The University of Texas / Texas Tribune poll, conducted from February 1-7, shows Gov. Rick Perry holding a 24-point lead over U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the Republican gubernatorial primary contest, with Debra Medina posing a surprisingly strong challenge to Hutchison for second place. Perry garnered 45% of the vote, Hutchison 21%, Debra Medina 19%, with 16% undecided. The sample of 366 Republican primary voters has a margin of error of +/- 5.12 percentage points.
In the Democratic primary, former Houston Mayor Bill White has a 48%-14% advantage over businessman Farouk Shami. Thirty-eight percent of the Democratic sampled chose “don’t know.” The sample of 265 Democratic primary voters has a margin of error of +/- 6.02 percentage points.
In the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, Linda Chavez-Thompson leads Ronnie Earle 18%-16% (an edge well within the margin of error), with Marc Katz claiming 3% of the vote. In the agriculture commissioner race, Kinky Friedman holds a slight edge over Hank Gilbert, 32%-27%. The large numbers of “don’t know” responses in the Democratic races (38% for Governor; 58% for Lt. Governor; 41% for Ag Commissioner, 41%) underscore the comparative lack of paid advertising and earned media attention to these races.
A follow-up item to the gubernatorial ballot questions asked undecided voters to say who they would vote for if they had to choose. Both Perry and White received enough support from currently undecided voters to push them just past the 50% threshold, indicating that we might not see a run-off election if current trends hold.
In general election match-ups between the main Democratic candidates and all three GOP candidates, the Republicans generally won comfortably. Among the 800 registered voters surveyed, both Perry and Hutchison best White by a nine-point margin (44%-35% and 43%-34%, respectively). This lead is just outside the 3.46 margin of error. Interestingly, Medina ties White (36%-36%), with a larger proportion of “don’t know” or “someone else” responses (21%/9%).
Sen. Hutchison has announced that she plans to resign her seat whatever the outcome of her gubernatorial campaign, and preferences in the potential race to succeed her remain murky. Nearly half of Lone Star voters (47%) still don’t know who they would choose among the candidates currently being discussed. Bill White’s decision to seek the gubernatorial nomination left John Sharp as the only declared Democrat in the hypothetical race, which contributes to Sharp holding 29% of the vote, the largest share among the candidates tested. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, who at this point is seeking reelection and is not an announced candidate for the Senate seat, had the second highest total with 15%. The other Republican candidates split the remaining 9%, receiving between 1% and 3% each. Not surprisingly, this is a very undeveloped race.
Some of the numbers in the first wave of results point to just how complex Texas politics are as the state heads into the last few weeks of the primary election campaign. Some things are not surprising: in generic trial ballots for Congress and the state legislature, the Republicans win by 9 points and 7 points, respectively, with 21% of the electorate saying they are undecided. Given the choice of a hypothetical Tea Party movement candidate in the Congressional ballot, the Democratic number is unchanged—the Republican number, however, falls from 43% to 21%, the Tea Party candidate is chosen by 16%, and percentage of undecideds leaps 6 points to 27%. Viewed in conjunction with Medina’s surge, the potential of the Tea Party-movement to shake-up Texas politics seems very real.