Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton lead among Texas voters in latest poll

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has a commanding 12-point lead in his home state over businessman Donald Trump as the candidates head into Tuesday’s GOP presidential primary in Texas, according to a Texas Pulse/American-Statesman poll conducted Feb. 19 to 22. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is a distant third.

On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has an overwhelming 66 to 26 percent lead over U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, according to the poll of likely Texas voters, conducted by Pulse Opinion Research for Crosswind Media & Public Relations.

Cruz, coming off his third straight third-place finish, returned to Texas and its upcoming must-win primary to a warm endorsement Wednesday from Gov. Greg Abbott before an adoring hometown crowd.

“Texas has the opportunity to play a Texas-sized role,” Abbott said. “Join me in voting for Ted Cruz.”

“We can’t get this wrong,” Cruz said. “We can’t be fooled by P.T. Barnum. The time for the clowns and the acrobats and the dancing bears has passed.”

The Abbott endorsement comes at a key time for Cruz, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones.

“The Cruz campaign is at a critical juncture facing a must-win situation in Texas on March 1. He needs all the help he can get,” Jones said. “If he could ask for only one endorsement in Texas, this is the endorsement he would want.”

Among Texas Republicans, the poll found Cruz was first with 38 percent to 26 percent for Trump, 13 percent for Rubio, 7 percent for Ohio Gov. John Kasich and 6 percent for Dr. Ben Carson. The survey was conducted before and after Saturday’s South Carolina primary, but it concluded before Tuesday’s Nevada caucuses. In both of those contests, Trump won handily with Rubio in second and Cruz a close third.

With the race in flux, polling on the Texas GOP primary has been erratic. An Emerson College survey also released Wednesday found Cruz and Trump virtually tied in the Lone Star State, suggesting that Cruz’s home-field advantage might be eroding after a string of disappointing finishes and bad headlines.

Nonetheless, Cruz’s presidential bid has more home state support than it did in the early stages of the campaign. In a Texas Pulse survey conducted Sept. 11-14, Trump led with 26 percent, Carson was second with 19 percent, Cruz had 15 percent, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who dropped out of the race after a poor performance in South Carolina, had 9 percent.

Cruz finished first in the Iowa caucuses, but, coming off third-place finishes in the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries and Tuesday’s Nevada caucuses, the upcoming “Super Tuesday” contests are do-or-die for him, especially his home state.

About 25 percent of all Republican delegates are on the line Tuesday, when there will be GOP primaries or caucuses in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Virginia.

Texas is the biggest prize with 155 delegates: 47 doled out based on statewide results and 108 delegates allocated locally, three each for the state’s 36 congressional districts. The delegates are awarded proportionally, unless a candidate receives more than half the vote, either statewide or in a particular congressional district. No candidate is likely to meet the 50 percent threshold statewide.

Given a range of reasons for choosing their preferred candidate, 36 percent of likely Republican voters surveyed said the top issue was the candidate’s ability to change Washington, and 21 percent said it was the ability to manage the economy. The ability to win the general election was the prime motivator for 12 percent of the respondents, and for 9 percent it was the ability to manage border security.

In the Democratic primary, Clinton’s 40-point lead over Sanders in the Texas Pulse/Statesman survey is far greater than her advantage in other recent polls. A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll conducted Feb. 12-19 showed her with a 10-point lead, and a Public Policy Polling survey from Feb. 14-16 had her up by 23 points.

Thomas Graham, president and CEO of Crosswind, said the Pulse poll might be reflecting increased campaign activity by Clinton in the past few days. Former President Bill Clinton campaigned for his wife in Laredo on Monday.

“Team Hillary has really invested in Texas,” Graham said. “There’s been a lot of activity from Hillary’s campaign just in the last couple of days, and I think we’re seeing a result of that.”

Among the Democratic respondents, 27 percent said the ability to manage the economy was the most important issue in choosing their candidate, followed by the ability to manage social changes at 23 percent. The ability to win the general election was third, with 15 percent. Tied at 12 percent were the ability to change Washington and the ability to handle international relations and trade issues. Only 2 percent of likely Democratic voters cited border security as their top concern.

Among Democratic respondents, 91 percent said they had a favorable view of President Barack Obama, and 73 percent said they had an unfavorable view of Gov. Greg Abbott. As expected, the numbers were essentially inverted for the Republicans surveyed: 85 percent had an unfavorable view of Obama, and 73 percent viewed Abbott favorably.

Eighty-six percent of Democrats said Obama should nominate a successor to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died earlier this month at a resort in West Texas. Seventy-four percent of Republicans said Obama should allow the next president to decide who to nominate.

The margin of error was 4 percentage points for the Republican poll and 5 percentage points for the Democratic one.

Early voting in Texas began Feb. 16 and ends Friday.

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