cn|2 poll: Williams/Farmer lead GOP governor's primary, followed by 'undecideds'

05/05/2011 07:11 PM

The only GOP ticket to air ads so far in this election has a solid lead in the Republican primary for governor but more than a third of likely GOP voters surveyed still say they haven’t made up their minds, the latest cn|2 Poll shows.

The slate of state Senate President David Williams and Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer received support from 38.8% of respondents. They have been airing radio spots since the last week in March and went up on television in select cable markets about three weeks ago to get their names out to GOP voters.

Louisville businessman Phil Moffett and his running mate, state Rep. Mike Harmon of Danville, who have aggressively courted support from the tea party movement, were next with more than 13%.

Moffett said his campaign plans to start airing radio ads either Monday or Tuesday.

And Jefferson County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw and her running mate, U.S. Navy veteran Bill Vermillion, garnered more than 11%.

About a third of respondents said they were still unsure about how to vote while about 4% refused to make a pick for a total of 36.6% who haven’t picked a side.

The cn|2 Poll was conducted May 2 through May 4 by live interviewers from Braun Research, Inc., a polling firm from New Jersey. It reached out to registered Republicans who voted in either the last Republican gubernatorial primary in 2007 or the 2010 Republican primary. They were then screened for how likely they were to vote in the May 17 primary.

You can view the details of the poll results here:

GOP primary poll May 5.pdf [917.43KB]

The poll has a margin of error of 3.46 percentage points.

The high level of undecided voters this close underscores political observers’ predictions that the May 17 primary election will have low turnout — potentially as low as about 10%.

The low water mark for a GOP primary for statewide office was in 1999 when fewer than 5% of Republican voters came out to the polls for a gubernatorial primary featuring Peppy Martin and David L. Williams — no relation to the current GOP candidate.

Scott Lasley, an associate professor of political science at Western Kentucky University and chairman of the Warren County Republican Party, said Williams’ 39% in the poll is “pretty solid.” But he said a low-turnout primary still could produce some unexpected results.

Candidate reactions

Williams campaign manager Scott Jennings said in a statement that “David’s solid conservative record and bold agenda is appealing to people across the state” and that the slate expects to win the primary and defeat Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear in November. Beshear is running unopposed for his party’s nomination.

While Williams and Farmer have been most aggressive in getting their names out in direct mailings and advertisements, they’ve also taken some hits in the press.

Farmer, particularly, has been the subject of articles about his spending as agriculture commissioner, such as $359-a-night hotel stays in Lexington and $7,000 in travel costs to Louisville last fall for the state fair.

Moffett, meanwhile, said in a phone interview that “it appears (Williams and Farmer) have lost some ground in the last three or four weeks” from the SurveyUSA poll taken for the Courier-Journal and WHAS-TV taken April 8-13. . That primary poll showed the Williams-Farmer ticket with 49% compared to 14% for Moffett-Harmon and 12% for Holsclaw-Vermillion.

“Assuming the numbers are telling us that people are wanting to learn more about the other candidates, we think that bodes well for us,” Moffett said.

Holsclaw’s campaign had a similar reaction.

“The fact that it’s two weeks out and there is 33 percent of voters still undecided is very good for Bobbie,” said campaign manger Sarah Reidy. “I believe her message is taking hold and that with Richie Farmer in the news lately and all his baggage people are going to stop and think what is the best chance for November.”

Tea party influence?

Of those respondents who said they considered themselves closer to the tea party movement than to the Republican Party of Kentucky, about a third picked Williams and Farmer. About 23% chose Moffett and Harmon.

Another 28% said they still weren’t sure. And 12.3% said Holsclaw and Vermillion.

Geographic bases*

Williams and Farmer polled strongest in the 5th Congressional District with nearly 54% of respondents there picking that slate. Farmer, a former University of Kentucky basketball star, is from Clay County in the heart of the 5th District.

Although Williams hails from Cumberland County, which is in the 1st Congressional District, half of the state Senate district he represents is in the 5th District.

The ticket received less than 30% in both the 4th Congressional District in Northern Kentucky and the 3rd Congressional District in Louisville/Jefferson County.

Louisville was by far Holsclaw and Vermillion’s best area. They polled at nearly 40% there, while they were in single digits in each of the other five districts.

Holsclaw has won four elections in Jefferson County as the county clerk, most recently in November.

And Moffett and Harmon had their best showing in the 6th Congressional District where they polled 24.2%.

- Ryan Alessi with additional reporting by Kenny Colston

About Ryan Alessi

Ryan Alessi joined cn|2 in May 2010 as senior managing editor and host of Pure Politics. He is now pursuing an advanced degree in non-fiction writing from Murray State University and is a regular contributor to Pure Politics. Ryan has covered politics for more than 14 years, including seven years as a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Ryan can be reached at purepolitics@twcable.com or @mycn2 on Twitter.

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