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
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:
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.