By Tom Baxter
Polls are like drops in a bucket. A single poll, like the one last week which showed challenger Jason Carter leading Gov. Nathan Deal by eight percentage points, is only a solitary ker-plunk. It’s what accumulates in the bucket that can reveal where a race is headed.
The Real Clear Politics chart on this race shows 13 publicly released polls so far this year, and Deal has led in 10 of them. Interestingly, the three polls in which Carter has led — an InsiderAdvantage poll in early March, a Rasmussen poll in late May, and the Landmark Communications poll last week — all were conducted by polling firms which are Republican in their leanings.
So most of the polling looks good for Deal, although those in which Carter led have generated more headlines, and Carter has led in two of the last four. It’s also interesting that in the three polls he’s led, Carter’s lead has steadily increased, from 3 percent back in March to 8 percent in the poll last week.
Last week’s poll came after the bombshell news that ethics commission director Holly LaBerge was turning the whistle around, you might say, and applying for whistle-blower status, releasing a long-buried memo regarding the way she had been pressured in Deal’s ethics case.
Stories about the poll have made prominent mention of it being the first conducted after the news about LaBerge and her new set of charges against the governor’s staff broke. No doubt the resurrection of Deal’s ethics problems caused some downward pull on his numbers.
But the rule of thumb in these matters is that it takes a few days for a story — even one with a Dale Russell interview and the whole nine yards — to register completely on the public. The timing of LaBerge’s disclosure seemed suspicious, but if there was any political intent, its impact has yet to be fully measured.
You have to conclude that any problems unearthed by the poll largely predate the latest news, and the most serious of these for Deal is a gaping gender gap. Women favor Carter by 2-to-1, while Deal leads among men by eight percentage points. Totally separate from the “toxic” (Ms. LaBerge’s word) impact of the ethics problems that don’t go away, the spectacle of a public argument with a woman now disputing the assertion she was hand-picked for her job can’t be good for Deal in this respect.
It will be interesting to see where the smart money heads now that the general election season has begun. Carter held a substantial, and surprising, fundraising lead over Deal at the end of June, but a greater share of his money came from out of state. These final months will give a more accurate picture of where those who write checks in every governor’s race are placing their bets.
Deal’s circle-the-wagons conference call with Republican legislators Monday morning seemed to indicate that despite a solid primary victory over two serious opponents, the governor is not entirely confident in his base. He told the legislators of the dire consequences they faced if Carter became governor, warning they would become “the target of demagoguery.”
At the very least that sounded like an effort to bolster the legislators’ sagging confidence in his campaign, and perhaps a warning against any outright defections.
Oh, by the way, there’s a primary runoff today. As others have noted, the downbeat news about the governor, like the predicted rain Tuesday, has put a damper on the Republican races, including the marquee contest for the U.S. Senate nomination between David Perdue and Jack Kingston.
One of the first tasks for the winner of the Senate runoff will be to distance himself from Deal’s ethical problems, not least because both contenders have heightened awareness of the other’s ethical problems during this long and nasty runoff campaign. I’m guessing that when all of this is over, shortening the runoff period will become a legislative project.