A Cornyn Run-off?

Florida-based Gravis Marketing, one of the newer national pollsters, just released the findings from their recent survey of the Texas Republican US Senate primary (Dec. 10-12; 729 likely Republican Texas primary voters).  The results, rather surprisingly, give Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn only a 43-28 percent lead over US Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX-36).  

Though Sen. Cornyn registered just 43 percent support among a reflective voting segment within his own political party, his favorability rating was relatively positive, nonetheless.  When asked if the respondents have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the Senator, by a ratio of 49:27 percent, they approved.  Asked the same of Rep. Stockman, the results were 28:18 percent positive to negative, but with 55 percent saying they were “unsure” or had no opinion of the southeast Texas Congressman.

Gravis was active in the 2012 election cycle, but some of their polls produced questionably reliable data.  In this Texas effort, 729 respondents is a healthy sample size, and what is published about their methodology appears sound.  The Republican primary sampling universe consisted of 52 percent males; 39 percent of the respondents are over age 65; 81 percent attended at least some college; and 86% are white: an aggregate demographic that serves as a reasonable configuration for a GOP voting universe.  Additionally, 76% of those sampled describe themselves as conservative (36 percent) or very conservative (40 percent).  

A potential flaw in the poll is that Gravis only tested Sen. Cornyn and Rep. Stockman, while eliminating the other six GOP candidates from the survey questionnaire.  At least one of the also-ran candidates, Dwayne Stovall, is making a serious effort in the race and attracts a significant amount of support from the Republican electorate’s Tea Party sector.  

If the Gravis data is within acceptable statistical variance, the polling result is telling us that Sen. Cornyn is teetering upon a run-off precipice.  He has a huge financial advantage over all of his opponents, and we will have the immediate opportunity of seeing how his team uses that asset in the quickly approaching March 4 primary.  There is no question that the senator will place first in two weeks, but whether he breaks the 50 percent threshold now becomes the real question.

When Ted Cruz forced Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst into a run-off two years ago, the primary result meant the latter’s eventual defeat even though he outdistanced his more conservative opponent by 10 points.  In the first vote, Cruz held his favored opponent to just 44.6 percent.  In the run-off election, the underdog swamped Dewhurst 57-43 percent.  

The main difference between Cruz’s effort and the opponents that Sen. Cornyn faces is campaign resource disparity.  Though Cruz was overwhelmed in spending, he still commanded sizable resources.  The 2014 group of challengers led by Stockman and Stovall have very little in the way of money, and are at a minimum $7 million disadvantage.

The Gravis poll portends that this race may be more interesting that initially first thought, but the idea of Sen. Cornyn being forced into a run-off is still an unlikely one.  If a second vote occurs, however, as this survey seemingly suggests is possible, then an upset outcome would become probable.

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