Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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About the “Tightening” Guv Primary

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The big political news today in California was Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner’s teleconference — the one where he unveiled an internal campaign poll claiming he’s now within 10 points of rival Meg Whitman in the GOP gubernatorial primary.

That’s 10 points, with still a month to go (Poizner’s pollsters — the same ones who did Scott Brown’s upset win in Massachusetts — had the race at 59-11 in February; today’s numbers were 38-28).

So, is this to believed?

I’m not sure if I entirely buy off on the poll — not until I see a similar set of numbers.

But I do buy into the concept of a tighter primary.

My thinking:

First, campaign-produced polls are exactly that — campaign products. Not that they’re dishonest, but they’re not neutral, either, with the client (i.e., the candidate) having a vested interest. So read them with a grain a salt. And, if you’re a political junkie, study the sampling and the methodology — see if the results are straightforward or “pushed”.

That said, if I were Team Poizner, I’d press Team Whitman day-in and day-out to show its internal numbers (Whitman’s camp says it has a poll in the works, but isn’t offering a release date).

Why? Because Poizner has a two-in-three chance of getting a good news story out of said release. Assuming Whitman’s numbers don’t show her lead expanding from that earlier 22-point spread, then Poizner can claim: (a) the race is indeed closing, as Poizner’s long maintained; or, even better, (b) look it, her numbers are little different from mine — game on.

Besides, I think Poizner gained more out of Sunday’s debate than did Whitman, so he should be on the prowl for polling numbers done as close to possible to the post-debate “bounce” period — not a week later, when the debate’s effect may have cooled off.

(btw, Poizner’s internal poll was done from May 2-4 — the best time possible to catch a bounce).

(a second btw: this makes the timing for the sampling of the next mainstream polls — Field, PPIC and LA Times/USC — all the more important).

Now then, why would the race be tightening?

I’ll credit a friend of mine down in the Southland, who has lot more experience in Republican primaries than I do, with this one.

In a word: the issue is passion.

If you watched Sunday’s debate, you couldn’t miss Poizner’s intensity — especially on the topic of illegal immigration. Whitman said she would not have signed the Arizona law, but does support the concept of an economic fence against illegal immigration.

Sensible, but not exactly an applause line.

Poizner said he would have signed the law, and even deploy the California National Guard to the border if need be.

In conservative Republican circles, that’s an applause line.

You can argue that this might not play well for Poizner in a November contest — fiery candidates usually have an easier go of it in ideological primaries than more centrist general elections.

But we’re talking about a June primary and a smaller universe of Republican voters. And in that universe there exists a void — a void beginning in the aftermath of the 2005 special election — in which conservatives have waited for a candidate with heat and expressed frustration on matters important to the right.

In hindsight, perhaps this explains the current state of the race.

Whitman’s campaign is measured and cautious, already looking past June to November — classic frontrunner strategy. Poizner, in addition to finally establishing himself on the airwaves, has zeroed in a message that works with the diehards. Thus the bump for him; the slide for her.

Can Poizner keep up the momentum for ride his way to one of the biggest upsets in modern-day California politics? Let’s put it another way: if the Whitman campaign wasn’t concerned, then why did they just release this 30-second-spot?


Written by Bill Whalen

May 5, 2010 at 10:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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