DALLAS - In a flip that would make Olympic gymnasts green with envy, a new independent poll released Thursday found Ted Cruz leading Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the Republican primary runoff.
The survey by Public Policy Polling shows Cruz ahead of Dewhurst, 49 to 44 percent.
"Ted Cruz looks like the new front runner in the Texas Senate race," said Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling (PPP). “Not only is he ahead overall, but he’s up by even more with the folks who are most likely to vote in what will probably be a low-turnout election. The momentum swing in this race over the last six weeks is seismic.”
A PPP poll in May, before the primary, found a head-to-head match with a sizable lead for Dewhurst, 59 to 34 percent.
But Cruz finished strong leading up to the May 29 primary, which Dewhurst led with a 45 to 34 percent margin over Cruz. But since Dewhurst, the state's lieutenant governor since 2003, didn't get a majority of the vote, the race was tossed into a runoff on July 31.
Since there is a long time gap between the primary and runoff, which will be in the heat of summer with many voters disengaged, there have been many questions about turnout.
The conventional thinking among pundits is that Cruz enjoys an edge in enthusiasm, because of his tea party base. The PPP poll found 40 percent of likely GOP runoff voters identify themselves as members of the tea party movement, and Cruz with a 71 to 26 percent advantage.
Dr. James Henson is director of the Texas Politics Project and oversees the UT/Texas Tribune poll which surveyed voters in the race before the primary.
Henson looked over the PPP results regarding tea party voters.
"Over time, I think Cruz has done a good job of closing the deal and growing that base in the party, that depending on how you gauge it, is 40-to-50 percent of Republican primary voters," Henson said.
Cruz leads among voters who call themselves "very excited" about voting in the runoff, 59 to 36 percent.
Although Dewhurst eschews the "moderate" label, the survey found he enjoys considerable support among those voters, 70 to 20 percent. Dewhurst also leads with women, seniors, and those who consider themselves somewhat conservative.
With his formidable organization and personal wealth, Henson said Dewhurst still has a good chance.
"He has to reach out some more to those conservative voters on one hand, and on the other hand, they have to continue to pound on Cruz's negatives," Henson said. "Clearly, looking at what this possible universe of voters looks like, this is a race aobut the conservative primary voter."
With early voting starting July 23, Dewhurst and Cruz are launching attacks and counter-attacks over their records, since they mostly agree on major issues. Dewhurst resumed TV ads several days ago and Cruz is starting again now with more ads expected in major Texas cities next week.
"I think you've seen a lot of negative ads already," Henson said. "I think you are only going to see more."
A major inflection point in the campaign will be next Tuesday's statewide televised Belo Debate between Cruz and Dewhurst airing at 7 p.m. originating on WFAA-TV in Dallas-Fort Worth.
PPP is a polling organization based in North Carolina that Republicans often consider suspect, because of its Democratic leanings. However, the firm polls regularly in Texas and, unlike campaign or PAC polls often cited, PPP releases "cross tabs" showing how the poll was conducted and the sample surveyed.
Politico reported earlier Thursday a Citizens United Political Victory Fund survey, which favors Cruz, found Cruz ahead 47 to 38 percent, but that a Dewhurst internal poll Wednesday found Dewhurst ahead 50 to 42 percent.
With poll results sliding about, there is one certainty: the race is in single digits, with a finish as hot as the July Texas weather.
From the PPP release:
PPP surveyed 468 likely Republican runoff voters on July 10 and 11. The margin of error for the survey is +/-4.5 percent. This poll was not paid for or authorized by any campaign or political organization. PPP surveys are conducted through automated telephone interviews.