David Dewhurst leads Ted Cruz 46-29 in the Texas Republican Senate primary and the main question on Tuesday will be whether he can sneak over 50% and avoid a runoff. Tom Leppert's in third at 15% with Craig James at 3% and 2% of voters preferring someone else. 5% remain undecided and if Dewhurst can pick up enough of those folks it might get him over the finish line.
Dewhurst's 17 point lead represents a reversal of the direction the race had been heading in. Dewhurst started out with a 29 point lead in our polling last September but by January that had declined to 18 points and on our last poll, a month ago, it was down to 12. But Cruz has only gained 3 points over the last four weeks, while Dewhurst has seen an 8 point bump in his support.
Even if Dewhurst does get stopped short of 50%, his prospects in a runoff election look pretty promising. He would lead Cruz 59-34 in a head to head, mostly because Leppert voters prefer Dewhurst over Cruz by a 77-13 margin.
Dewhurst's prospects look good whether his victory comes on Tuesday or later. But there is one finding in the poll that suggests some possibility for things to be closer than expected. 49% of Cruz's voters are 'very excited' about casting their ballots on Tuesday, while only 27% of Dewhurst's are. With voters who are 'very excited' about turning out, Cruz actually has a 42-37 advantage. That pro-Cruz enthusiasm gap won't be enough to put him in first place on Tuesday but if he does force a runoff it could give him a fighting chance in a low turnout election further down the line.
Other findings from this poll:
-As Craig James has become better known he's just gotten more and more unpopular. Only 14% of voters see him favorably to 32% with a negative opinion. Even among SMU fans he had literally zero support on this poll- granted there were only 12 of them in the sample.
-Even though Rick Perry's candidate is likely to defeat Sarah Palin's, her endorsement polls much more positively. 36% of voters say they're more inclined to back a Palin supported candidate to 21% who consider it a negative. Perry's stock with Texas Republicans has fallen so far his endorsement is actually a net minus with 24% saying it would make them more inclined to vote for his candidate to 28% who say less likely. Just goes to show endorsements don't matter all that much.
-Ron Paul probably can't expect too strong a performance in his home state primary on Tuesday. Only 36% of likely primary voters see him positively to 41% with a negative opinion.
Full results here