Houston mayor's race poll: Parker +4
Sat November 14, 2009 11:01 am

Note to readers:

Bill King, who had considered running for mayor but decided not to make the race, has sent his considerable e-mail list the results of the first known post-election poll. This is his report. My comments follow the asterisks, below:

Gene Locke’s campaign has released the first poll taken since November 3. The poll was conducted Monday and Tuesday nights (November 9 & 10) by Paul Maislin, who also polled for Lee Brown and Bill White. The poll showed [Annise] Parker leading by 43-39% with 18% undecided. The margin of error was 4%.

The poll shows that Parker and Locke are splitting Peter Brown votes [the third-place finisher–pb] fairly evenly with most white Democrats shifting to Parker and Brown’s African-American supporters moving to Locke. The undecided voters at this point are mostly suburban, white, and Republican leaning. The suburban-white-Republican-leaning voters that have made up their minds about the race are breaking strongly in Locke’s favor by about a 70-30 margin. This group is primarily been responsible for Locke moving from 10% down in the election to within the margin of error of Parker.

The poll is modeled on a 170,000-voter turnout in the election. About 180,000 voters voted on November 3. Turnout normally falls in a run-off election; however in the 2001 mayoral election, when Lee Brown was challenged by Orlando Sanchez, the turnout actually increased from 280,000 to 310,000. UH political science professor and long-time Houston pollster, Dick Murray, thinks this could happen again this year. The general consensus is that a low turnout in this election helps Parker because of her relatively small, but very loyal base. Conversely, if turnout is higher, Locke will be the likely beneficiary because additional voters will more likely be African-Americans or Republican leaning voters.

Here in my [King’s] mind are the critical factors to watch over the next four weeks:

1. African-American Turnout/Enthusiasm. Locke got just under 70% of the African-American vote with almost all the rest going to Brown. This poll indicates that Locke will virtually shut Parker out of the black vote. The question is how many African-Americans will vote. On November 3, probably only about 45,000 African-Americans voted. In the 2001 election, when Lee Brown was besieged by Orlando Sanchez, nearly 100,000 voted in the run-off. As a result Locke has huge up-side potential in the African-American vote.

2. The Suburban-White-Republican-Leaning Undecideds. The suburban-white-Republican-leaning voters do not have an ideal candidate in this race. The ones that decided quickly broke to Locke. One can speculate that these were likely social conservatives for which Parker’s lifestyle and liberal activism are automatic disqualifiers. The balance of these voters will be more likely motivated by policy specifics such as crime, immigration, city finances, and traffic. How the candidates differentiate themselves on these issues will likely be the deciding factor. The debates could be very important in competing for these voters. Locke has some advantage in that a number of high profile Republicans such as Robert Eckels, Ned Holmes, and Chase Untermeyer have already endorsed him. Parker has few offsetting Republican endorsements.

3. The Suburban-White-Republican-Leaning Turnout. The second question with respect to suburban-white-Republican-leaning voters is will they vote. Of course, historically this group turns out at very high rates. However, there is also the possibility that with two clearly identified Democrats in the race they may declare a pox on both their houses and stay home. Based on how this vote is breaking so far, a higher turnout will likely favor Locke.

4. Fundraising. It is likely that both campaigns will be reasonably well funded. Locke has enjoyed the support of most of Houston’s business establishment and Parker has the ability to raise national GLBT money. Parker’s first-place finish has also won her the support of some traditional City Hall vendors such as the engineers and contractors. Having a war chest will be critical. The race is likely to turn highly negative in the home stretch. Each side will need to have funds to respond to the negative ads you will undoubtedly be seeing soon.

I think the main take away from the poll is that this race is very much up for grabs. Parker has the inertia but Locke has the momentum. However, neither is an immovable object or an irresistible force.

* * * *

Parker’s four-point lead over Locke is not much difference from the election-night result, which showed her with a 5.68% advantage over Locke, or just under 10,000 votes. But the climate for the runoff is likely to be quite different than the climate for the election. I posted yesterday about Steven Hotze’s involvement in the race, which will likely focus on opposition to Parker’s gay lifestyle. The resistance to Parker goes far beyond Hotze, however. This is from the Chronicle’s story yesterday:

A cluster of socially conservative Houstonians is planning a campaign to discourage voters from choosing City Controller Annise Parker in the December mayoral runoff because she is a lesbian, according to multiple ministers and conservatives involved in the effort.

The group is motivated by concerns about a “gay takeover” of City Hall, given that two other candidates in the five remaining City Council races are also openly gay, as well as national interest driven by the possibility that Houston could become the first major U.S. city to elect an openly gay woman.

Another primary concern is that Parker or other elected officials would seek to overturn a 2001 city charter amendment that prohibits the city from providing benefits to the domestic partners of gay and lesbian employees.

“The bottom line is that we didn’t pick the battle, she did, when she made her agenda and sexual preference a central part of her campaign,” said Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastor Council, numbering more than 200 senior pastors in the Greater Houston area. “National gay and lesbian activists see this as a historic opportunity. The reality is that’s because they’re promoting an agenda which we believe to be contrary to the concerns of the community and destructive to the family.”

Welch said he had “no doubt” there would be numerous independent advocacy efforts urging voters not to choose Parker, most of which would involve mail.

I find this appalling. It is going to make Houston look really bad.

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