawmaker, has been campaigning through most of Texas’s 254 counties. His voting record largely aligns with most House Democrats. He back stronger gun controls, abortion rights, and tougher environmental and consumer protections.
O’Rourke represents an district that is about 80 percent Hispanic, and has been highly critical of Trump’s efforts to build a wall at the southwest border and target undocumented immigrants, a sharp contrast to Cruz’s efforts to contain illegal immigration in a state with a high concentration of Latino voters.
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