David Dewhurst v Ted Cruz -- runoff!

David Dewhurst versus Ted Cruz is headed for a runoff.  July 31st is 9 weeks away.

Think of last night like a poll. Except that last night was really two separate polls -- both released last night, but from different time periods.  In the old poll, Dewhurst was comfortably ahead with an 18% margin.  In the new poll, Cruz is just barely 3% behind.  The pollster was...the State of Texas.  

Which poll best reflects the likely runoff electorate?
Easy call -- give me the most recent poll!   It's clear that a massive 15 point swing took place over a very short time frame. If there's no compelling reason to think that the old one is more likely to reflect the future, then you go with the more recent one. 

It's pretty unlikely that the early voting better represents the runoff electorate, because that would imply that Dewhurst's supporters are more enthusiastic which is contrary to all evidence.

Here's a few angles for the next 9 weeks to consider:

The electorate will look different on a geographical bais.  I haven't looked yet at all the legislative races that are going to runoffs, but it looks like the congressional races in 14, 25 and 36 are going to a runoff, as well as SD25.  Some areas will turn out more than others. And yes, it's going to be hot in late July.  People will be on vacation before school starts. It favors those who really want to vote for their candidate.

Enthusiasm gap
Ted Cruz has a movement of passionate supporters. David Dewhurst has a contingent of (mostly non-Texan) staffers.

David Dewhurst still hasn't given people a reason to vote for him, and as a result has very little energy among his supporters. The Dewhurst campaign spent all their time trying to tear Ted Cruz down. They threw the kitchen sink -- guilt by co-worker association, racial attacks, and Chinese xenophobia. It didn't work, and appeared to work increasingly less as the election went on given the Cruz election day surge.

Dewhurst's support is still dangerously soft. Voters don't identify him with a wing of the party. They don't identify him with any issue. He's been at 90+% name ID throughout the entire campaign and yet never cracked about 50% in any reputable poll. That's a serious sign of danger.

What's the message?

Negative -- Dewhurst already scraped the very bottom of the barrel by resorting to the 11th hour racial attacks that backfired on him. Dewhurst managed to get the media to fixate on a nothing attack for weeks. It was flawlessly executed, with just one basic problem: there wasn't much there there. Although the Texas media is inclined to favorably cover Dewhurst, at some point the press corps will stop covering the rehashing of personal attacks that lack substance.

Positive -- to date, we've heard more about Dewhurst's father fighting in WWII than we have about why he thinks he should be our next Senator. Maybe Dewhurst's campaign can find a positive message.

DFW -- the battleground?

Do Tom Leppert's voters go to Dewhurst because he's the moderate candidate? Or do they break against quasi-incumbent Dewhurst, having already rejected the Dew the first time? I'd say neither -- Tom Leppert was fundamentally a regional candidate. He registered in single digits outside of the Dallas/Fort Worth metro region. Inside of DFW metro, he was never defined by any campaign. He was a relatively popular local mayor who spent mostly on DFW TV and who was favorably covered by the DFW media.

I don't know if Leppert will endorse (I rather doubt it would matter anyway). Though Leppert campaigned as a conservative like Cruz, his moderate record is more in line with Dewhurst. However, Dewhurst's attacks might have killed Leppert's political future, so Leppert might not be terribly inclined towards him.

Cruz beat Dewhurst by 5% in the vote rich Dallas suburbs of Collin County and won by 3% in the DFW suburbs of Denton County. Cruz also won by 2% in Tarrant County (Fort Worth) while losing by 2% in Dallas County. For whatever that's worth, I wouldn't so quickly assume that Leppert's voters will fall to either Cruz or Dewhurst...assuming they even turn out to vote. It's up for grabs.

Dewhurst still has a vast personal fortune that he can draw on, and vast resources afford the potential to make mistakes. The Dewhurst campaign hasn't found a winning message so far. They've been hiding from voters and hoping scorched earth attack ads will win due to voter inattention. They didn't. But when you have tens of millions to throw around, you can afford to make some mistakes. It remains to be seen how much Dewhurst will spend, but I imagine we are likely to see Dewhurst equal the $15 million that he already spent pre-runoff.

Which will prevail?
Cruz has the message, the energy and the momentum, but Dewhurst has the money and the establishment. Going into a late July Texas runoff, I'd rather have the message and momentum every time. Advantage: Cruz.

Texas went a long time without a serious Republican primary, and even Rick vs Kay disappointed. Dewhurst vs Cruz won't disappoint. It's game time.

Posted by Evan @ 05/30/12 01:01 PM


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