Partisan control of the U.S. House is very much up for grabs in 2018, but the Senate map is far more complex. On the surface, the arithmetic may appear favorable to Democrats – the current Republican majority of 51 seats couldn’t be much smaller – but below the surface, it’s more complex.Nate Silver had a FiveThirtyEight piece earlier this year that explained, “Just how bad [is the 2018 map for Senate Democrats]? It’s bad enough that it may be the worst Senate map that any party has faced ever, or at least since direct election of senators began in 1913. It’s bad enough that Democrats could conceivably gain 35 or 40 seats in the House … and not pick up the two seats they need in the Senate.”
Part of the issue is the tiny number of vulnerable GOP incumbents. In Nevada, Sen. Dean Heller (R) is, by any fair measure, the most endangered of the senators up this year, but finding another Senate Republican who’s in trouble is extremely difficult.
Or is it? Consider the latest polling news out of Texas.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz holds a 6-point lead over Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke in the Texas Senate race, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday.
Cruz had the support of 49 percent of respondents, compared to 43 percent for O’Rourke, with just 6 percent undecided, according to the poll. That’s a slightly tighter race than in May, when Quinnipiac showed Cruz with an 11-point lead.
Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll, said in his analysis, “U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has a slight, by no means overwhelming, lead. Congressman Beto O’Rourke has done a good job making the race competitive.”
And while I’m generally loath to make too big a fuss about individual polls, especially at this point in the cycle, let’s also note that Texas Lyceum also released a poll yesterday and it found Cruz’s lead over O’Rourke at just two points.
The same results found Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) up by 16 points over his Democratic challenger, suggesting the Texas Lyceum sample wasn’t tilted against the GOP.
What’s more, it’s not just polling: a few weeks ago, O’Rourke reported having raised “an eye-popping” $10.4 million in the second quarter of the year – despite his decision not to accept political action committee support.
All of which suggests it’d be a mistake to assume Cruz is unbeatable.
Some caveats, however, are in order. Texas is still Texas – a state with no Democrats elected to statewide office, and a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since the 1990s. It won’t help O’Rourke that there’s a Republican governor at the top of the ticket who’s heavily favored to win a second term.
Making matters slightly worse, GOP lawmakers in the Lone Star State have imposed some harsh voting restrictions in recent years, which has further tilted the landscape in Republicans’ favor.
And yet, despite all of this, O’Rourke clearly has a shot. A Vox report added yesterday that the congressman isn’t yet widely known statewide, but O’Rourke “has a lot of money, and voters who do know him overwhelmingly like him. The Quinnipiac poll shows black, Hispanic, and women voters prefer him to Cruz. “It’s still a long shot, but as one strategist told Vox of O’Rourke’s campaign in October of last year, ‘sometimes a Hail Mary works.’”