Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Poll Numbers Cause for Worry for the Tan Man

Charlie Crist can’t be pleased about these poll numbers. Yes, he’s got a solid lead. Yes, it’s much better, right now, to Charlie Crist than it is to be Marco Rubio. But…

There’s always a “but.”

The popular, sitting governor is barely over fifty percent against a man who is currently out of office and represented less than 1% of the voting population when he was in office (yes, yes – I know he was Speaker of the Florida House, but let’s be honest – no one in Florida would even know who Sasnom and Cretuel are, if a grand jury hadn’t indicted Sansom).

What Charlie doesn’t want is a spirited and moderately well funded campaign by Rubio that forces him to veer to the right in order to get through the Republican primary. He will always be a strong favorite in the general, but he knows that his support among independents and even Democrats is dependent upon his moderate image. If he has to tack right, that moderate image is going to take a hit and he’s going to find himself in much closer race in the general election.

The poll also makes clear something that has been true for a long time – Crist’s support has never been very fervent. It is more of the “a mile wide and inch deep” variety. He simply does not inspire the devotion and strong feelings that Jeb did. Voters like Charlie – they like him a lot. But they don’t “like like” him. And if someone sexier comes along, well… Charlie was always just a friend, so voters feel ok dumping him for someone else. Up until now, the tan man has always been sexy enough that this wasn’t a problem. But Rubio is young, charismatic, and his ideology is a lot more in line with the average Republican primary voter.

Now, I’m not taking my money out of t-bills and putting it all down Rubio at a Seminole Indian casino. I’m just saying that things have gotten tricky for man who, over the last few years, has become used things coming easily to him.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

St. Pete Times Finds a Buyer for CQ

CQ, a boutique publication serving government employees, trade associations, and lobbying groups in Washington, DC, looks like it has finally found a buyer in the similarly “inside the beltway”-focused publication, Roll Call (actually, the buyer is Roll Call’s parent company, The Economist Group).

Why is this news? Because CQ is owned by the Poynter Institute, the non-profit foundation that manages the St. Petersburg Times. It is no secret that papers – including the Times, are struggling.

CQ has actually been profitable for the Poynter Institute (specialty publications have generally fared better than general interest publications like traditional dailies). Clearly, they have decided that the immediate infusion of cash is more vital to the long term prospects of the Times, than maintaining a distant, albeit profitable, publication in DC.

Though I have often been critical of the Times, let me just say (without getting into a philosophical discussion of the long-term prospects of the daily newspaper industry) that I would be deeply saddened to lose them and hope that this gamble pays off.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

You just sort of knew it didn’t you?

After John Ensign’s unusually sordid affair, after our Idaho friend’s little toe tapping in a Minneapolis airport, after Vito Fossella got a DUI on his way to visit the children he fathered with his mistress, after we pretended to be surprised to learn that Mark Foley liked younger men… you just sort of knew that when South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford disappeared for five days, there was going to be some sort of rank sexual hypocrisy involved. You just knew he wasn’t walking through the hills to clear his head amongst nature.

Frankly, the RNC is probably just relieved that he only had an affair with a woman in Argentina. Michael Steele had to hear a voice coming up from his gut saying, “Sweet Jesus, don’t let this turn out to be about an affair with a cross dressing illegal immigrant and don’t let him have a secret family in Argentina.

We should probably start a new drinking game. Every time a prominent Republican with presidential aspirations derails his or her political future with their sexual peccadilloes, everyone does a shot of tequila.

On second thought, that’s a bad idea. We’d be hammered within a few hours at this rate.

The Poll

I’d like to offer my own two cents on the St. Pete Times poll on the mayoral race, mainly in response to Peter Schorsch’s posting on the topic.

Peter is right in saying that this poll is far from meaningless, but I’d like to qualify that a bit.

61% of voters will not go into the polling booth or mail in their ballot with their choice of mayor being “I don’t know.” It will be somebody. Granted, this does foreshadow a little more throwing away of votes than usual – for example, “Mickey Mouse,” “Donald Duck” and “my grandmother” will all probably do better than normal.

Kathleen Ford’s lead should be taken with a grain of salt. 10% and the lead isn’t bad, but Ford is also a known figure with base of pre-existing support that is likely to neither shrink or grow significantly. In other words, 10% represents something close to both a floor and ceiling. In part because those same qualities that guarantee her a floor also limit her room for growth, and also because she is very unlikely to have the resources to run a robust direct mail and absentee ballot campaign.

Baker might be worried about Ford’s numbers, but only if you assume that the 61% of undecideds don’t settle on anyone, leaving the proportions as they are. I find this very unlikely.

Deveron Gibbons is probably a little miffed by his numbers, but he can probably still count on significant support from the African-American community, which alone will put ahead of Ford’s “lead.”

Scott Wagman is probably a little perturbed. The real question now for Wagman is how much money he can spend on paid media, especially direct mail, between now and when the absentee ballots drop.

As I said, this poll is not meaningless, but that doesn’t mean we can make any strong judgments about any of the campaigns, except to say that no one has really seen their operation take flight.

The fact is, with a +/- 4% margin of error, virtually everyone is in a dead heat (including Ford and Bennett – the margin of error is for each number, so Ford’s could actually be 4 points or 6% and Bennett’s four points higher or 7%). Another reason why money will be key. I reckon that 10,000 votes is roughly what folks are aiming for to get into a run off – it’s not likely that anyone is going to have that many conversations with undecided voters, so paid media is going to have a big influence on this race. I don’t say that the biggest spender will win, but an ability to drop multiple pieces of mail and the ability to target significant resources to absentee voters is likely to rule a candidate out of the running for a top two spot.

Jeb Bush Raising Money for Bill McCollum – What Does It Mean?

Jeb had been keeping a low, relatively non-partisan profile. His model was that of former Speaker Newt Gingrich, by which I mean establishing himself as a sort of “idea” man and raising money for a non-profit of his creation whose purpose (whatever the mission statement might read) is to keep him in regular contact with big donors (the kind of who bundle contributions for presidential campaigns) and pay for him to travel and speak and generally rebuild his brand in a low key fashion. It was a good model – Gingrich more or less rebuilt his brand after a combination of losing legislative battles and sexual hypocrisy left him less popular than death or taxes. Jeb needed to rebuild his brand after his brother spent eight years in a single minded mission to destroy any hope that a “Bush” could be president again until everyone who was ever alive between the years 2001-2008 has their memories destroyed by senile dementia.

So what gives?

Why has Jeb broken his political radio silence and agree to headline a McCollum fundraiser?

You could argue that he is raising money for McCollum because McCollum does not have any real primary opposition, so Jeb is just raising money for the de facto Republican nominee.

Me? I argue that the real visual aid here is a picture of Jeb raising money for McCollum and pointedly not lifting a finger for Crist – and probably giving his tacit support to his son’s endorsement of Rubio.

Of course it’s old news to say that Crist and Jeb have the same affection as McCain and W – by which I mean, not affection so much as a deep seated, visceral contempt.

As an aside, Crist was named by Greenopia as the 22nd most environmentally conscious governor, making Florida, well, mediocre. But it's better than propping up the table.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Bill Young Accused of Being in the Pocket of the Insurance Companies

I am not sure who, but someone is running robo-calls against Rep. Bill Young, accusing him of being in the pocket of insurance industries. The message didn’t come through clearly on my machine and my machine cut it off before it finished (that’s why I don’t know who’s paying for it).

Young has received well over $300,000 from the healthcare industry, not including money from lobbyists. Roughly 55% of his money comes from Political Action Committees, just over 1/3 from individuals and the rest, we’re just not too sure about
(that’s not to suggest anything shady – just acknowledgement that it can be hard to figure out sometimes).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Voter Contact – More than Just Field

In political circles, voter contact is not just when a candidate shows up at your door or an idealistic young volunteer calls you up. A “voter contact” also includes when a voter gets one of your direct mail pieces, sees your ad on television or hears you on the radio.

When a consultant is talking the need to have multiple voter contacts, they don’t mean obsessively calling the voter up, over and over (though there is an element of that) – they mean multiple contacts over multiple media: a phone call, a knock at the door, several pieces of mail, and your ad playing on cable in their zip code (hopefully during a television they like to watch).

It is possible to have a long, philosophical argument over whether paid phones are a form of paid media or field (political campaigning, as a profession, is not immune from a certain amount of balkanization). As a rule, I would put them into the field column, but I will give my thoughts on them.

Live phone calls, wherein you hire a phone vendor who has a boiler room somewhere an underpaid college students make calls, using a script you provide and deliver message, often ending with some question gauging the voter’s level of support (or lack thereof). You can skip the ending question to shave a huge percentage of the per call costs, but you also lose the opportunity add important data (like if someone is going to vote for you – very important to know, if possible) and you lose a lot of the value of the whole process.

Robo-calls are what you do when you can’t afford anything else. I won’t lie – I’ve used robo-calls, which is to say, I’ve been broke. I can even recommend a very good vendor, if you like. But robo-calls really don’t do a lot of good. They have only value – they are a cheap way to GOTV voters who are already on your side. They are not just a bad way to get across a persuasion message (in other words, trying convince an undecided voter), they are borderline useless. If someone recommends using robo-calls when are you are not so broke that you don’t have bucket to piss in, you should ignore that person. Forever. Seriously – because they have no idea what they are talking about. They probably ate paint chips as child.