AUSTIN (KXAN) — The race between Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Congressman Beto O’Rourke has been closer than most people expected, raising the stakes. 

KXAN’s John Dabkovich talked to a University of Texas at Austin professor who has studied political campaigns.

Every campaign is different. Some debates don’t play any roles at all and some debates are incredibly important if it’s actually a close election.

Professor Paul Stekler explained the effect debates can have when voters seem more divided than ever.  

Some watching debates are looking out for substance, while others are coming up with what they think of the people on camera, he says.

“The classic example of this is the Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960 where the people that actually listened to the debate without looking at it thought Nixon won, but the people who watched the debate thought Kennedy won because Kennedy was better looking and Nixon was perspiring and nervous,” Stekler said.

When asked if is it possible, in 2018, for a debate to swing an election as it did in the Kennedy-Nixon case, Stekler responded, “Do debates actually swing elections anymore? I don’t know. I think a lot of people who watched the Trump-Clinton debates thought Hillary Clinton won all three debates but again beauty’s in the eye of the beholder.”  

When asked what is considered a win, the professor says, “I think for Sen. Cruz, a win is to be able to motivate your base. For Congressman O’Rourke, a victory is: can he actually impact swingable voters. And I think for a lot of folks that means that we’re talking about suburban Republicans, especially suburban, Republican women.”

Stekler says there is concern among Republicans about the likeability factor for their candidates.

“I think that if you take a look at what’s being said, especially by Republican operatives right now, they’re worried about that. Now, does that mean that Ted Cruz is going to lose? You know, he starts out with great advantages. This is a Republican-dominated state with people that actually vote.”