It’s Not A Marathon, It’s July Madness

If the election were held today…there would be a lot of campaign consultants fired for cause.

Next week, the 2010 NCAA basketball season will tip off with a game between Georgia College and Mercer University. Other tournaments will soon follow and will largely be ignored here on these pages. Why? Because 1) Basketball is a sport for schools that can’t field a football team, and 2) No one cares about basketball until the big dance tournament of March Madness begins.

Before you assume this is a post about sports, it is not. It is about the blood sport that is politics. This is an attempt to answer the questions asked here and outline the 2010 race for the Republican nomination for Governor.

A Rasmussen poll released last month showed little change from previous polls. Oxendine dropped a small amount, but still shows a sizable lead over his next challenger. Deal dropped a bit in his battle with Handel for second place. But the poll has remained largely static since the current field fell into place around the Master’s tournament last Spring. And we have questions why those of us here don’t believe Oxendine is really lapping the field.

One more sports metaphor before I move on. UGA led all preseason polls last season from the Spring practice until their first game. The polls didn’t change much during that time, because there was no game played. First contact with the enemy reveals a lot, and the candidates for governor are still months away from the retail campaign. The activities we blog about here daily, and the points scored between candidates, are aimed at a very small audience of insiders. It is all about positioning for July madness.

All the campaigns are doing now is lining up their support and funds for the battle to reach “retail” voters as they tune in to this race from 2 months to 2 days out. Time, energy, and money spent now is not about moving poll numbers. It’s about building the team and structuring the message to move those numbers beginning late Spring.

The battle between now and roughly May is for money and grass roots activists. Money can’t vote, and doesn’t respond to polls. The only judge of the money race is disclosures, and those disclosures are used to influence the grass roots activists.

The other tool used to influence and attract these activists are polls. The remainder of this post will focus on an internal poll forwarded to me by a Karen Handel supporter that was distributed to her “County Chairs, Endorsed Elected Officials, and Key Political Supporters”. This poll was taken October 4-6, 2009 by Republican pollster Whit Ayres.

The initial ballot question, (the number we usually get fed by pollsters) looks similar to Rasmussen:

Candidate/Name ID/Favorable/Unfavorable/% Favored
Oxendine/90%/62%/12%/30%
Deal/47%/25%/6%/14%
Handel/58%/34%/6%/12%
Johnson/26%/9%/5%/3%
Chapman/N.A/N.A/N.A./2%
Scott/N.A./N.A./N.A./2%
McBerry/N.A./N.A./N.A./1%
Undecided – 37%

So I consider that another “pre-season poll”. The importance is not in what work has been done, as what work needs to be done. For that, another round of questions are asked, to generate an “informed ballot” survey.

The process involves reading a description of each candidate (or in this case, the top 4), and then re-asking the support question again. The poll memo lists the description read of each candidate. If I were to judge, (and I am), I would say that the positive attributes are most beneficial to Eric Johnson and then Handel, but neither overly so. The negatives included about Deal were the most damaging. The positive statements about Oxendine are somewhat generic, but the negative stops well short of items we routinely discuss here.

The result after these questions are asked:

Handel: 37%
Oxendine: 29%
Deal: 12%
Johnson: 9%
Undecided: 13%

So the cynical among us will say, “So what. It’s Handel’s poll and it shows Handell winning”. But there are still some genuine nuggets here that help frame the race.

1) Oxendine has a 90% name ID and even a 62% favorable rating, yet he hovers at 30% in the pre-season polls. Ox has twice as many people who are already familiar with him that don’t want him as governor as those who do. I’ve been saying all along that Ox has a ceiling around 30%, and this poll supports it.

2) Deal is unknown to over half the state, and may suffer from the “introduction” to many voters this month with negative media stories on two fronts.

3) Handel is better known than Deal or Johnson, but her negatives almost equal her favorables. (I lifted the wrong number of 30% instead of 6% as represented in Ayres memo. It has been corrected above in the table)
4) The informed ballot moves undecideds to Handel and Johnson, while taking a small percentage away from Ox and Deal. Handel and Johnson have the most upside of this campaign.

There’s another reason that I believe this campaign resembles “March Madness”, and that is because I feel the candidates are not in a four-way “jump ball”, but are actually fighting for two slots coming from two different brackets.

While most of the “noise” of this campaign is between Ox and Handel, I see the real battle right now between Karen Handel and Nathan Deal. The support for these two will be mainly from metro and exurban Atlanta, and supporters are more likely to identify with “establishment” Republicans, though no one would actually use that pejorative term. The other ticket to a runoff is for the more rural/populist/evangelical/tea party/fringe coalition. You could generally label this as the “every major voting block that Ox has pandered to” group. And Ox is holding them quite handily at the moment.

As I see it right now, the runoff is between Karen Handel or Nathan Deal; versus John Oxendine or Eric Johnson.

To prognosticate further requires guessing what events will take place between now and May, and what strategy each campaign plans on taking to make sure they get one of two slots. No one can predict when a “ghetto grandmother” moment will happen. And no one knows how soon an ethics investigation will produce either damning evidence or exoneration – or remain as a cloud over a campaign.

I still firmly believe that the Oxendine campaign will not be the front runner by June 1. While Ox has lined up some strong support, he has also spent the last year making enemies, and his campaign, stupid mistakes. The fruits of these labors will not be harvested now, but much closer to the election, when people are paying attention. There is a lot of money being raised for this race, and it won’t take much to inform those 90% of people who already know Oxendine about out of state PACs or brow beating 15 year old bloggers.

If Ox is still in a relatively similar position in May, the Johnson campaign will have a decision to make. Do they go after the second/third place opponents who don’t have his target voter base, or does he go after #1 Ox. EJ is doing well with fundraising, and has a lean staff. He also has the voting record to appeal to the base voters that Ox panders to. I think when the smoke clears, EJ takes Ox’s spot.

The battle for the other runoff spot remains between Deal and Handel, and was Deal’s to lose until his breakfast with the Cherokee Republicans. While not a fatal blow, the “ghetto grandmother” remark was harmful. This, combined with the press headline from George Soros funded C.R.E.W. naming him as one of the most unethical members of Congress, has made his reach for a runoff slot an incredibly uphill battle. If he were able to reach the runoff, Deal would be the nominee – largely on the turnout of his congressional district on the multiple runoffs expected there because of his departure.

Handel on the other hand, has remained largely scandal free. She must demonstrate with her year end disclosure that she can raise money. If she shows credible fundraising numbers in early January, she edges Deal for the other runoff slot. She can not afford to disappoint here. If her fundraising is decent, she’s in.

My prediction is Eric Johnson versus Karen Handel. After that, all bets are off. I’m crazy enough to predict this much, and I can’t begin to break down the calculus of that runoff. Runoffs are brand new ballgames, and too much will happen between now and July 20 to predict a August 10 winner.

Your mileage may vary.

25 comments

  1. I appreciate the link to my question, Icarus, but that isn’t exactly the question that you’re answering here. I was just wondering how Oxendine could be winning all these surveys and straw polls when he is so passionately disliked on Peach Pundit. Your post here is all about how Peach Pundit is actually right, and Ox doesn’t stand a chance over the long haul.

    It’s an interesting and well thought out post, but it kinda feels like somebody waving their hand and saying, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for”. Well, yeah… those ARE the droids I’m looking for. I’m not exactly an Ox supporter (I’ll probably take a Dem ballot in the next primary), but I’m still curious about the discrepancy between the “Peach Pundit straw poll” and every other straw poll right now today.

    • Icarus says:

      First thing, a pet peave: “Peach Pundit” can’t be right. With the exception of SB 31, we have never tried to speak with one voice. We do not do so in the Governor’s race.

      I was already organizing this post when you and Jace asked the questions on the other thread, and then I significantly revised and extended my thoughts based on the Handel internal poll. So while I thought it would answer your question(s), apparently it did not.

      1) I think I did answer why Peach Pundit differs from the polls. Polls sample a cross section of “retail” voters, many of which have yet to engage. And why we do try for a balance of views, I don’t think you’ll see any of the front pagers claim we mirror the general public or even the average Republican primary voter’s views, either individually or collectively.

      As for the straw polls, Ox has won a few, but I think he’s not had the best luck recently. Would need to check. I’m pretty sure I have given Ox credit for early organizing in some key Republican strongholds. I attribute that to his victory in most of these. Party activists like to be stroked, and Ox has been stroking for years.

      I think we’ve covered why Ox is loathed by most of us here. Hopefully that answers your question. If not, oh well.

      • First thing, a pet peave: “Peach Pundit” can’t be right. With the exception of SB 31, we have never tried to speak with one voice.

        There’s a bit more groupthink on Peach Pundit than you acknowledge. To be fair though, “Peach Pundit (minus Jason Shepard and the front-pagers who only post once in a blue moon anyway)” is pretty rabidly anti-Oxendine.

        Polls sample a cross section of “retail” voters, many of which have yet to engage.

        Straw polls sample the hardcore crowd, for whom partisan political activity at the core of their lives. Nothing retail about it. I “would need to check” myself, but I haven’t heard of Oxendine losing many of those.

        I don’t think you’ll see any of the front pagers claim we mirror the general public or even the average Republican primary voter’s views

        I think this is probably the answer to my question. Whether it’s groupthink or coincidence, I think “Peach Pundit (minus Jason Shepard and the front-pagers who only post once in a blue moon anyway)” is simply an outlier on the governor’s race chart.

        • Fawkes says:

          Keep in mind that these straw polls are taken before the negative Ox ads come out. The campaigns are saving their “big guns” for later. Icarus has done a good job at explaining that, once the negative ads and intel come out on the Ox, he, most likely, will be defeated.

      • Jace Walden says:

        The only thing this long, well thought out post proves is that “Peach Pundit” will stop at nothing to promote Karen Handel and trash Oxendine.

        And [email protected], you really have to stretch to promote Handel, even using her own internal poll.

        The process involves reading a description of each candidate (or in this case, the top 4), and then re-asking the support question again

        And you consider this method of polling legitimate? ROFLMAO!!!! Tell me, since it was Handel’s internal poll, who came up with the “description of each candidate”. If Oxendine had pulled a stunt like this and tried to peddle it as legitimate, there would wailing and gnashing of teeth from the Handel cheering section on this blog.

        I think I have made it clear that I will in no way, shape or form vote for Oxendine. But you’re stretching, and you know it. You’re also severely underestimating the propensity of the Georgia electorate to vote for the wrong candidate. Even with Oxendine’s “lead” “shrinking”, he still gets a higher percentage than Handel, Deal, and Johnson…COMBINED. A fact that the Handel cheering section on Peach Pundit continues to ignore.

        Ox may be a shameless panderer, but he is creating press for himself. And he is keeping himself in the mind of voters. If Handel and her supporters don’t do more than whine about Oxendine’s “ceiling” that he won’t rise above, then her and her campaign are going to end up in the basement under Governor Oxendine.

        • Fawkes says:

          Jace,

          IMO the “ceiling” is a legitimate issue, especially if you’re an Ox supporter. Ox must find a way to reach out to the Undecideds in the election or he’s bound to lose in a runoff.

          Also, I don’t believe Icarus, myself, and others here on Peach Pundit have come out as supporters of any of the gubernatorial candidates.

          • Jace Walden says:

            Fawkes,

            Karen Handel has always been a Peach Pundit darling. It’s evident in the group-speak and in the front-page postings that she is the Peach Pundit favorite.

            And Icarus, Peach Pundit does have a history of endorsing candidates. A couple cycles ago, the website went as far as to officially endorse candidates. My memory isn’t what it once was…but who did PP endorse for SOS back then?

            I could care less who either of you support. It’s your business, even if you support Oxendine. I don’t lose sleep over it either way.

            But for some on this site to claim any type of objectivity on the matter whatsoever is bogus. The front-page, and most of the commenters hate Oxendine. We get it. Move on. Nothing to see here.

            It just irks me to no end that they keep saying that “Oxendine isn’t moving up” in the polls, when CLEARLY neither is Peach-Pundit darling Handel or Deal or Johnson…whom, when you combine their votes, still can’t match Oxendine.

            Kind of hypocritical.

          • Icarus says:

            First, Fawkes is incorrect. Erick has stated that he personally is supporting Handel. I think one other front pager may be as well, but I’m having fuzzy memory, so I’ll let any others speak for themself if they choose.

            As for Peach Pundit endorsing candidates, I’m not aware of it happening in my roughly two years here. Each of us has the freedom to endorse who we choose, when we choose. On many of the races, we may end up with the same candidate. When I need info about someone, Buzz and Farris are among the first I go to, as I respect their opinions. When I need info on a specific bill, Pye gets the call. Call it group-think if you want, but I respect the opinions of the folks we have around here, and I’m not afraid to let them occasionally shape mine.

            As far as claiming there’s no movement in the polls for Ox or Handel, you clearly don’t seem to understand the premise of the post. You’re otherwise occupied right now, so I’ll let it slide.

            And I’m still looking forward to buying you a beer in a few weeks, no matter how misguided you may be…

          • Fawkes says:

            Icarus,

            When I stated “I don’t believe Icarus, myself, and others here on Peach Pundit have come out as supporters of any of the gubernatorial candidates”, I didn’t mean everyone. I knew Erick had endorsed Handel; so did his blog Redstate.com.

        • Dash Riptide says:

          If Handel and her supporters don’t do more than whine about Oxendine’s “ceiling” that he won’t rise above, then her and her campaign are going to end up in the basement under Governor Oxendine.

          If memory serves, there is another step after the primaries. Even assuming Oxendine can win the Republican nomination, he is the Republican candidate most likely to drive the undecideds (especially transplants) into The Rat’s camp. The Ox’s campaign seems to be based on the idea of openly alienating all the right people. Vote for me! Gay people hate me! Vote for me! Atlantans hate me! Vote for me! Smarty smart types in my own party think I’m a joke! Do you hate elitists as much as I do? Vote for me!

          Yeah, there’s an audience for that when times are fat, but I don’t see a “Bubba” strategy resonating in 2010. These are difficult times, and therefore sober, serious, competent and Flash animation-averse may well turn out to be the more sought after qualities for the successful gubernatorial candidate in 2010.

  2. Chris says:

    I think Icky makes a very interesting point I’d not yet considered. If we assume that 1) The Governor’s primary will go to a run-off and 2) if we assume the 9th CD race will go to a run-off, then the turn out in North Georgia will be pretty high in what is an otherwise low turn out election.

    • macho says:

      It’s a huge advantage for Deal. Not to mention that is congressional district is the most populated GOP congressional district in the state. Deal’s got to get himself into the runoff first. A few months ago, I was sure it would be Deal / Handel in the runoff, but Deal’s campaign has taken so many hits I’m not sure he’ll make it to the runoff.

      As long as the nominee isn’t Oxendine, I feel pretty good about the GOP’s chances against Barnes.

    • Doug Deal says:

      With what look like at least four announced Republicans running in the 8th, it coulds be even higher.

      Of course since none of them are yet Erick’s preferred candidate, don’t expect to find news of that here.

  3. macho says:

    I don’t think the dislike of Oxendine is due to “groupthink,” as support of the other candidates seems to be evenly divided. John’s problem is the more somebody knows him, the more likely they are to support one of his opponents.

    Most of the people on the message board are politically active and, therefore, have gotten to know John over the years. They have seen how he conducts himself.

  4. ready2rumble says:

    I understand it’s Handel’s poll, and that we are about 9 months out. Looks like she is very well positioned to be Georgia’s next governor.

    Ox is already sliding in the Rasmussen polls, showing he has no room to move up.

    • ByteMe says:

      Looks like she is very well positioned to be Georgia’s next governor

      We could do worse and often have.

      • Sleepy Tom says:

        Who has been what you can consider to be a good governor?

        And, “good” is not defined by how much you liked the person, or how much money your company was able to secure in contracts from the connections you had in the governor’s office.

        “Good” as in good for Georgia.

        • ByteMe says:

          As much as I think he’s a crazy old crank now, I thought Zell did a very good job as governor. Perdue and Joe Frank were empty chairs; Barnes did half good, half bad, but at least he tried. Memory fades after that.

          As for the current list of wannabees, Handel is the least offensive, just because she’s also the least doctrinaire and her tenure as Fulton Commissioner showed me that she is capable of getting stuff done without a lot of drama.

          But the reality is that the governor is often at the mercy of the legislature and our current legislative leaders are something less than worthless.

  5. Jeff says:

    John’s problem is the more somebody knows him, the more likely they are to support one of his opponents.

    seriously, one of the best quotes about Ox I’ve ever heard.

  6. Silent Outrage says:

    Given all things being equal, this is shaping up into a 3 way race… I predict a Handel v Oxendine runoff… And unless Georgia Republicans are just throwing ethics by the wayside, I see Karen Handel winning this marathon of a campaign.

    For Eric Johnson to be even remotely competitive, he will have to raise 4 times the money of everyone else and that’s just to get his name ID even close to where Oxendine, Handel, Deal are presently.

    • Sleepy Tom says:

      If he raises 4 times what Handel raises, will that suffice?

      With Handel’s June 30 disclosure, that doesn’t appear to be that much of a challenge for Eric, does it?

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