September 19, 2018 / 10:06 AM / a month ago

Tightening Texas race boosts Democrats' hopes of taking Senate: Reuters poll

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Democratic congressman aiming to unseat Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in Texas has pulled even in the race, a Reuters poll found, a spark of hope for a party seeking a Senate majority to curb President Donald Trump’s agenda.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Representative Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) campaigns in Houston, Texas U.S. November 11, 2017. REUTERS/William Philpott/File Photo

The Reuters/Ipsos/UVA Center for Politics Poll released on Wednesday of several competitive U.S. Senate races offered a mixed picture of Democrats’ chances in November of winning the two seats they would need to take control of that chamber.

It showed tight races in Arizona, where Democrats are hoping to win a seat held by a retiring Republican, and in Florida, where Republicans aim to unseat a Democratic incumbent.

Democrats are broadly seen as facing steep odds in trying to capture a Senate majority in the Nov. 6 congressional elections as they have to defend seats in 10 states that the Republican Trump won in the 2016 presidential election. Texas, Florida, Arizona and Nevada, all surveyed in the poll, are four of the most competitive Senate races.

Among the bright spots for Democrats: U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas had a 2-percentage-point lead over Cruz among likely voters in the state and U.S. Representative Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona had a 3-point lead over Republican congresswoman Martha McSally in the race to succeed U.S. Senator Jeff Flake, one of Trump’s most vocal critics from within his own party.

FILE PHOTO: Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) listens as Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 5, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

Both leads are within the poll’s 4-percentage-point credibility intervals, a measure of precision, meaning the candidates are drawing about the same level of support.

The finding suggests that O’Rourke has a shot at becoming the first Democrat to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate in a quarter century.

“There’s a possibility it could happen. I’m not saying probable. But it’s possible,” said Larry Sabato, director of the UVA Center for Politics.

Cruz’s feuds with Trump during his unsuccessful 2016 campaign also hurt his standing with some Texas Republicans, Sabato added, saying: “That damaged him with parts of the Texas electorate that he needs for re-election.”

The Reuters/Ipsos/UVA poll was conducted online, in English, from Sept. 5 to 17. It surveyed between 992 and 1,039 people in each of five states including California and weighted the responses according to the latest government population estimates.

The results measured how voters felt at the time of the survey. In 2016, one in eight Americans decided which candidate to vote for in the presidential election in the week before Election Day, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

Other surveys have found that Cruz maintained a strong lead. A Quinnipiac University Poll released on Tuesday showed Cruz holding a 9-point lead over O’Rourke.

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O’Rourke on Tuesday launched his campaign’s first Spanish-language TV ads, a move acknowledging the Democrat would need strong turnout by Hispanic voters to win. The poll showed Hispanic voters preferring O’Rourke by about a 2-to-1 margin over Cruz, who is of Cuban heritage.

GILLUM HAS EDGE IN FLORIDA

The poll also showed Florida’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, with a 1-percentage-point lead over Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson. Nelson’s seat is one of the 10 Democrats are fighting to keep in states that Trump won in 2016.

The poll showed Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum with a 6-point lead, exceeding the 4-point credibility interval, over former U.S. Representative Ron DeSantis in the race to succeed Scott as governor.

If Gillum wins, he would be Florida’s first black governor, and enthusiasm around his campaign could help Nelson as the two share the Democratic ticket across the state. DeSantis has closely aligned himself with Trump and the contest immediately became racially charged following a comment the Republican denied was racially motivated.

The poll showed Nevada U.S. Senator Dean Heller holding a 3-percentage-point lead over Democratic U.S. Representative Jacky Rosen. Heller is the only Republican senator defending a seat in a state that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won in 2016.

In California’s Democrat-versus-Democrat race, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein held a 20-point lead state Senator Kevin de Leon, according to the poll.

Reporting by Chris Kahn; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Peter Cooney

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