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The District 32 dispute and the D’s rose-colored glasses

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The hot topic of the last few days has been the Littlefield poll in the race between Juan Garcia and Todd Hunter. As it happened, I had an appointment scheduled with a Democratic strategist on the day the poll appeared, and we talked a lot about this race. Subsequently, Christian Archer, Juan Garcia’s consultant, issued a memorandum debunking the Littlefield poll. Clearly, the Democrats think Garcia is going to win this race. I think they’re wrong. But first, let’s give Archer his say (in italics): It was not my wish to formally respond to Mark Littlefield’s poll of our district. First, because it was simply never a credible poll in the first place. Second, politically speaking, I do not believe it’s in our campaign’s best interest to respond to non-credible third party attacks. That said, it appears that this issue has taken on a small life of its own and provided the gift of hope and a very small amount of media attention to Todd Hunter’s heretofore bumbling campaign. •The cross-tab for San Patricio County is preposterously out of whack. In 2006, Garcia beat Gene Seaman in that county by 13.7%. In this poll, Todd Hunter—who didn’t even represent San Patricio County when he was in the Legislature (12 years ago!)—has miraculously opened a 13-point lead over Garcia. The key word here is “miraculous.” For political reasons too countless to even mention in this memo, this is not in the realm of human possibility. End of story. I don’t think I have ever met Christian Archer, but my reaction to the memo to this point is that this is not the way grownups write. And it is not the end of the story. •This is an IVR (Integrated Voice Response) poll. That basically means that it was conducted by a computer hooked up to an auto-dialer and that anyone with the physical capacity to pick up and press the buttons of a telephone would be able to participate. I will not enter the raging debate on IVR polling and its effectiveness in general, again, because I am not a pollster. What I do know is this: The only thing that has been widely agreed upon by both sides of the IVR debate is that it is not reliable until very near the finish of high awareness elections. Regardless of what the political situation in the west wing of the Austin Capitol may be, the race between Todd Hunter and Juan Garcia has not achieved the level of high awareness in the lives of District 32 voters today. As such, this is simply not a credible representation of the race as it currently stands. The best article about automated polling versus traditional polling appeared in Slate, the online political journal, after the 2004 election. You can read it here. For a more recent discussion, by a North Carolina IVR polling firm, click here. •In the district as a whole, not even close to 46.38% of district 32 voters would know Todd Hunter if he bumped into them on the street. Also, not even close to 46.38% of the voters of District 32 would land in the category of “generic Republican.” And if you add up the number of people that do qualify as “generic Republican” to the number of people that would know Todd Hunter if he bumped into him on the street, it still wouldn’t add up to 46.38% in the June before the first November election that he’s run in since the Cowboys were winning Super Bowls. This trend is even more relevant in the county by county crosstabs. Witness, again, San Patricio. It is of no relevance that voters would or would not know Todd Hunter if they bumped into him on the street. They read the Corpus Christi paper. They see Corpus Christi TV. They have been exposed to the names of the two candidates. That’s all that matters. This all points back to the fact that Mark Littlefield is no more a pollster than I am an astronaut. That’s made abundantly clear in his first public work here. And while I would normally refrain from ad hominem lines of political debate, I feel that in this one incredible case that it’s relevant to the issue at hand. Before his re-emergence on the political scene with this poll, Mark was fired by the last two campaigns he worked for because of what can generously be described as “unethical business practices.” During his last basking in the limelight of political relevance, he was narrowly regarded as a field guy. The last time that he was featured prominently in the news was “for his role overseeing a petition drive marred by suspected forgeries and irregularities” (“Election Probe,” San Marcos Daily Record Daily Record, June 11, 2008)…. Archer’s argument comes down to this: (1) Garcia won San Patricio county by 13.7% in 2006 and the Littlefield poll now shows him trailing in that county by 13 points against an opponent who has never been on the ballot in San Patricio County. (2) Integrated Voice Response polling is a controversial methodology. (3) The pollster has a bad reputation. (Archer’s memorandum also said that Littlefield had miscalculated the margin of error.) I don’t think that the 2006 race is an accurate predictor of the 2008 race. While Archer is undoubtedly correct that Hunter is not well known in San Patricio County, Hunter was recruited by Tom Craddick and will have all the money he needs to make a strong race. Garcia’s Republican opponent in ’06 was incumbent Gene Seaman. Seaman was one of several incumbents who ran into ethics trouble over using campaign funds to pay rent for a condo to a spouse. He had also aroused the ire of constituents over a local tax issue. He was a damaged incumbent in a Democratic year. Garcia beat him by 767 votes. Hunter, on the other hand, is well known in the region. He served previously and was a solid, if inordinately cautious, pro-business conservative Democrat who has now switched parties. He is a much more formidable opponent than Seaman. This is a different race, and Garcia’s margins against Seaman are of little predictive value. San Patricio is a Republican-friendly county. In 2006 it went for Rick Perry over Chris Bell, 5,057 to 4,208, or 38% to 32% (with Strayhorn and Friedman getting the rest). A little-known Republican challenger to Democratic congressman Solomon Ortiz out-polled the controversial incumbent, 4,282 to 2,618. This year, the Republican tax assessor, an Hispanic Republican, is running unopposed for reelection. Aransas, the northernmost county in the district, is even more Republican than San Pat. It voted for Perry over Bell by more than two to one (3,051 to 1,349). Seaman ran way behind the ticket here, winning edging Garcia by 3,204 to 3,028. How does Garcia do as well in a presidential year? I’m not shilling for Hunter here. I don’t think he belongs in the Legislature. He has been a registered lobbyist as recently as 2007. He’s going into the revolving door the wrong way. Is he going to be like certain other lobbyists of recent vintage, who went on the public payroll and let law partners collect their retainers and fees? I think it stinks to have a lobbyist in the Legislature. But the D’s are going to have to do better than rely on a repeat of Gene Seaman’s race if Garcia is going to win.

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