Gov. Rick Perry leads U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison by 12 percentage points in the Republican primary for governor, but she does better than him in hypothetical matchups with Democrats in next November's general election.
In the inaugural University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, Perry had the support of 42 percent of self-identified Republican primary voters, against Hutchison's 30 percent. Debra Medina got 7 percent, enough — even if she doesn't improve her numbers — to act as a spoiler in the March 2 primary.
On the Democratic side, nobody had great numbers. Kinky Friedman leads the pack, with 19 percent, followed by Tom Schieffer, with 10 percent, former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, with 5 percent, Mark Thompson, with 3 percent, Felix Alvarado, with 2 percent, and Hank Gilbert, who got 0.3 percent. Earle hasn't declared, but is looking, and Thompson withdrew from the race after the poll. (The numbers might not add to 100, due to rounding.)
Undecided is currently the runaway favorite in that race, with 55 percent. And "someone else" finished third, at 6 percent. Voters clearly haven't tuned into the Democrats.
"On the Democratic side, the question is, 'Is Kinky going to hijack the Democratic primary just on name ID," said pollster Daron Shaw, a professor of government at UT-Austin.
And in a hypothetical special election race for U.S. Senate — for the seat Hutchison now holds — Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Houston Mayor Bill White pulled 13 percent, followed closely by former Comptroller John Sharp, with 10 percent. The three are in a virtual tie, all within the poll's margin of error.
Texas Democrats look pretty healthy in general election matchups — unless you name them.
Perry polls in a virtual tie with an unnamed Democrat, getting 34 percent to the Democrat's 33 percent. Eight percent would vote for a third-party candidate, and the rest haven't decided.
Hutchison does better, pulling 36 percent to the generic Democrat's 25 percent.
But the Democrats who actually have their names exposed get beat, at this point, by either of the leading GOP candidates.
Perry v. Schieffer? 36% to 25%.
Hutchison v. Schieffer? 40% to 20%.
Perry v. Friedman? 38% to 23%.
Hutchison v. Friedman? 41% to 21%
In a matchup against Earle, who indicted Hutchison in the early 1990s and saw his case crumble in court, she's up 42% to 18%.
These Democrats, with their names attached, aren't much of an obstacle. Their hope is that that particular election is a year away.
"The problem with the Democrats is not that nobody's looking at them," said pollster Jim Henson, who runs the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin and teaches there. "It's that the candidate's they're showing, nobody likes."
Washington and Austin
Texas voters aren't well pleased with their elected leaders, particularly with the U.S. Congress: 71 percent said they "somewhat" or "strongly" disapprove of the job Congress is doing, and only 14 percent registered approval. A measly 2 percent approve strongly of the job Congress is doing.
The Texas Legislature fares somewhat better, getting good marks from 31 percent and bad marks from 36 percent. If you're grading on the curve, that's not too bad.
President Barack Obama's performance gets approval from 41 percent of Texans, disapproval from 52 percent.
The locals? Perry's favorables are lower than his unfavorables, 36 to 44 percent. Hutchison's numbers are better, at 39 percent favorable and 27 percent unfavorable.
Look at the Washington and Austin numbers through the lens of Congress and the Legislature, though, and you can see why Perry spends so much time tagging Hutchison as a creature of Washington. Austin, in comparison, doesn't look so bad.
The election that might never come
A slew of candidates have lined up to run for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Hutchison, who said earlier this year that she plans to resign to run for governor. More recently, she has said she'll stick around for a vote on health care in the Senate — a position that has some pols wondering whether she'll quit early at all.
The race to succeed her isn't on the radar outside of the political class — 56 percent of voters don't have a favorite. Voters who did choose put the top three — Dewhurst, White, and Sharp — in a virtual tie. State Sen. Florence Shapiro and Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams each got three percent; Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones got 2 percent, and former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams had 1 percent.
Texas remains a red state, in recent election results and, according to this survey, in the minds of voters. A third said they'll definitely vote in the GOP primary and another 12 percent said they probably will do so. Just under a quarter — 23 percent — will definitely vote in the Democratic primary and other 7 percent "probably" will. One in 10 said they only vote in general elections and 16 percent didn't say what they'll do. Asked another way about their politics, 47 percent identify themselves as conservative, 35 percent as "in the middle", and 19 percent as liberal.
That shows up, too, in generic races for Congress and the Legislature. On the federal side, a generic Republican beats a generic Democrat 42% to 33%. On the state side, it's Republican, 39%, and Democrat, 33%.
The Internet survey of 800 registered voters was conducted October 20-27 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.46 percent. The GOP primary questions have a +/- 5.19 percent margin of error; the Democratic primary questions have a margin of error of 6.01 percent.
Coming tomorrow: Policy issues