In yesterday’s U.S. Senate Republican primary in Texas, lieutenant governor David Dewhurst won 45 percent of the vote to Ted Cruz’s 34 percent and Tom Leppert’s 13 percent. Dewhurst fell just a few points shy of the 50 percent, resulting in a runoff with Cruz. Yet Dewhurt's 11 percentage point victory would suggest he has the advantage of winning that runoff for the GOP nomination on July 31.
But the numbers might be telling a different story. Slightly fewer than half of those who voted in the primary voted early, some over two weeks before the election. Of those early voters, Dewhurst did much better than he did with voters overall, beating Cruz by 18 points (48 percent to 30 percent), or roughly 120,000 votes. But on election day, Cruz closed that gap considerably. Dewhurst won about 41 percent of the vote to Cruz’s 38 percent—a margin of 4 points and only 24,000 votes.
That narrower gap on election day, after voters had more of a chance to get to know the candidates, suggests that the momentum had shifted toward Cruz. With an influx of funds to keep TV and radio ads on the air and an aggressive push to get out the vote in July, Cruz could have a shot at overcoming Dewhurst and winning the nomination.
There are other factors to be sure. Former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert, who pulled 13 percent in the race, did not tell reporters if he would endorse Dewhurst or Cruz. But as the most liberal of the GOP candidates, Leppert might see his supporters turn to the more moderate Dewhurst than the more conservative Cruz—or they might just not vote at all in the runoff. Dewhurst’s big swath of early voters may be just as energized to vote in July as they were to vote in May. Cruz could stumble, Dewhurst could reach deeper into his pockets to pay for more ads, or Texas Republicans could decide to side with their governor, Rick Perry, and go with his endorsed candidate, Dewhurst.
But as one PPP poll showed in the final days before the election, 49 percent of those supporting Cruz said they were “very excited” about voting for him; only 27 percent of Dewhurst supporters said the same thing. In a runoff election, intensity of support could mean everything.