There have been several new Texas polls this week that show Rick Perry doing a lot better against Kay Bailey Hutchison than we found when we looked at the race in February.
At that time we had Hutchison leading 56-31. A new Rasmussen survey yesterday actually gave Perry the lead at 46-42. Perry's own internal poll was not quite so optimistic. Its overall report gave Hutchison a 45-39 lead, but that was based on two different measures. One, which gave the candidates' current positions as part of the question, showed Perry up by one. When their titles weren't given Hutchison led 47-36.
I think that 11 point lead for Hutchison sounds like the most plausible of those three scenarios, but it's still a lot less than the 25 point lead we found her with in February. What gives?
I think the story here is that Perry was never really unpopular with Republicans, they just liked Hutchison even more. While we found him getting only 31% of the vote in a primary, we also found that 60% of folks in the party approved of his job performance as Governor. He trailed by a lot overall because Hutchison had a 49-33 lead among voters who had a positive opinion of both of them- which accounted for nearly half the primary electorate.
Perry has been extremely visible in the last ten weeks across the state saying the sorts of things that Republican base voters want to hear, while Hutchison has been toiling in Washington as part of a very unpopular Congress. I'm guessing that combination of factors has more of those folks who think highly of both politicians leaning more to the Perry column in a head to head now than were back in February.
I'd still call Hutchison the favorite but if Perry can sufficiently tar her with the unpopularity of Congress he could yet survive. It's going to depend on how deeply held those positive impressions of Hutchison with GOP primary voters really are, or whether they could easily fold in the wake of a series of attack ads. It's going to be an interesting race to watch.