AUSTIN -- Unless the March 4 primary elections deliver a massive surprise, either Attorney General Greg Abbott (R-Texas) or state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) will be elected the next governor of Texas in November.
A poll released by the University of Texas and Texas Tribune on Monday shows Abbott leading Davis by 11 points, with 17 percent of voters not sure for whom they'd cast their ballots. The survey of 1,200 registered voters conducted between Feb. 7 and 17 shows Abbott receiving 47 percent of the vote and Davis receiving 36 percent if the election were held today.
"When we were in the field in October, we had Davis behind by only six. That was right after her real surge," said pollster and professor James R. Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.
Compared to the last UT/TT survey conducted after Davis' long-anticipated formal entrance into the 2014 race for governor, Henson says the latest numbers suggest the race is settling along traditional party lines.
"What we're really kind of seeing, when we look at responses to this, is people that are probably responding in large numbers to the party of each candidate," said Henson.
Davis' favorable rating decreased by one percentage point to 36 percent, while her unfavorable rating rose four points to 35 percent. Abbott's favorable rating jumped nine points to 45 percent, while his unfavorable rating inched up one point to 25 percent. Henson suggests Abbott's increase in favorability is a function of more voters, likely Republicans, becoming familiar with the candidate.
"That's a great thing for the Abbott campaign," said Henson. "By contrast, the Davis campaign has been comparatively stagnant and probably feeling some of the tough times she's had in the press recently."
While the survey was conducted after a news cycle dominated largely by questions over Davis' personal narrative, Abbott's campaign fielded its share of criticism shortly after the poll was conducted when the Republican appeared at a pair of campaign events with controversial rock guitarist Ted Nugent. The appearances focused attention on comments Nugent made in January calling President Barack Obama a "subhuman mongrel," as well as Nugent's relationships with underaged women.
"This is going to be a long campaign season," Davis campaign press secretary Rebecca Acuña said in a statement Monday. "Once voters know the real character and judgment of Abbott, which he displayed last week when he campaigned with an admitted sexual predator, they will know that Wendy Davis is the candidate who best represents Texas values."
Nugent has never been charged with any sexual crimes. While the controversy surrounding Abbott's appearance with Nugent gave Davis' supporters a fresh issue around which to rally and raise campaign contributions, Henson says most Texas voters will likely view the association through party lenses.
"It gives [Davis' campaign] some wins in the news cycle, and it gives them a break to go do something else," said Henson. With the hypothetical general election matchup more closely mirroring the state's traditional Republican preference, Henson says the burden will be on the Davis campaign to shake up the status quo. For Abbott, a business as usual campaign may be the safest bet.
"We don't know yet what the impact of the Ted Nugent thing will be," Henson said. "[It's] probably not very permanent. What this shows is that they're still benefiting from the underlying fundamentals."
While Davis may be behind in the polls, her campaign reported outraising Abbott by roughly $400,000 during the last reporting period before the March 4 primary. Between Jan. 24 and Feb. 22, Davis reportedly raised $2.85 million and ended the period with $11.3 million cash on hand. Of the total reported raised, roughly $1.62 million was raised by Davis' campaign committees and $1.22 million by the Texas Victory Committee.
"We are surpassing expectations," campaign manager Karin Johanson said in a statement accompanying the numbers. "The level of support we are receiving across the state demonstrates the issues we are emphasizing -- education, the economy and caring for our veterans -- are Texas values."
Abbott's campaign still holds a significant financial advantage over Davis. While Abbott reported raising $2.45 million in the same reporting period, his campaign ended the reporting period with $29.98 million cash on hand.
"Texans from across the state are joining Greg Abbott in building a strong campaign and a brighter future for Texas," campaign manager Wayne Hamilton said in a statement Monday. "As the campaign progresses, Greg Abbott will continue to travel the state, speaking with and hearing from Texans who share his goal to improve Texas’ education system, grow jobs, and strengthen individual freedom."
The UT/TT poll shows both candidates easily winning their primary races with minimal opposition.