Poll: Many Texas voters remain undecided in Senate race

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by BRAD WATSON

WFAA

Posted on January 17, 2012 at 8:20 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 17 at 8:40 PM

In a new poll released Tuesday, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst maintains a strong lead among the  candidates in the Republican race for U.S. Senate.

Public Policy Polling is a Democratic-leaning polling outfit in North Carolina, but surveys races in both parties nationwide using a "robocall" technique.

In the poll it released for the Senate seat that will be vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison, Dewhurst came in with 36 percent support among 559 likely Texas GOP primary voters. The poll has a margin of error of 4.2 percent.

Former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz had 18 percent, followed by former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert with 7 percent.

Former ESPN analyst and SMU football star Craig James — who just joined the race last month — had 4 percent.

This is the first statewide poll of the Senate race in months, and the first since James entered the campaign.

The good news for Dewhurst is that he still has a sizable lead. The bad news is that he's not yet close to the majority he would need on primary day to avoid a runoff.

At the first big debate in Austin last week, Dewhurst stood at center stage and the center of this race. His name identification is a plus.

The PPP poll found six of ten GOP primary voters know him well enough to form an opinion, and among them, about twice as many like him than not.

Dewhurst defended his record at the debate. "I have been repeatedly involved in cutting spending by billions of dollars and taxes by billions of dollars," he said.

Dewhurst can spend millions on TV ads to try and get the majority he needs to win outright.

Former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz doesn't have that kind of money, and fewer voters know him. But among those who do, the poll found he leads Dewhurst.

As Cruz attacks, his support overall is up, while Dewhurst's is down.

In a PPP poll last September, Dewhurst led Cruz, 41 to 12 percent. Cruz went after Dewhurst repeatedly at the debate.

"On spending and taxes, the Governor and the Speaker of the House have often been dragging Lt. Gov. Dewhurst kicking and screaming to cut the budget," Cruz said.

While voters are generally unfamiliar with Cruz, the poll showed that nearly 4 in 10 have heard of former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert. But he positions himself as a business candidate, not a tea party favorite like Cruz, and looks to fit in.

Leppert says he's the candidate of solutions. "Government wants to control; that's the problem. Businesses, individuals know much better what is right for them and for their people," he said.

In this first poll since former ESPN analyst and SMU football star Craig James joined the race, just three in 10 Republican voters said they know him, and among them, nearly twice as many find him unfavorable as favorable.

Yet James showed confidence at the debate, hitting his talking points. "When you talk about regulations and agencies and all those other things, just look to the Constitution. Look to the playbook," he said.

But look for James to raise the money to get on TV and his poll standings.

"Undecided" came in at 31 percent in the poll, leaving nearly one-third of Republican voters waiting to be persuaded — a possible plus for Dewhurst, who will have millions to spend on TV ads.

Some analysts think that if Cruz and the others can deny Dewhurst an outright win, Cruz — with his tea party backing — would have a shot at beating Dewhurst in a runoff.

The turnout for a runoff would be smaller, this thinking goes, attracting tea party and very conservative voters motivated to head back to the polls to challenge Dewhurst, who is considered an establishment candidate.

E-mail bwatson@wfa.com

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