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Republican Ted Cruz has a 4-point lead in his Texas Senate race against upset-minded Democrat Beto O'Rourke: NBC News/Marist poll

Key Points
  • Republican Sen. Ted Cruz holds a four-percentage-point lead over Democratic challenger Rep. Beto O'Rourke in his re-election campaign, according to an NBC News/Marist poll.
  • O'Rourke, whose campaign has more cash at the ready than Cruz's does, is hoping to become the first Democratic senator from red Texas in about 25 years.
  • Texas voters would prefer Republican control of Congress, according to the survey.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks to reporters
Joshua Roberts | Reuters

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz looks to have a fight on his hands to keep his Senate seat in red Texas.

The conservative holds only a slim edge over insurgent Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke, according to an NBC News/Marist poll released Wednesday. Cruz garners 49 percent of support among registered voters in Texas, while 45 percent of respondents back O'Rourke. Six percent of registered voters are undecided.

The survey is the latest to show O'Rourke, a third-term representative, within striking distance of the first-term incumbent Cruz. An upset in Texas — which has not had a Democratic senator in about 25 years — would mark a major coup for Democrats, who face a brutal Senate map in this year's midterms.

O'Rourke has posted eye-popping fundraising totals and sparked grassroots enthusiasm in Texas. He has an opening in the state, where 46 percent of adults — a slight plurality — disapprove of the job Trump is doing as president, according to the NBC/Marist poll. Still, the state's Republican roots, and Cruz's own impressive cash haul, will make winning a challenge for the El Paso-area Democrat.

While O'Rourke has made the race closer, Cruz has generally led in public polling and still appears to be the favorite. Nonpartisan election analysis sites Cook Political Report and Sabato's Crystal Ball rate the race as "lean" Republican and "likely" Republican, respectively.

O'Rourke, a 45-year-old former punk rocker, has run a more liberal campaign than some would expect for a statewide candidate in a Texas. He favors abortion rights and has called for tighter gun restrictions. He has pushed for protections for young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) greets a supporter before a town hall meeting at the Quail Point Lodge on August 16, 2018 in Horseshoe Bay, Texas. 
Chris Covatta | Getty Images 

O'Rourke has sworn off political action committee money but had still raised a staggering $23.3 million with about $14 million on hand by the end of June.

Cruz, who was elected in 2012 riding an anti-establishment wave, has been outspoken against gun regulation and abortion while in the Senate. However, he has tried to make concessions on immigration during the 2018 election year, at one point proposing a bill to end the Trump administration's policy of separating undocumented immigrant families.

Cruz is no fundraising slouch. He had more than $9 million on hand at the end of June.

More Texans view O'Rourke positively than unfavorably, according to the NBC/Marist poll. Thirty-six percent have a favorable impression of him, while 21 percent see him unfavorably. Still, he is a relative unknown, which means he has a chance to boost his name recognition before November's elections. Forty-four percent of adults said they are unsure of their impression of O'Rourke or have never heard of him.

Forty-five percent of adults view Cruz favorably, while 39 percent see him unfavorably, the survey showed. Seventeen percent said they were unsure of their impression of the state's junior senator.

How Texas views the battle for Congress

In the overall fight for control of Congress, registered voters in Texas showed a preference for Republicans, according to the poll. Forty-seven percent responded that they would prefer a GOP-controlled Congress, while 40 percent said they want a legislative branch held by Democrats.

But separate questions in the survey painted a slightly different picture of the midterm landscape. Asked which party they were more likely to support in their own congressional districts, 46 percent of registered voters said they would back a Republican, while 43 percent answered that they would vote for a Democrat.

In addition, 49 percent of registered voters answered that their vote in November would send a message that the U.S. needs more Democrats to check Trump. That compares with 42 percent who responded that they wanted more Republicans to help Trump pass his agenda.

Texas is expected to have at least three highly competitive House races this year as Democrats try to flip the 23 GOP-held seats they need to take a majority in the chamber. Those include the 7th District west of Houston, the 32nd District north of Dallas and the sprawling 23rd District in the western part of the state — all currently held by Republicans.

The poll did not target those districts, specifically.

The economy and jobs rank as the top priorities for registered voters in Texas, followed by health care and immigration.

The survey of 970 adults (759 registered voters) was conducted August 12-16, 2018. The margin of error for all adults is +/- 3.4 percentage points. The margin of error for registered voters is +/- 3.8 percentage points.