On Friday, a University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll revealed that Cruz now has a 6 point lead over Congressman O’Rourke despite the Democratic challenger nearly doubling the incumbent in fundraising and winning the endorsement of two of the state’s top newspapers.
Border security has been a hot topic in recent debates between the lawmakers from a state that shares a border with Mexico. This dialogue is especially relevant as a caravan of thousands of asylum-seeking migrants from Central America makes its way to the United States.
Cruz Border Strength
On November 6, Americans go to the polls in midterm elections to vote for candidates running for the US House of Representatives, one third of the Senate, and other local positions. The outcome of the congressional vote will determine who controls Congress. The Republican Party current controls both the US House and Senate.
Exacerbating the crisis is the fact that the US Defense Department plans to send at least 800 troops to the southern border to prevent the caravan from entering the United States, media reported Thursday.
Cruz has campaigned on his tough immigration record including measures to prevent undocumented immigrants from having access to public assistance and benefits. Cruz also took part in measures to triple the size of the US Customs and Border Protection agency and to implement a biometric entry-exit system.
O’Rourke, in contrast, has called for an end to the militarization of US immigration enforcement, supports the DREAM Act, which ensures undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children can have a path to US citizenship.
O’Rourke also wants to ensure millions of immigrants already in the United States have a fair path to citizenship.
A majority of Texas voters will lean towards Cruz for his commitment to strengthen security along the US-Mexico border, University of Houston Political Science Professor Brandon Rottinghaus told Sputnik.
"There are some difficulties explaining his [O’Rourke’s] position on ICE, and border security — I think that’s another liability for him since it’s a big issue for Texans and Republicans are riled up by that issue in particular," Rottinghaus said.
Rice University Political Science Professor Mark Jones told Sputnik that he also believed Cruz was perceived as much stronger on immigration enforcement.
"Cruz has the advantage on border security… if the focus shifts to undocumented immigrant felons and the rule of law," Jones said.
O’Rourke, Jones added, has an advantage on immigration policy for voters concerned about families being separated at the border and who are sympathetic to the DREAM Act.
O'Rourke Enthusiasm Not Enough
The popularity of the Democratic competitor has surged over the past year, leading to an unlikely tight race for Cruz’s seat in a state that typically leans Republican.
Although O’Rourke has gained lots of national popularity in his campaign, Cruz holds the higher ground as a Republican in a conservative state, Jones said.
"In sum, Texas is a red state where statewide Republican candidates start off with a natural 12 to 15 percentage point advantage over their Democratic rival," Jones said.
O’Rourke, Jones noted, has done a fantastic job of cutting that advantage in half, but it might not be enough.
"It still remains at somewhere between 6 and 8 points, with voters sufficiently fixed in their position that the only hope O’Rourke has for victory is an unprecedented massive increase in turnout by Democratic voters and a concomitant decline in turnout by Republican voters," Jones said.
Rottinghaus observed that although the "Trump factor" has led to a spike in turnout among Democratic voters, it is also fostering a surge among Republican voters who want to defend the US president and those allied with him.
The professor said he thinks the biggest liability for O’Rourke is the sense that he is too liberal on social and cultural issues from kneeling for the flag to prayer.
"O’Rourke may have trouble convincing… conservatives that he can be trusted," Rottinghaus said.
Texas "swing" voters, he added, may not like what they see coming out of the DC beltway, but economic issues may trump these concerns.
"Even if swing voters aren’t happy with the rest of what’s happening in Washington, it is the case that they have favorable views of the economy," Rottinghaus concluded.