The latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll seems to capture neatly the ascendance of Tea Party heroes Ted Cruz and Dan Patrick over the first half of this year, a phenomenon on display as well at last weekend's GOP state convention.
Patrick had the biggest lead of any Republican statewide candidate in the survey. He was up 15 points on Democratic rival Leticia Van de Putte in the contest for lieutenant governor. Cruz, meanwhile, dominated the poll's presidential preference question for 2016, mirroring his strong performance in the straw poll conducted at the convention.
In a headline-grabbing display, Cruz was preferred by nearly 44 percent of those at the convention who chose to participate. That was a bit short of four times the support given to Ben Carson, the conservative columnist and Michigan neurosurgeon, and Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul.
In the UT/TT poll, Cruz was preferred by 33 percent. Paul was second this time, preferred by 9 percent, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was third with 8 percent.
Gov. Rick Perry is contemplating a second run at the White House in 2016, but his fourth-place finish in both the UT/TT Poll (7 percent) and the convention straw poll (12 percent) don't seem to demonstrate much momentum for him in his home state.
Cruz did not have a primary contest this year, but the UT/TT Poll shows his favorable/unfavorable splits improving significantly since October 2013 and the federal government shutdown. At that point, his favorables were running slightly ahead of his unfavorables — 38/37.
In the February edition of the survey, the split was 43/37. This month, it was 46/34.
Even more interesting is the case of Patrick, whose high visibility campaign for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor seems to have led to a sharper definition of the candidate in the public's mind. His favorable/unfavorable split has improved from 26/18 in February to 38/24 this month. Those with no opinion of Patrick, meanwhile, dropped from 33 percent to 21 percent, and those with neither a favorable nor unfavorable view dropped from 23 percent to 17 percent.
Contrast that to Van de Putte, whose favorable/unfavorable splits went from 27/22 to 22/18. Interestingly enough, those with no opinion of her rose from 33 percent to 40 percent.
The most readily apparent explanation would be that Patrick enjoyed the benefits of the daily coverage of a hotly contested primary race. Van de Putte was not challenged, and the spotlight on her was minimal throughout the primary season.
So the question going into the Democratic convention in a couple of weeks is this — how much of Patrick's 15-point advantage can be attributed to his greater visibility in recent months? With the attention returning to the Democratic ticket at its state convention, will Van de Putte similarly benefit?