Saturday, July 23, 2005

Potts Watch: New Poll Results Show Support for Centrism

In the first Mason-Dixon poll this year covering the Virginia gubernatorial race, the ordained candidates of the Republican and Democratic parties are both stalled, with each garnering less than forty percent of likely voter support. The poll gives Democrat Tim Kaine a slight lead, with 38%, to Republican Jerry Kilgore's 37%.

The most surprising news out of this Mason-Dixon poll is that 9% of those surveyed said they plan to vote for independent candidate Russ Potts: that figure is significantly higher than other recent statewide quasi-polls have shown for the fiery centrist. Even better news for Potts is that 16% of those polled remain undecided, meaning they have not committed themselves to either Kaine or Kilgore ... and are waiting to make sure there's another viable player in the ballgame.

Kilgore supporters seemed floored by the poll, refusing to accept its validity Saturday night. Spokesman Tim Murtagh told the Bristol (TN) Herald Courier "This poll flies in the face of everything we have seen - eight other public polls and our own internal polling - that shows Jerry Kilgore with a clear lead in this race. There is no evidence to support what this poll says." Kaine communications director Mo Elleithee was more positive, saying "It does confirm a couple of things we’ve been seeing and we’ve been saying: The more people get to know Tim Kaine and his role in budget reform and the success of the Warner-Kaine administration, the better we do."

The most important indicator of this poll, even more so than the top line support levels, is the key question of where the independent vote is going. That voting bloc, which provides the vital swing factor in Virginia elections, is deeply divided: 37% say they're currently supporting Kaine, with 28% going to Kilgore and 14% to Potts. That leaves 21% still undecided, and where they go is going to be the big story in the coming months.

Potts campaign officials are circumspect but positive about the polling information. Political director Adam Piper tells Charging RINO "These polls at this stage are nothing more than name i.d. We're pleased with the results considering that we have not spent any money and our opponents have each spent over $5 million. We said we would announce - we did. We said we would make it on the ballot - we did. We said we would build support one vote at a time - we are. We're in the game. And we can win this thing."

It would be easy to make comparisons with the 1998 Minnesota gubernatorial election, which Jesse Ventura ended up winning on election day after his opponents couldn't break the high-thirty-percent support rate throughout the campaign and the undecided voters broke to Ventura. An important difference in 2005 is that while Ventura had celebrity name recognition but little experience, Russ Potts has the opposite. His name recognition is low but climbing, but his experience credentials are unchallenged. At this stage in 1998, Ventura was little more than a blip on the radar screen, while Potts has been slowly developing support for months.

The poll, commissioned by several Virginia newspapers, was conducted by telephone Tuesday through Thursday, and features the views of 625 Virginians who said they plan to vote in November. The margin of error is +/- 5%. The sample size is frustratingly small (something over a thousand would be much more useful), but in this first official poll of the election season, there are many indicators that centrism is on the march in the Old Dominion.

There will be much more analysis of this poll in the coming hours and days, and I'll update as necessary when that comes out.

[Update: A Richmond Times-Dispatch piece on the poll is now out, and it features this quote from University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato: "This poll is really going to shake up this contest. Kaine is doing at least every bit as well as Kilgore, and Potts is clearly still a factor. Thank God, this race is finally getting interesting." Five words, Mr. Sabato - you ain't seen nothin' yet!

The Times-Dispatch article also notes that Potts' bases of support are in the Shenandoah Valley and the Piedmont, but "he also was pulling in double digits in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads." Potts campaign manager Tom D'Amore echoes Piper's quote, saying "Given the fact that the Potts campaign has not spent one red cent, not one penny on advertising, I'm very pleased his i.d. is as high as it is."

And name identification only has one way to go from here ... -- 10:37 p.m.]

[Update: I've got some more numbers from the poll here. -- 24 July, 11:05 a.m.]

Previous posts on the Potts campaign:
- "The Debate" (7/17)
- "Updates" (7/9)
- "Russ Potts Debate Watch" (6/28)
- "Catching Up" (6/22)
- "Let Potts Debate" (6/20)
- "Primary Results from Virginia" (6/14)
- "Centrist Surge in Virginia" (6/13)
- "Renegade Realist: More on Russ Potts" (5/18)
- "A Little Straight Talk" (5/12)
- "Walking the Walk in Virginia" (4/29)


At 12:19 PM, Blogger boz said...

Nothing like posting a well thought out article and getting some comment spam...

Count me among the undecided on the Kaine-Potts-Kilgore race. I'm leaning towards Kaine but defintely think Potts should be in the debates.

At 12:25 PM, Blogger JBD said...

Thanks for noting those boz; it's hard to catch them all. I trashed them. Normally I wouldn't delete any comments but the spam-ones drive me crazy.

Undecided's certainly fair at this point; it's very early. Absolutely with the debate stance though - Kilgore is holding a really tenuous position here that might well come back to bite him.


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