DALLAS — With polls opening Tuesday morning in the red-hot Republican runoff for U.S. Senate, momentum — or the perception of momentum — has become critical for the campaigns of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz.
The campaigns are touting separate polls with opposing results to claim their candidate is ahead charging into the runoff.
The Dewhurst campaign released more details Monday afternoon of an internal campaign poll by Texas pollster Baselice & Associates that has done extensive surveying for Gov. Rick Perry and other statewide candidates of GOP voters.
Not surprisingly, the Baselice poll of 704 likely Republican primary voters interviewed July 26-29 found Dewhurst leading Cruz 48 percent to 44 percent.
That sharply contrasts with an independent poll by Public Policy Polling (PPP) released Sunday night, which showed Cruz ahead 52 percent to 42 percent.
PPP surveys are conducted through automated telephone interviews, and some pollsters believe that methodology is not as accurate as live, person-to-person interviews.
Internal campaign polls are viewed skeptically, considering who pays for them.
In a memo to Texas reporters, Dewhurst advisors Dave Carney and Jim Bognet implied the Baselice survey is more credible, although they did not release detailed cross tabs of the entire survey.
"We thought you may be interested in taking a look at the only Texas poll fresh from the field last night, performed with live operators and by Baselice & Associates, which has more experience surveying Texas Republicans than any pollster in the country," the memo said.
Visiting a campaign call center in Dallas late Monday with allies Gov. Rick Perry and former primary foes Tom Leppert and Craig James, Dewhurst claimed his poll is accurate, "I am absolutely confident we win tomorrow."
But Perry sounded a more cautious tone, "We know it’s going to be a close race, there’s every indication it’s a close race."
The Dewhurst camp cites strong support from senior voters as a critical factor Tuesday, with Dewhurst ahead among seniors 55 percent to 38 percent.
Dewhurst, Perry, Leppert and James voters urging them to back the Lieutenant Governor since if he loses they’ll all be politically dialing 911 seeking cover from powerful tea party forces.
Although Leppert and James criticized Cruz and Dewhurst in the primary they target only Cruz now for being a lawyer.
James, nodding to Dewhurst, said, "We need someone with business experience and background that you have."
And Leppert weighed in, "You’ve got someone who’s had to deal with those issues not from making speeches from a theoretical standpoint but a very practical standpoint of what it means to create jobs."
Regardless of the polls, Cruz is riding a surge that solidified just before the May 29 primary, which launched him into the runoff, and that has continued through three televised debates since then. He's been bolstered by millions in TV ads spent by his campaign and super PACs airing supportive ads for him.
Even according to Dewhurst's own poll, the finish will be close — likely in the single digits with many unknown variables remaining: How large will election day turnout be? And how many voters who didn't cast a ballot at all in May will be drawn to vote in the bitter but exciting race?
Cruz conducted several radio interviews Monday, while Dewhurst campaigned in Austin, San Antonio and Dallas, where he was joined by Perry and former primary foes Tom Leppert and Craig James.
Dewhurst and Cruz both scheduled Houston campaign stops on Tuesday, and then will wait for results after the polls close at 7 p.m.
That's when we'll find out which pollster accurately forecast the outcome.