Ted Cruz, frontrunner? A new survey by Public Policy Polling says the former state solicitor general and Tea Party favorite, who finished second to Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst in the initial Republican U.S. Senate primary, leads Dewhurst in the runoff, and with a considerably more enthusiastic base.

PPP’s poll of 468 likely Republican voters gave Cruz a 49 percent to 44 percent edge. On top of that, as PPP director Tom Jensen noted:

Cruz’s lead expands to a whooping 59-36 margin over Dewhurst among voters who describe themselves as ‘very excited’ about voting in the election. The lower turnout is, the better Cruz’s chances will be.

That pretty much confirms the conventional wisdom from both before and after the main primary—that Cruz’s campaign strategy was all about the run-off, and that redistricting-imposed delays would help him. 

“Ted Cruz, Luckiest Man Alive” was the headline on a post about these factors by Dave Weigel of Slate.

“Runoff elections are notoriously difficult to poll,” Jensen wrote in a media release. “So Dewhurst shouldn’t be written off. But the fact that Cruz is ahead overall and up by even more with the folks most likely to vote is a pretty bad sign for his prospects.”

The Cuban-American Houstonian also held a 78-19 advantage with Hispanic voters, which, according to Jensen, makes Texas “an exceptionally rare state where Hispanic voters might be the difference maker in a Republican primary.”

Cruz also had a lower unfavorable rating (25 percent) than Dewhurst (33 percent). 

As David Catanese of Politico reported, a second poll also has Cruz on top, though that one was commssioned by the Cruz-supporting Citizens United Political Victory Fund (yup, that Citizens United).

Nevertheless, pollster Wenzel Strategies of Ohio also successfully forecast Tea Party upsets in recent Indiana and Nebraska senate races, both of which the Texas contest has been frequently compared to. 

Wenzel’s poll has Cruz leading 47 percent to 38 percent. 

Both campaigns have also leaked internal polls, as the Texas Tribune‘s Aman Batheja noted. Cruz’s has their own man up by nine points, while Dewhurst’s says their guy is out in front by eight.

Politico‘s Catanese suggested that Dewhurst’s “sustained attacks on Cruz as the favorite of the Washington elite” are a sign that the Lite Guv “smells trouble.” On Thursday, the Dewhurst campaign released the Facebook-inspired “Timeline” ad, which hammers home that theme (though, as incorrigible Burkablog commenter Robert Morrow noted, in one of his more lucid observations, it’s not exactly piling up the YouTube views). 

Dewhurst staffers also provided the initial heads-up for Robert T. Garrett’s Dallas Morning News story about another controversial Cruz appellate client, Pennsylvania private-prison builder Robert K. Mericle. 

Of course, Cruz supporters like the Club For Growth have also paid for ads attacking Dewhurst. But TEXAS MONTHLY‘s Paul Burka is of the opinion that Dewhurst’s ads have only helped Cruz, raising him from an obscure former appointed state official to a legitimate contender with increased name ID (i.e., “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”).

“Buy or sell? I’m buying,” Burka wrote, adding that:

I’m sure that many readers will recall that I have written repeatedly that Dewhurst would win this race. Maybe he will yet, but that’s not where the smart money is right now.