Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton neck and neck with Democratic challenger in new poll

AUSTIN — Attorney General Ken Paxton and his Democratic challenger, Rochelle Garza, are neck and neck in a new poll, a sign the embattled incumbent is vulnerable in November.

Paxton leads Garza 34% to 32% among registered voters — the tightest margin of any statewide contest, according to a Dallas Morning News– A poll from the University of Texas at Tyler released on Sunday.

Eight percent supported Libertarian candidate Mark Ash, 7% opted for “someone else” and 18% are unsure.

The results suggest the race may be the best chance for Democrats to win statewide office after a nearly three-decade lockdown.

The poll, conducted August 1-7, surveyed 1,384 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.

Paxton, a Republican and close ally of former President Donald Trump, is seeking a third term under a cloud of legal troubles. Garza, a civil rights attorney from South Texas, is a political newcomer unknown to many voters.

Texas Attorney General challenger Rochelle Garza smiles as she is introduced to delegates and guests attending the Lady Bird Breakfast fundraiser at the 2022 Texas Democratic Convention at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, May 16 July 2022.(Tom Fox / personal photographer)

Both have strong support within their own parties, according to the poll. But Garza has a 5-point lead among independents, who also make up the bulk of undecided voters and could swing the election.

Half of independent voters said they disapproved of Paxton’s professional performance, according to the poll, up from 41% in May. A dwindling number (18%) believe Paxton has the integrity to serve in the office he has held since 2015.

Paxton has been indicted for securities fraud for most of his tenure, but a trial has been delayed by wrangling over where to hold one, how much to pay prosecutors and non-legal reasons, such as Hurricane Harvey and the pandemic. In late 2020, the FBI began investigating Paxton after former aides accused him of illegally aiding a campaign donor. No federal charges have been filed. Paxton denies any wrongdoing.

Legal issues, however, have fueled attacks from Republicans and Democrats who may resonate with voters on the fence.

Rochelle Garza pleads against Ken Paxton for Texas Attorney General

“What Paxton sees is a real challenge to get swing voters and independent voters in Texas, against someone who could be a new face in Texas politics and who is talking about bringing change to Austin,” said survey director UT-Tyler scientist Mark Owens.

What would benefit Paxton, he said, is if the high-level gubernatorial race between Governor Greg Abbott and Democrat Beto O’Rourke sucks up all the political oxygen, leaving little space for Garza. to present themselves to voters.

“Those independent voters might not have a reason to choose to vote for her,” Owens said.

Poll results show that the top reasons voters prefer Garza over the GOP incumbent are because she’s a Democrat (23%) or “not Paxton” (13%).

Paxton’s top attribute among supporters is also his party affiliation (20%), according to the poll, and 16% said they like him because he is a “good AG”.

With only three months until the midterm elections, the race has so far been dormant. Since winning their respective primary elections in May, neither Paxton nor Garza have held large campaign rallies or bought TV ads. Both lag behind other top contenders when it comes to fundraising.

In recent months, Garza has raised nearly $520,000 in campaign donations, compared to $340,000 raised by Paxton. Still, Paxton is sitting on a war chest of $3.5 million, compared to $450,000 for Garza.

Matthew Sokol, a 42-year-old man who lives outside of Houston, is one of those independent voters trying to make up his mind. He likes to vote for the person, not the party, but struggles with his choices.

Paxton’s legal troubles give him pause and he finds Garza too liberal.

“A very important part of our state elections is a complete question mark for me,” he said. “I’m going to start having to do more research.”

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