Late last week, the Strayhorn campaign released an internal poll purporting to show that their candidate had pulled within 7 points of Rick Perry, 28% to 35%. If this poll The Perry campaign fired back: “The first sure sign that a campaign is going in the tank is when they start releasing phony poll numbers to try and convince voters they’re still relevant.” One only has to go back to 2002, when the Tony Sanchez campaign claimed to be within 9 points of Perry. Only in their dreams.

How much credence should the political community give the poll by Washington-based Laughlin & Associates? You have to start with a high degree of skepticism about any poll that (1) comes from a campaign’s own pollster (2) for a candidate who is trailing (3) and hasn’t previously been able to break out of the pack (4) with time running out. One way for a poll to gain credence is to release its assumptions about the electorate: What percentage will be Democrats? Republicans? Independants? What percentage will be male? female? These assumptions, if wrong, can skew a poll. To the best of my knowledge, the Strayhorn campaign did not release this information. Without this kind of transparency, the poll should continue to be viewed with skepticism.

It might be instructive to compare the three latest polls in the race, one conducted by Austin’s Opinion Analysts for Texans for Insurance Reform (TIR), one by a New York firm for the Dallas Morning News (DMN), and one by Strayhorn’s pollster (CKS). Here are the polls’ numbers in the order given above:

Perry: 33% TIR / 38% DMN / 35% CKS
Strayhorn: 20% TIR / 18% DMN / 28% CKS
Bell: 13% TIR / 14% DMN / 15% CKS
Friedman: 14% TIR / 14% DMN / 15% CKS
Undecided: 19% TIR / 14% DMN / 7% CKS

What this tells us is that the Strayhorn internal poll was very close to, or spot on the norm regarding Perry, Friedman, and Bell. The outlying numbers are Strayhorn’s high score in the CKS poll and the low number of undecided voters, also in the CKS poll. One possible conclusion is that, because the Strayhorn poll was conducted later than the other two polls, it reflected the full impact of her TV commercials. The result was to swing 40% of the undecideds in the TIR poll into the Strayhorn camp.

Maybe so. But I suggest that we don’t need polls to decide whether the race is tightening. Just keep an eye on Perry’s ads. When the Perry campaign goes negative against Strayhorn, you’ll know.