Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Campaign McConnell Strikes Back

In Polling, Senate on December 14, 2012 at 11:08 am

Yesterday we reported about a new Public Policy Polling survey that rated Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) as having the worst job approval ratio of any senator in the country, 37:55 percent favorable to unfavorable. The McConnell campaign quickly issued a strongly worded reaction.

According to a fundraising letter sent to supporters from campaign manager Jesse Benton, Team McConnell has some harsh words for PPP and the Democrats.

The following is an excerpt from Benton’s response letter:

“The partisan PPP polling company, which has been used as a tool for Obama Democrats to manufacture circumstances that don’t exist all across the country, descended upon Kentucky to proclaim that Senator McConnell has a 37 percent approval rating. The poll is laughable. But, the liberal press is gobbling it right up.

No other polling, public or private, has shown anything even resembling these numbers. In fact, the Courier Journal, a newspaper that editorializes against Leader McConnell on a near weekly basis, released polls not long ago showing Leader McConnell’s favorability over 50 percent.

What was really surprising was that even cooked books couldn’t produce a Democrat candidate who could beat Senator McConnell head to head. Mind you, most of the folks they tested have already taken a pass on running against a Senator who represents his constituents as well as Mitch McConnell.”

Let’s try to make some sense of this. Keep in mind that the true purpose of the entire response letter is to raise funds from supporters, and stirring emotions is a fundamental tenet in writing successful political direct mail. It appears that fundraising and not “setting the record straight” is the main reason for the McConnell campaign to even pay attention to an unfavorable poll almost two years before an election, let alone issue a response.

Now let’s look at an excerpt from PPP’s Tom Jensen in his rebuttal to the McConnell campaign statements:

“GOP campaigns all over the country made these kinds of claims about us this year and we ended up calling every state in the Presidential race and Senate race we polled correctly. Nate Silver found that to the extent there was any bias in our polling, it was actually pro-Republican.”

Factually, Jensen is correct. Of all the independent pollsters, Public Policy Polling was the organization that had virtually the best record and proved far more accurate than most Republican internal polls. Furthermore, as they point out in the entire response, their track record in Kentucky is also spot on. Roundly criticized in 2010 for releasing polling results showing then-Senate Republican primary candidate Rand Paul 19 points ahead of GOP establishment favorite Trey Grayson, they correctly foretold the end result – Paul actually won by 23 points.

The McConnell campaign is correct on a different point, however. Despite the poor job approval rating, and such result could well be an anomaly, the PPP data still shows the senator leading all potential opponents. And, as everyone has underscored, the tested individuals doing the best have no plans to run.

There is no doubt that Sen. McConnell will be a top Democratic target in 2014. It is also a certainty that the Minority Leader will run the strongest of campaigns, just as he has every six years since 1984. The banter of the last two days provides us a glimpse into the bare-knuckled Kentucky campaign that’s yet to come.

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