June, 20th 2010

WA-03 looking good for Republicans

– Liz Mair

A poll commissioned by the campaign of Jaime Herrera-- one of the Republican candidates running to succeed retiring Rep. Brian Baird in WA-03-- indicates that Republicans, and Herrera in particular, have a good shot at recapturing the seat:

In response to the question, "If the election for U.S. Congress were held today, would you be voting for the Republican candidate or Democratic candidate?" 42 percent said they would vote Republican, 35 percent said they would vote Democratic, 3 percent said "neither" and 20 percent were undecided.

Those who identified themselves as independent voters said they would favor a Republican by a three-to-one margin.

Among voters who preferred a Republican, Herrera, a state representative in the 18th District, had a wide lead over Castillo, a former Bush administration official who now works as a financial consultant in Olympia, and Tea Party activist David Hedrick of Camas.

Herrera was favored by 27 percent of respondents, Hedrick by 8 percent and Castillo by 8 percent. Significantly, 49 percent of those polled said they were undecided.

When asked: "Who would you prefer to represent you in Congress? A Republican member of Congress who will be a check and balance to Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi, or a Democrat member of Congress who will help Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats pass their agenda?" 49 percent said they would prefer a Republican, 41 percent said they would favor a Democrat, and 10 percent said they did not know.

Among independents, 46 percent said they would favor a Republican on this question; 21 percent would vote for a Democrat.

The other big-name Republican in the race, David Castillo, is taking issue with the poll, telling the Columbian's reporter covering the poll "I take it with a grain of salt," and "The sample size is too small... Where in the district did they poll? The vast majority of voters have no idea there is an election going on."  Castillo considers the survey "a name ID poll."

That's a valid point: Herrera is better known than Castillo among folks who aren't necessarily hyper-politically engaged in the district but will likely vote in the primary and therefore, his implied point that things could change quite a bit before primary day is correct, at least as a hypothetical (also, the "undecided" numbers are high). 

My question, however, is what Castillo has planned to change that.  Neither he nor Herrera has been doing the stellar job of fundraising that we've seen among congressional candidates in some other districts (I'm sorry to say, but the facts are the facts) and at the end of the day, when it comes to raising name ID if you're a relative unknown (and the survey data suggests Castillo is), money matters... because TV advertising, the most reliable guarantor of raising name ID, matters.  It's also, incidentally, one of the things that means that while I'm encouraged by this poll because it's a further indication of positive trends for Republicans in WA-03, I'm not jumping up and down with joy.  Herrera, though better known, is still likely not known by nearly as many voters as she needs to be to be best-positioned to win in November (assuming for the sake of argument that she is on the ballot then)-- even though she's a lot closer to that mark than Castillo is.

Underdog candidates routinely say that they can win elections because a) they'll visit the most voter-attended events, shake the most hands, and kiss the most babies b) they'll do an excellent job on the earned media side of the equation and/or c) they'll have the best motivated and best-organized volunteers.  A variation on a) and/or c) above applicable this year is d) they'll reach out to, and garner the support of, the Tea Party, a major activist force in 2010 American politics and one that could be more powerful than people imagine because its impact hasn't been fully tested or vetted with lots of Republican primaries still set to take place. 

But while that last bit is technically true, political observers should be skeptical of over-egging the proverbial pudding when it comes to Tea Party support and the ramifications of it.  Yes, Sharron Angle (the semi-surprise winner of Nevada's Republican Senate primary-- I say semi-surprise because I actually thought she had a good chance from abut 6 months ago) was the "Tea Party" favorite.  But she also had support from the Club for Growth, an organization with money and demonstrated power to affect Republican nominating contests.  Likewise, Utah's Mike Lee, another Tea Party favorite, benefited from a surge of support ahead of Utah's first round of steps in nominating a Republican Senate candidate-- a surge of support that helped snuff out Sen. Robert Bennett's re-election hopes.  But, the Club for Growth also wanted Bennett out, and now, Lee, the Tea Partier, isn't looking supremely likely to be on the ballot come November (Tim Bridgewater, however, is)-- so again, we see an outcome arguably very driven by Club, and far less driven by the Tea Party.  So, there is that (Tea Party support is a little bit helpful, but primarily seems to make for a good talking point for candidates to emphasize to activists, bloggers and editorial board how conservative and outsiderish they are, even when they're not).

But separately, jumping back to these other arguments, I can't think of a single race I've ever heard of (possibly barring Alvin Greene's win of the South Carolina Democratic Senate primary last month) where they've delivered victory, or been the main factor contributing to it. 

The reality is, money matters, because money gives you the ability, as a candidate, to build name ID-- and that's fundamentally why I'm more convinced as to the accuracy and relevance of this poll than is Castillo.

Ultimately, no matter the sample size, the reality is, most voters who are likely to cast a ballot in Washington's top two primary this year are likely aware that there will be such a primary in the coming months (the vast quantity of news surrounding Dino Rossi's entrance to the Senate race kind of guarantees that).  And unfortunately for Castillo, the reality is that name ID poll or no name ID poll, in the absence of him buying a decent chunk of ad time and familiarizing voters with himself, Herrera looks better positioned to win right now.

That need not be the case, and honestly, I like both candidates quite a lot (I think both candidates are smart, engaging and extremely capable).  Castillo, specifically, is extremely charming and I think he's an honest, forthright, and kind man.  I can see him easily selling voters in the third on his candidacy, with the right resources.

The trouble is, I'm not sure he's got them, and if he doesn't or if that doesn't change, he's probably going to keep seeing poll results like this-- whether that should, or should not, be the case in an ideal world.

Whatever the case, Republicans should feel cautiously optimistic about WA-03-- and stay on offense. And for the time being, anyway, I hope that means all of them. [intro]





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