Friday, May 05, 2006

[Oregon Governor's Race]

Parsing the Gubernatorial Poll Numbers

This is a crosspost from BlueOregon, but since most readers are Oregonians, I thought I'd pop it in here.

The Oregonian released findings of a poll conducted April 30 to May 2 of likely voting Democrats and Republicans (story here, pdf of Dem results and GOP results). Depending on how you cock your head, the findings are either revealing or mystifying, good news or bad news (okay, for everyone except Pete Sorenson--for him it's all bad). Let's look at the numbers first, and then think through what they mean.

If the primary were held today, who would you vote for (combined with "lean toward" responses):

Among Democrats (+/- 5.6%)
Ted Kulongoski (I) - 43%
Jim Hill - 30%
Pete Sorenson - 8%

Among GOP (+/- 5.6%)
Ron Saxton - 30%
Kevin Mannix - 24%
Jason Atkinson - 18%

Among Dems and Republicans, Ben Westlund was mostly not on the radar. Only 35% of Dems knew who he he was; 15% were favorable, 16% neutral, and 5% negative. Among GOP, only 25% had heard of him; 8% were favorable, 13% neutral, 5% negative. (I assume numbers are rounded.)

So, what's it mean?

Tea readers can look directly at the relative strength of the primary candidates. Among Dems, Kulongoski is predictably weak. But Jim Hill and Pete Sorenson, hoping to capitalize on his weakness, may not be particularly encouraged--especially Sorenson, who has been running for months and now appears to be out of the race.

On the GOP side, it's looking like a toss-up. According to the O, this is the first poll showing Saxton in front, but with just 30% of the vote and a six-point lead, it ain't a gimme.

What I'm more interested about are the implications for November. Barring some kind of remarkable change, Kulongoski looks to be the Democratic candidate. He will face either Saxton, who will turn toward the center, or Mannix, who will probably continue sprinting along the right wing flank. That leaves Westlund as the X factor.

It's not too shocking that Westlund isn't more well-known at this stage in the campaign (for one thing, Independents weren't polled). What is more surprising is that his name recognition among Dems is greater than among the GOP, which means his campaign is gaining more traction on the left--a few months ago, he was an obscure central Oregon Republican. And, among those Dems who have learned who he is, three times as many find him favorable as unfavorable. Among the GOP, he's regarded only marginally more favorably than not, suggesting that they like one of the three horses in their own primary.

For Kulongoski, the Westlund numbers are bad news. Democratic likely voters are unhappy with his leadership, and they appear to be interested in Westlund. From here, reading the tea leaves becomes highly speculative. As long as Westlund's campaign continues to interest Democrats, that damages Kulongoski's candidacy. (Presumably, an upset defeat by Jim Hill would give the Dems new life, but it doesn't look likely--which means disaffected Dems are going to have to turn away from the party.) But whether Kulongoski runs stronger with Saxton or Mannix as his GOP foe is unclear. It may come down to those 65% of Democrats and 75% of Republicans who haven't heard of Westlund.

In any configuration, it's going to be a long, interesting race.

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