Emerson College poll: Statistical tie between Cruz, O'Rourke in U.S. Senate race

A new poll released Monday shows a statistical tie in the race for U.S. Senate in Texas between GOP incumbent Ted Cruz and upstart challenger Beto O’Rourke.

The Emerson College poll has Cruz at 38 percent and O’Rourke at 37 percent. 21 percent of voters in the poll were undecided and the margin of error was (+/- 4.4 points).

It’s the latest in a series of polls in the past month that shows Cruz faces a serious challenge from the El Paso congressman. A Texas Lyceum poll had Cruz up two points, NBC News-Marist polling showed a four-point lead for Cruz and Quinnipiac had Cruz up six points.

The main reason for the tightness of the race appears to be Cruz’s poor favorable-unfavorable numbers. 44 percent of voters in the poll view Cruz unfavorably compared to 38 percent who view him favorably. The numbers are even worse for Cruz when looking at independent voters. 57 percent of independents view Cruz unfavorably compared to 25 percent favorably.

Voters view O’Rourke favorably, the poll found. 37 percent view O’Rourke favorably while only 25 percent view him unfavorably. 27 percent of voters were neutral.

O’Rourke’s campaign has generated enthusiasm among Texas Democrats, who have helped him fundraise more than $14 million. Cruz has about $10 million on hand at the last reporting deadline. O’Rourke has visited all 254 counties in Texas and is in the middle of a statewide barnstorming tour during the August congressional recess.

O'Rourke's supporters opened a new campaign office in Carrollton Monday evening while their candidate was on the campaign trail.

A video clip of O'Rourke defending athletes kneeling during the national anthem has gone viral over the past week. It's putting him in the national spotlight with endorsements from Lebron James and Ellen DeGeneres.

"I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully standup or take a knee for your rights,” O’Rourke said in the now-viral video.

Cruz used that spotlight on Monday to play to his supporters during a rally in The Colony.

"Doing something like coming out in support of protesting the national anthem is really good politics if you are trying to raise money in Hollywood,” Cruz said. “But it's not Texas. And it's not who we are.”

SMU political scientist Cal Jillson believes the race could be close but thinks O'Rourke remains a decided underdog.

"While O'Rourke is running a great race against Cruz, no other Democrat is running strong,” Jilson said. “My sense is that unless he gets up by 5 or 6 points — clearly ahead of Cruz— Cruz will reel him in in the final days of the race."

One indication that Senator Cruz is taking Congressman O'Rourke seriously is his challenge to do five debates. But the first one this Friday in Dallas is not going to happen. O'Rourke says Cruz is trying to dictate aspects of the debates that have not yet been worked out.

Cruz still remains the favorite in the race, as Texas has not elected a Democratic candidate to a statewide office in more than two decades.

The Emerson College poll surveyed 550 voters from Aug. 22-25.