A new Gravis Marketing poll (conducted Feb. 10 – 12; sampling 729 likely Texas Republican primary voters) may be a harbinger of trouble for establishment Republican Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

He faces Rep. Steve Stockman, Tea Party favorite Dwayne Stovall, and five others in a March 4 Republican primary election. If no candidate receives an absolute majority (50 percent plus one vote), the top two will face off in a May 27 run-off contest. The eventual Republican nominee will be a prohibitive favorite in the 2014 general election.

The run-off system is designed to ensure that the winning candidate receives a majority of support from the party voters. Therefore, when a universally known candidate in a primary race is forced to a secondary vote, like Sen. Cornyn in this case, the political death knell is usually sounded. The fact that a majority of the primary voters have already chosen an alternative candidate despite being keenly familiar with the front-runner normally spells eventual defeat for the under-performing first place finisher.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn speaks to supporters during his re-election campaign kickoff rally in Austin, Texas, on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013. Cornyn called Friday for inclusiveness among Republicans and suggested his party should be the “responsible adults in the room and actually govern” a sentiment that stands in stark contrast to Texan colleague and tea party firebrand Ted Cruz. Cornyn has been in office since 2002 and faces no credible tea party challenger in the Republican primary in March. No Democrat has yet filed to challenge him next November. (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Rodolfo Gonzalez)

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn speaks to supporters during his re-election campaign kickoff rally in Austin, Texas, on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013. Cornyn called Friday for inclusiveness among Republicans and suggested his party should be the “responsible adults in the room and actually govern” a sentiment that stands in stark contrast to Texan colleague and tea party firebrand Ted Cruz. Cornyn has been in office since 2002 and faces no credible tea party challenger in the Republican primary in March. No Democrat has yet filed to challenge him next November. (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Rodolfo Gonzalez) 

Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) 2012 electoral situation becomes an obvious model for the race in which Stockman, Stovall, and five others are currently embroiled with Mr. Cornyn.

The challengers’ objective will be to place second, and deny the senator outright victory on March 4. Two years ago, Mr. Cruz scored 34.2 percent of the vote in a Republican primary field of nine candidates, holding favored candidate David Dewhurst, the state’s sitting lieutenant governor, to 44.6 percent. In the run-off, with 22 percents less voters participating than from the first vote, Cruz went on to swamp Dewhurst, 57 to 43 percent.

Could the same fate await Cornyn?

Ted Cruz has already blazed the path to victory here, hence the universe of Texas Republicans who will reject an establishment incumbent, or such figure, has already been exposed. Whether Sen. Cornyn falls by the political wayside the way Mr. Dewhurst did two years ago is of course undetermined, though visualizing the senator losing has still yet to come in focus.

According to the current Gravis survey, Sen. Cornyn leads Rep. Stockman only 43 to 28 percent. The polling sample favorably views both men, though Cornyn’s 49 to 27 percent positive-to-negative is somewhat weak, remembering that the polling sample is comprised exclusively of his own party’s primary voters. Mr. Stockman scores a 28 to 18 percent favorability index, though 55 percent of the respondents either are unsure about him or don’t have an opinion.

Rep. Steve Stockman talks during a press conference. Photo Credit: www.politico.com

Rep. Steve Stockman talks during a press conference. Photo Credit: www.politico.com 

The poll’s flaw, however, is not testing any candidate beyond the aforementioned two, meaning the results are not an accurate depiction of the actual Texas primary ballot. Still, the omission is not likely to help Cornyn because choosing among a larger number of options would give respondents even more opportunity to oppose the incumbent.

A word of caution about this poll, however. Gravis Marketing is a relative newcomer to national polling, coming on the scene in a big way for the first time two years ago. Some of their results were spotty, but the methodology of this Texas poll appears sound, the omission of the other candidates, notwithstanding.  Other pollsters will be releasing data shortly, so the culmination of the various surveys will likely give us a good idea as to what may happen in two weeks.

Texas’ primary turnouts, however, are among the lowest in the country. Therefore, projecting an exact voter participation model is extremely complicated, hence the difficulty in forecasting accurate conclusions.

Sen. Cornyn had raised more than $7.5 million for this primary race by the end of 2013, and holding another $6.5 million in the bank. Stockman obtained just under $435,000 but had already spent 90 percent of that total. Stovall didn’t even reach $30,000 in receipts.

MINERVA PARK, OH - NOVEMBER 6:  A voter casts his ballot November 6, 2012 in Minerva Park, Ohio. U.S. citizens go to the polls today to vote in the election between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican nominee former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Credit: Getty Images

A voter casts his ballot November 6, 2012 in Minerva Park, Ohio. U.S. citizens go to the polls today to vote in the election between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican nominee former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Credit: Getty Images 

As we saw in the race that elected Ted Cruz, money is not always the determining factor. In that campaign, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst spent just under $34 million in his losing effort, more than $20 million from his own pocket, and almost $71 per final vote that he received.

Election Notes – An Impending Fight for Louie Gohmert?

Remaining with Texas politics but moving to the House of Representatives, it appears Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) may be headed for yet another future confrontation with the Tea Party Caucus. Veteran Congressman Doc Hastings’ (R-Wash.) retirement announcement is likely setting the stage for a major battle between the Speaker and the most conservative members of the party conference.

Mr. Hastings is the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, a panel that has jurisdiction over the nation’s land use policy and many environmental laws. The Endangered Species Act is one law that comes under this committee’s purview, and the fight between a Republican legislative body and a liberal federal bureaucracy over land use and hunting rights is always a defining one for western congressmen.

With Chairman Hastings now departing at the beginning of next year, the Republican Steering Committee – the panel that decides the Republican members’ committee assignments – will be tasked with naming a replacement. The panel is comprised of largely senior GOP members from across the nation and is heavily leadership driven.

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 15:  U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) speaks during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice May 15, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Attorney General Eric Holder faced questions on reports of the subpoena of two months worth of Associated Press journalists' phone records and the Internal Revenue Services' scrutiny of conservative organization's tax exemption requests. Credit: Getty Images

U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) speaks during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice May 15, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Credit: Getty Images 

The individual next in line for the chairmanship, in terms of committee seniority, is Tea Party’s favorite son Louie Gohmert of East Texas. Often the next senior member is voted in as the succeeding chairman, but even when said person isn’t granted the post it is the rare occasion when such a member doesn’t attempt to ascend.

Therefore, will Louie Gohmert be awarded the position? Will this be a post-election Tea Party vs. Republican establishment fight?

The eventual decision likely comes down to Speaker Boehner, himself. He normally controls the Steering Committee with a rare strong hand, so it will be interesting to see, when the time comes early in 2015, whether such a conservative member will be allowed a position of importance under Boehner’s speakership.

With Mr. Gohmert’s ability to attract media attention, and the press always aspiring to drive the wedge in deeper between conservatives and establishment Republicans, expect the battle for this chairmanship to become a paramount post-election fight.

In the end, Mr. Gohmert may find himself as the focal point of a new intra-party House battle. Realistically, however, the General Election itself may decide this outcome even before the next Congress begins. A GOP landslide with more conservatives coming to Congress will almost assuredly favor the affable gentlemen from Tyler, Texas. A House divided in similar proportion to today will likely spur the leadership to attempt to force the Tea Party Caucus into the background, giving them yet another reason to deny conservatives.

Jim Ellis is a professional election analyst who has worked in national campaign politics and grassroots issue advocacy since 1978.  He currently writes and speaks as a member of the PRIsm Information Network.

Jeffrey Schmidt is a 30-year political and public affairs veteran who specializes in grassroots and grasstops projects and strategic communications.    

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