Everybody’s familiar with Mark Twain’s famous quote: “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”
Well, Not Larry Sabato ruined my morning cup of coffee by posting the latest SurveyUSA poll on the Webb-Allen race. And it doesn’t look good at all. In fact, I wish it were lies or even damned lies rather than statistics.
According to SurveyUSA, George Allen is leading Jim Webb by 56 to 37 percent. A lot of the comments on NLS’s site were from wounded Webb loyalists sounding a great deal like Dick Wadhams, Allen’s campaign manager, last week when a Zogby poll showed Webb within five points of Allen. Then it was the Democrats’ turn to crow as Wadhams tried to discredit Zogby’s numbers. Today we were the ones trying to shoot the messenger.
I have mixed opinions about this latest poll. First of all, as some of the comments on NLS pointed out, SurveyUSA has had a good track record in other races, predicting Tim Kaine’s victory over Jerry Kilgore in 2005. But that prediction came a few days before the election not five months out.
At this point, any poll is just a snapshot of where the candidates stand at that particular moment. And it’s a pretty blurry snapshot at best.
So far, all the SurveyUSA poll really proves is that George Allen has greater name recognition than Jim Webb. The Zogby poll, on the other hand, was taken immediately after Webb had beaten Harris Miller and Webb’s name was all over the front page of every newspaper in the state. He had the halo of a candidate who had just emerged triumphant from a race. So he got a bump up in the polls.
Right now, I’d take any poll with a grain of salt. But I also wouldn’t shoot that messenger. And if I were the manager of either campaign, I wouldn’t panic.
All this poll proves is that a lot more people know who George Allen is and associate him with favorables. And why not?
He’s been running a lot of ads to boost both his name recognition and his favorables. Currently it’s morning in Virginia and George Felix, the family man, is responsible for it all. And he has the power of incumbency. He’s already a senator and has been a governor. He has won statewide races. People know the name and know the face.
So, do the Webb people need to start their own expensive TV ads across the state right this minute?
No. All Allen is proving right now is two things:
1. He’s actually pretty nervous about the competition.
2. He has lots of money to piss away on ads in June when nobody is listening.
What Webb’s people need to do is concentrate on raising some bucks as fast as they can. They are going to need it come late August and early September, which is when they will have to mount their TV campaign.
Until then, they need to start getting out Jim Webb’s name and familiarizing the public with his biography and his stand on the issues that matter to voters. The best way to do that during the summer is by getting out to fairs, parades, picnics – any place people go in large numbers – and leafleting and talking to people. Now is the time for retail politics. Webb and his staff, volunteers, and supporters need to go face-to-face to meet the voters.
The dumbest thing they could do is panic and shoot their financial wad on expensive TV ads this early in the campaign. In fact, that’s what the Allen people want to see Webb do. It’s part of a clever strategy. Allen knows he will have the financial advantage. That’s just a fact of life. So if he can get Webb to spend his money too early, Allen will be able to go on the attack in October and leave the Webb campaign short of funds to mount an adequate defense and attack back when it will really matter.
And make no mistake, Webb is willing to attack and defend his flank. Timidity is not one of his failings. But lack of funds could be, if his campaign doesn’t build their own war chest.
Webb will need to run a tight, disciplined campaign that makes up for lack of funds by using what he has to get the most favorable publicity he can when he needs it. He will need to find cost effective ways to get his message out and connect with voters. But he will have some help.
The party will come through with some funds and extra locations for phone banking. He will need more than just one location in Arlington to cover Northern Virginia, for example. Unions will also provide phone banking and door-to-door canvassing of their own members and they’ll run voter education drives and GOTV efforts aimed at union families.
I’ve heard that Jim Webb doesn’t like fund raising. He’ll have to get over that and pick up the damned phone. Every candidate has to do it. It’s an unpleasant fact of politics. But it might comfort him to know that, ironically, very wealthy candidates, such as Steve Forbes and Michael Huffington, who have attempted to self-fund their entire campaigns, have usually lost their elections. The public views them as cranky millionaires trying to buy the election. For some reason the ability to get others to contribute to one’s campaign seems to make candidates appear more credible.
Somebody needs to tell that to Jim Webb, hand him the phone and then go out and leaflet a county fair.