According to WPA, Cruz has a substantial 49-40 percent lead over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the GOP run-off election scheduled for July 31. Among those identifying themselves as being sympathetic with the Tea Party, some 50 percent of the sample, Cruz leads by a whopping 72-22 percent. Within the “very conservative” category, he is up 58-33 percent.
Dewhurst campaign sources, according to a Roll Call newspaper story, counter that their own polling shows the lieutenant governor holding a “comfortable” advantage in the run-off campaign. The Dewhurst operation is not releasing any numbers, however, and it is unlikely their sampling universe is as narrowly defined as the WPA cell group.
Run-offs in Texas are interesting. Turnout is always substantially lower than in the primary, usually averaging about a 50 percent drop-off, and normally the most conservative candidate wins. Both of these factors stack up well for Cruz. Additionally, the fact that the run-off is in the middle of the long, hot Texas summer, a schedule not previously seen, also likely benefits Cruz because most believe he has the more committed supporters who will vote no matter what conditions, elements, or obstacles lie before them.
Under Texas law, all party primary voters and anyone not voting in the previous primary election are eligible to vote in a run-off. The only voters not allowed to cast a ballot in a particular run-off election are those who participated in the other party’s primary. For example, any voter casting a Republican ballot in the May 29 election is ineligible to vote in the succeeding Democratic run-off, and vice-verse.
Texas has an extremely low primary turnout history and run-off participation factors are even worse. In the 2012 primary election, 1.349 million people voted in the Republican primary and 590,164 for the Democrats, meaning a total voter turnout rate of just 16.7 percent. The best available Republican run-off projection suggests that approximately 750,000 people, or 5 percent of all registered voters, will participate. Such a small voting universe in a large state means targeting and individual persuasion, rather than large electronic media buys, will be the key to winning on the last day of July.
Clearly the GOP nomination, which is tantamount to election in November, is up for grabs. Much will happen over the next three weeks to determine the final outcome but it has now become obvious that Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, despite winning four statewide elections in his career, is no longer the prohibitive favorite to clinch this Senatorial race.