Polling on the Senate vacancy that would occur if Kay Bailey Hutchison becomes Governor of Texas is kind of a crap shoot at this point, since it's not clear what high profile Republican candidates might make the race. Nevertheless PPP's early snapshot of how some possible match ups might play out gives an indication that it could be the most competitive Senate contest Texas has seen in a number of years.
We tested Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, Attorney General Greg Abbott, and state Senator Florence Shapiro on the Republican side against Houston Mayor Bill White and former Comptroller John Sharp on the Democratic side.
Abbott, who has not announced plans to seek the seat, appears to be the strongest initial candidate. 43% of voters in the state have a favorable opinion of him compared to only 25% that view him negatively. He leads Sharp 44-36 and White 42-36 in possible contests.
Dewhurst is almost as strong, with a 43/30 favorability breakdown. He leads Sharp and White by slightly more narrow margins than Abbott, 42-36 over the former and 42-37 over the latter.
It seems inevitable that one of those heavyweights will get into the race if there is indeed a vacancy, but we also tested Shapiro to see how competitive the contest would be if the GOP ended up nominating one of the less well known candidates who have already made their intentions to seek the seat known. Shapiro leads White 37-36 but trails Sharp 37-34, an indication the race could pretty much be a tossup if a more well known Republican doesn't run.
It appears that Dewhurst or Abbott would be an early favorite, but it's worth noting that Sharp and White have a lot more room to grow in terms of name recognition. 43% of the electorate has no opinion of White and 41% has none of Sharp, figures much higher than the 27% for Dewhurst and 32% for Abbott. That gives them an opportunity to define themselves positively with the voters who haven't formed an opinion about them yet.
Texas hasn't had a Senate election decided by less than ten points since John Tower held off Bob Krueger in 1978. With the Democrats getting a couple of their strongest possible candidates into the field already it appears there is potential for that to change if there's a Hutchison vacancy.
Full results here.