HOUSTON One way to conduct a political poll is the way they do it at Three Brothers Bakery.
Inside the brightly lit glass cabinets full of cakes, croissants and other aromatic baked goods sits a tray full of cookies bearing images of President Obama and Mitt Romney. The Democratic cookies are trimmed in blue, the Republicans trimmed in red. Everytime someone buys a campaign cookie, the staff keeps count on a marker board indicating which candidate is in the lead.
It s pretty even, said Bobby Jucker, the bakery s owner. It s really pretty even.
A slightly more scientific poll gives a slightly different answer. But it has vastly different implications for Harris County.
The poll conducted for KHOU 11 News and KUHF Houston Public Radio indicates Obama leads Romney in Harris County, but not by much. That gives some indication how election night might go for politicians running for offices that are down the ballot.
The poll shows the president leading in Harris County with the support of 46 percent of surveyed voters, compared to Romney s 42 percent. Libertarian Gary Johnson cracked the survey with 2 percent.
In the U.S. Senate race, Democrat Paul Sadler s 44 percent leads Republican Ted Cruz with 42 percent in Harris County. With a 3.5 percent margin of error, that s a statistical dead heat in the largest county in Texas.
Of course, Texas is solidly Republican and statewide polls predict both Romney and Cruz will easily win. But how they fare in Harris County could have a significant impact on down ballot races.
Nonetheless, the poll revealed that large numbers of voters allied with both parties are breaking away from casting straight-ticket ballots in two high-profile races. In both campaigns, Republicans and Democrats are eschewing party loyalty to vote against candidates who ve been hit with waves of bad publicity.
Republican crossover voters are helping push Democratic Sheriff Adrian Garcia to 51 percent in this survey, compared to Republican challenger Louis Guthrie s 32 percent. Another 13 percent were undecided.
On the other hand, many Democrats told pollsters they re voting for Republican district attorney candidate Mike Anderson, who s polling at 41 percent. Nonetheless, Democrat Lloyd Oliver is close behind with 35 percent. Another 19 percent are undecided. That number is especially striking because Democratic Party leaders were so embarrassed by Oliver s candidacy they tried to remove him from the ballot.
What we re seeing is a much more significant ticket-splitting among Republicans than Democrats, said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU analyst who supervised the poll. I don t know if that s because they re more bipartisan, or they simply are more capable and more likely to make that choice, which is not easy to do on an e-slate ballot.