More Evidence that Cruz-O’Rourke is a Toss-up

I have already expressed my opinion that the Senate election in Texas between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke is a toss-up, by which I mean that, by election day, no one will be able to confidently predict the winner. But there are more factors in support of my analysis than I listed in that piece.

For example, former Democratic consultant Jason Stanford is quoted in The Texas Tribune as saying the Democrats have “never been in a situation [before] where November matters at a statewide level.” That’s a temporal exaggeration, but it has been a long time since Ann Richards was on a Texas ballot. It’s a simple psychological observation that taking time out of your day to vote becomes less urgent when the candidates you prefer are sure losers. Democrats in Texas will turn out at higher rates than in the recent past if they believe that Beto O’Rourke has a chance to win.

Ted Cruz understands this and he’s hoping to drive higher turnout from his base for an inverse reason–it’s also easy to stay home from the polls if you’re certain your preferred candidate will win. That’s why Cruz told a conservative audience in Austin over the weekend that “The biggest challenge I have in this race … is complacency.”

The latest sign of O’Rourke’s momentum came over the weekend, in the wake of Cruz releasing several television ads Friday, including three attacking O’Rourke.

Cruz said Saturday at a conservative conference in Austin. “People say all the time, ‘Oh, come on, it’s a Texas re-elect. How could you possibly lose?’ Well, in an ordinary cycle, that might be true. But this is not an ordinary cycle.”

O’Rourke’s campaign, meanwhile, set an ambitious goal of raising $1 million over the weekend to help counter Cruz’s attack, and easily blew past that target, announcing Monday morning it had raised more than $1.25 million through more than 30,000 donations.

So-called experts continue to pour cold water on O’Rourke’s chances but the way he raises money should alleviate one of their main talking points. Despite the size and expense of advertising in Texas, O’Rourke will have the resources to compete with Cruz and get his name recognition up and his message out.

Another piece of evidence comes from polls of state and federal district races that include the Cruz-O’Rourke matchup:

Only a handful of statewide surveys on the race are floating around the Texas political ether. But one increasing point of alarm for Republicans is what campaign strategists are seeing when they test down-ballot races.

Often campaigns for U.S. House or the Texas Legislature will include statewide matchups in polling it conducts within a district. Sources from both parties say some of those polls show Cruz underperforming in some state legislative and congressional races — particularly in urban areas.

In effect, O’Rourke could come up short but turn out enough voters in the right communities to push Democrats over the line in races for the Legislature and U.S. House.

Obviously, when I say the race is a toss-up, I mean that there is a fifty percent chance that O’Rourke will come up short. But it bolsters the case that he’s already dramatically overperforming and that his strength is showing up in polls for other contests.

Either way, the point I made in the original article still stands. A worthwhile prognosticator doesn’t tell you where things stand today but where they are likely to stand on Election Day. Any reasonable analysis of where we stand and what we should expect to see over the next three months will suggest that the landscape will continue to deteriorate for Ted Cruz and the rest of the Republican Party. O’Rourke is doing everything he needs to do to take advantage of that.

Ted Cruz is wrong about a lot of things, but when he says “this is not an ordinary cycle,” he’s absolutely right.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.