Tight polls influence strategy as Cruz goes after O’Rourke


AUSTIN (KXAN) — The race for U.S. Senate in Texas seems to keep getting closer — with a new poll showing the tightest margin so far.

The Emerson College poll puts Republican Ted Cruz just one point ahead of Democrat Beto O’Rourke. The poll of registered voters shows 21 percent still have not decided who to support.

“It’s not really all that different from some of the other polls we’ve seen,” said Jim Henson, with the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas. While the 1-point margin in the Emerson poll is unique, several other recent polls have shown the race within single digits.

Cruz has tried to dismiss polls showing a tight race by pointing to similar enthusiasm in 2014 for Democrat Wendy Davis. She lost her bid for governor to Greg Abbott. While the poll numbers Davis had are similar to what O’Rourke is seeing now, Henson says there is a crucial difference.

“By this time in the 2014 cycle, Wendy Davis had been defined very negatively already,” Henson said, explaining that she was already widely known to Independents and Republicans for her polarizing stance on abortion.

“O’Rourke is still a largely undefined quantity for about half of Republican voters,” Henson said, citing polls from the Texas Politics Project. He said that is likely playing a role in the strategy from the Cruz campaign to roll out a series of negative campaign ads.

“The Cruz campaign is trying to get the attention of Republican voters … and remind them that Beto O’Rourke is so anathema to what they’re interested in that they have to remember to vote,” Henson explained.

One of those negative ads accuses O’Rourke of voting against tax relief for victims of Hurricane Harvey. Gardner Selby of the non-partisan fact-checking Politifact Texas project took a closer look at the claim.

The ad refers to a vote on the Disaster Tax Relief and Airport and Airway Extension Act of 2017. It touts Cruz for supporting “bipartisan emergency tax relief” for those hit by Hurricane Harvey. O’Rourke was one of 155 House members who voted against the measure.

The Politifact team rated the ad’s claim “Mostly True,” meaning the statement is accurate but needs additional information.

“Well, he certainly voted no on the tax-relief legislation,” Selby said, explaining the rating. But he said it’s wrong to insinuate that he was against hurricane relief.

“[O’Rourke] voted earlier for billions of dollars in direct relief, and he had some reasons for opposing the relief legislation,” Selby said, noting that Congressman O’Rourke said at the time he was opposed because funding to extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program was not built into the legislation.

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