Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Inside Baseball: Reed goes after Cagle; parsing the polls

Man, we love it when campaign season starts to heat up. It gives us an opportunity to talk about some of the inside baseball that goes on with the different campaigns.

For instance, you’ve got this Republican primary for Lieutenant Governor between Casey Cagle and Ralph Reed. For all the apparent unity in the Republican Party, you’ve got to know that when Republicans fight, they don’t pull any punches. For instance, we’ve been getting at least one email per week from the folks over in Reed’s camp attacking Cagle on various things. While Cagle has launched a barb or two at Reed over the last few months, he’s got nothing like the well-oiled attack machine that Reed has.

For instance, this week, we got an email from Reed that accuses Cagle of taking a pass on a bill dealing with “eminent domain abuse,” lying about why he skipped the vote, and then raising a ton of money from developers.

The whys and wherefores of Reed’s continuing attacks on Cagle are less important than the fact that the two (or at least one of the two) are going negative four months before the primary. That’s the inside baseball aspect we wanted to address.

Is going after Cagle a smart political move for Reed? Maybe, maybe not. On the one hand, going negative this early, even in a limited way, kind of smacks of desperation. It implies to some observers – present company included – that Reed’s internal polling shows him so far behind Cagle that he’s got no choice but to try to take Cagle down early.

On the other hand, going after Cagle in March may be a bright idea for Reed. First of all, as James Carville has said, it’s hard for someone to hit you when you’ve got your fist in their face. We would also mention, given our presumption that these attacks are going to both the press (more on that in a second) and to folks who have subscribed to Reed’s email list on his website, that Reed’s supporters are getting the message, and they’re getting ginned up to hit the streets for Reed come July.

The best reason for Reed to come out swinging against Cagle, however, has to do with Reed’s own ethical baggage. While all of the facts about Reed’s involvement with Jack Abramoff and the barons of K Street haven’t come out yet, a lot of your registered and likely GOP primary voters know that something isn’t exactly above-board about good ol’ Ralph. By getting as much negative information out as possible about Cagle, Reed has a chance to level the playing field and show voters that both candidates are flawed in one way or another, while publicly proclaiming his innocence. It’s kind of a desperation move, but it’s about the only course open to Reed.

You might wonder why Reed’s attacks aren’t getting more play in the press. Simply put, most of what he’s putting out there about Cagle is a non-story. Take the email we cited earlier. Essentially, Reed is saying that Cagle skipped a vote, was less than upfront about why he skipped the vote, and has raised a lot of money from people who would approve of him skipping that vote. Well, skipping votes is hardly uncommon for legislators, especially when public opinion dictates a vote that is at odds with what your fundraising plan might require. It’s just not something that gets the press excited, and at best, things like this get folded into a larger story about the two campaigns.

Inside Baseball: Extra Innings
As we were wrapping this post up, we got another poll in the AthPo inbox. According to a recent Insider Advantage poll, Sonny Perdue leads Cathy Cox by 8 points, and he leads Mark Taylor by 16 points. In Democratic primary polling, Cox leads Taylor by 42% to 31%.

Looking at those numbers, it seems clear that if Democrats want to have a chance in November against Perdue, they’d better all jump on the Cathy Cox Express right now. In fact, it looks like about half of us already have. Still, we’ve talked about public polling before. Unlike our earlier post about polling, this is an independent poll, and not – as far as we know – affiliated with any particular candidate.

Nonetheless, we’re still going to pick on this poll, because that’s what we do. Quick question: what’s the most useless type of polling? Say it with us now: the horse race poll. A horse race test this early basically indicates what would happen if the election were held today. And, of course, we’re not holding an election today. (But don’t give the Clarke County School District any ideas.) In fact, this poll isn’t even a good indicator of what would happen if the election were held today, because in each of the three races tested, at least 12% of the respondents were undecided. In the head-to-head between Cox and Taylor, 27% of respondents were undecided.

Here at AthPo, we are big fans of polling; it’s a useful tool for campaigns to use to craft their message. But as we’ve said before, the actual horse race numbers don’t start mattering until a week out, and they don’t really matter until election day.

Bottom line is this. Any time that you see horse race numbers, especially this early, please know two things. First, they’re absolutely useless and in no way indicative of what might actually happen on election day. Second, and perhaps more important, please know that anyone who puts out horse race numbers this early has an agenda. In the case of a candidate releasing polling data, like Jim Martin did a few weeks ago, it’s an attempt to create the appearance of momentum. In the case of a polling firm releasing the data, the agenda is to call attention to the polling firm itself – a business move. If it’s a media outlet releasing the poll, they’re trying to create news and boost their share. Nothing wrong with any of that, and we’re not casting aspersions. Heck, if it weren’t for public polling, we’d have far less to write about sometimes. We’re just saying that these are things you need to consider, because Republican or Democrat, or in between, we want everyone out there to be more informed political consumers.


Patrick Armstrong said...

Reed's emails may not be getting much press because they aren't supposed to get much press. I'll warn you, I'm going to get all techochrati here for a moment:

Reed's attacks aren't directed towards rallying the undecideds, or even the likely GOP Primary Voters. They are directed towards the most hard wired party activists: those folks in the base who regularly check their email and who are more likely to be the grassroots communicators and pundits that other people read and listen to. I betcha plenty of them have blogs, and read the big right wing blogs, get their talking points from the big right wing blogs and post on the big right wing blogs. They are the 'plugged in base.'

The reason the attacks are coming so early is two fold. One: it starts setting up a narrative with the plugged in base. If Reed can capture a lot of these individuals and turn them against Cagle, even if it is for something as small as skipping a vote, he begins to build a picture - a narrative - of the kind of guy Cagle is. If the plugged in base doesn't like Cagle, endless bandwidth will make mountains out of molehills.

Second: the plugged in love attention, especially from candidates. A big dynamic in politics is the 'team' dynamic, and Reed wants the plugged in base on his team. By reaching out to them, even if it is through emails attacking the other guy, they begin to like him even if they don't agree with him. His personal failings get ignored by the base or defended as part of the liberal media smear campaign.

The result (this guy is brilliant):

When the unplugged base and likley GOP primary voters turn to their plugged in friends and ask what they think, Reed is going to be the man.

Cagle is ignoring this dynamic at his own peril.

Case & point: even a centrist blog like AthPo is talking about how Cagle skipped out on a vote.

Publius said...

Well, I'd hardly consider us centrist.

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

And we weren't so much talking about how he skipped a vote, as talking about how Reed was talking about it, but we get your point.