Of all the battles currently taking place among the 35 Senate seats up for grabs on Nov. 6, it’s the Battle for Texas that’s grabbed the most national headlines. Republican incumbent Ted Cruz is running for re-election against the national liberal heartthrob, Beto O’Rourke. Challenger O’Rourke hauled in more than $38 million from July – September, more than triple Cruz’s meager $12 million.
Despite all the attention, all the money and all the love from national liberals, Real Clear Politics has O’Rourke trailing anywhere from 5 – 9 percentage points behind Cruz. Surprised? Don’t be. No Democrat has won a senate election in Texas since 1988. With the exception of the city of Austin and Willie Nelson, Texas is deep, deep red.
Now, normally, I trust what the polls tell me. Yes, even in 2016, when the national polls were accurate (they were). The only reason I wonder if the current polls are tracking correctly is because O’Rourke is pulling MASSIVE numbers at his rallies. He is igniting audiences all across Texas unlike most politicians. In some small way, it’s highly reminiscent of Obama’s 2008 campaign and, yes, Trump’s 2016 run. If elections were won and lost on enthusiasm alone, O’Rourke would clearly have this one in the bag. But that’s not how it works. Looks can be deceiving.
Remember all the electricity and excitement around Bernie Sanders in 2016? He didn’t lose his primary bid because of rigged elections as many opined (without merit). In many cases, he lost because he ran a national campaign strategy without motivating enough people to register to vote for him when it counted. After all, Sanders was trying to appeal to voters who reject party labels. That’s a tough needle to thread when winning requires voters to declare a party when voting in a primary or caucus.
O’Rourke doesn’t have those same problems, though. This is not the primary. It’s the real deal. And it would appear the Cruz-O’Rourke Battle Royale has cheesed up the voters. The Houston Chronicle reported last month the Lone Star State’s voter rolls are up to 15.6 million people, a 1.6 million increase over the 2014 mid-term elections. And then there’s this:
“That includes nearly a 400,000-person increase since March, election records show. To put that number in perspective, from 2002 to 2014, the state added just over 100,000 voters a year, on average.”
That’s why I wonder if the tracking polls are missing something. It’s not as though Texas Republicans ever have trouble turning out the vote. Cruz won his seat comfortably in 2012 with more than 56 percent of the vote. He defeated Paul Sadler by more than 1.2 million votes. Of course, 2012 was a presidential election year and more than 7.5 million people voted in that particular senate race. By contrast, Texas Republican John Cornyn defeated Democrat David Alameel in 2014 (midterm) by a similar margin, but fewer than 4.5 million Texans voted in that election. How many voters will turn out three weeks from today?
Perhaps past is prologue here, though. Are there enough Democratic Party voters in Texas to unseat Ted Cruz? Better question: will they all vote? After all, midterm elections rarely turn out the vote like general elections. And Democratic voters are known to skip elections, unlike Republicans.
For O’Rourke to prove the polls are wrong, he would probably need to garner most of those 1.6 million new voters; a feat that is not likely. Perhaps it’s my own wishful thinking that refuses to concede just yet, but I’m hoping Beto O’Rourke can shock the world on Nov. 6, though the odds are long and time is running out.