Beto O'Rourke within striking distance of Ted Cruz, new poll finds

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Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke (Photos: Evan Vucci/AP, Amanda Voisard/Austin American-Statesman via AP)
Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke (Photos: Evan Vucci/AP, Amanda Voisard/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

With just over one week to go before Election Day, Ted Cruz leads Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke by just 5 points in Texas’s surprisingly competitive Senate race, according to a new poll.

A Quinnipiac University Poll released Monday found 51 percent of likely Texas voters back Cruz compared with 46 percent who favor O’Rourke — a significant shift compared with an Oct. 11 Quinnipiac poll that found the Republican senator with a 9-point lead in the race. Three percent of likely voters are undecided in the race —up from 2 percent earlier this month — while another 2 percent of those polled suggest they could still change their minds in the final days of the campaign.

The tightening of the race is a blow to Cruz, who had expected an easy ride to reelection this year only to see it become one of the most closely watched races in the nation thanks to the impressive traction of O’Rourke, a little-known, three-term congressman from El Paso whose long-shot campaign has attracted enormous crowds and intense media attention.

After a slow start, Cruz and his allies launched millions of dollars in attack ads in recent weeks aimed at curbing O’Rourke’s rise in the polls. It appeared to be working, as Cruz expanded his lead, forcing O’Rourke to stray from his mostly positive campaign message to a more negative message against Cruz in hopes of narrowing the gap.

<span class="s1">Beto O’Rourke greets fans at a pop-up event at an Austin Community College parking lot Wednesday. (Photo: Amanda Voisard/American-Statesman via AP)</span>
Beto O’Rourke greets fans at a pop-up event at an Austin Community College parking lot Wednesday. (Photo: Amanda Voisard/American-Statesman via AP)

Monday’s poll exposed positives and negatives for both candidates. Echoing trends in previous polls, Cruz still leads among white voters (67 percent to O’Rourke’s 30 percent) and among men (56 percent to 39 percent). O’Rourke leads among women (52 percent to Cruz’s 45 percent), blacks (86 percent to 12 percent), Hispanics (60 percent to 36 percent) and independent voters (56 percent to 40 percent).

There have been subtle shifts in polling of the race. According to Quinnipiac, Cruz is down 6 points among men compared with two weeks ago. Meanwhile, after a bumpy start to his campaign, Cruz continues to solidify Republican support behind his candidacy. Ninety-six percent of likely GOP voters back him in the race, compared with 3 percent who support O’Rourke, who needs to flip some Republican voters in the strongly red state if he has any hope of winning.

O’Rourke is vying to be the first Democrat elected statewide in Texas since 1994 and the first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate from Texas since Lloyd Bentsen won reelection in 1988. But Cruz has sought to derail his surprising campaign, calling him “too liberal” for Texas.

While O’Rourke’s campaign is likely to find more hopeful signs than negative in the latest Quinnipiac poll, he and his advisers have all along argued that their target is expanding the voting electorate to pick up so-called nonvoters who don’t necessarily show up to the polls, much less in a midterm election.

People wait in line hours before President Trump’s Oct. 22 rally in support of Sen. Ted Cruz in Houston. (Photo: Loren Elliott/Getty Images)
People wait in line hours before President Trump’s Oct. 22 rally in support of Sen. Ted Cruz in Houston. (Photo: Loren Elliott/Getty Images)

Asked last week if he believed the polling in the race was accurate, O’Rourke offered a qualified yes. “I think they always, to some degree, reflected that we are in contention, that this is possible, that it’s not going to be easy, that we’ve really got our work cut out for us,” he told Yahoo News.

But the congressman recounted an encounter he’d had the day before with a voter who had approached him in the parking lot of a gas station in Arlington. The man told him he hadn’t voted in 20 years, but that co-workers had been “bugging” him to vote and that he planned to vote for O’Rourke. “I was kind of a ‘by the way’ in his story, which is appropriately humbling,” O’Rourke said. “(But) I see that everywhere we go… So those who haven’t voted in a while, those students who just got registered… Folks are getting after it, and inherently, by definition, those people are not in anyone’s polling universe, and I feel really good about where we are and what we are seeing.”

Both campaigns have taken solace in record-breaking early voting numbers. Since last Monday, nearly 2.7 million Texans have already cast their ballots — a number that has surpassed the entire two-week early voting period in the last midterm election, according to the Texas Tribune. That’s notable because a majority of Texans cast their votes early as opposed to on Election Day.

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