Hal Heiner builds lead in third-party poll while other GOP gubernatorial candidates dismiss results

03/26/2015 07:33 PM

An external poll released Thursday shows Republican gubernatorial hopeful Hal Heiner leading the GOP pack and extending his advantage from a March 10 Bluegrass Poll to double digits.

Heiner, a former Louisville Metro Council member who led with 28 percent support in this month’s Bluegrass Poll, finished with 33.4 percent backing among 601 GOP voters, according to the Mississippi-based polling firm Triumph Campaigns. Agriculture Commissioner James Comer came in second at 19.1 percent, Louisville investment manager Matt Bevin finished third with 11.9 percent and former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott trailed the pack with 3.4 percent.

Twenty-nine percent of respondents were undecided, and the poll has a 4 percent margin of error. Most of the respondents reside in the Lexington (35 percent) and Louisville (32 percent) media markets while others remained in the single digits, with the Cincinnati market representing the third-most populous area for respondents at 9 percent.

Justin Brasell, a partner with Triumph Campaigns, told Pure Politics the geographic breakdown is based on historic turnouts in past Republican primaries.

Doug Alexander, campaign spokesman for Heiner, said Thursday’s poll results are a continued reflection of the yearlong work Heiner, who has loaned his campaign $4.2 million, and his running mate, former Lexington councilwoman K.C. Crosbie, have put into the race.

“I think that indicates that people are hearing the message, that they like what they’re hearing,” Alexander said. “They like the fact that Hal’s a Frankfort outsider who’s talking about changing the way Frankfort does business.”

Triumph Campaigns said in a news release that the firm paid for the poll, which was not conducted on behalf of any candidate.

Brasell, who managed campaigns for Arkansas U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton in 2014 and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2008 and served as chief of staff and campaign manager for former Kentucky U.S. Rep. Geoff Davis, said in an email to Pure Politics that his firm decided to pay for polls in Kentucky, Mississippi and Louisiana, the only states with gubernatorial races this fall.

“It’s good PR for our political consulting firm,” Brasell wrote in an email, noting the poll was conducted via autodial technology so only those with landlines were contacted. Kyle Robertson, Heiner’s campaign manager, worked alongside Brasell as Davis’ political director on the former congressman’s 2004 campaign.

The trio of candidates shown trailing Heiner disputed the Triumph Campaigns poll, conducted Tuesday. Edwin King, Comer’s campaign manager, said the survey is “nothing but a push poll.”

“We talked to many people across the state that received the poll,” King said. “The pollster started with a negative statement about Commissioner Comer and Matt Bevin and a positive statement about Heiner, and Heiner’s great wealth can buy him poll results, but it can’t buy him enough votes to win the primary.”

Triumph Campaigns included the questions asked of callers in its news release, which does not show any positive or negative statements about any gubernatorial candidate.

Alexander disputed King’s statement, saying Heiner’s campaign had no involvement in the survey.

“I don’t know what the poll said,” Alexander said. “I don’t even know if that’s true. All I know is the results they (Triumph Campaigns) put out in a release.”

Ben Hartman, Bevin’s campaign manager, said the poll does not follow others before and after Bevin entered the race that show him hovering near 20 percent support.

More voters will support Bevin’s candidacy once they learn of his plan for Kentucky, he said, adding that Bevin just launched his first campaign ad on radio.

“For there to have not been any negative advertising or any reason for Matt to go backwards, it doesn’t make sense that he would drop 8 points and be at 12 percent, which for me calls into question the validity of their polling data,” Hartman said.

Scott offered one suggestion for the survey: “Shred it and put it in the trashcan.”

The former justice on the state’s high court said the poll has “no validity” given the receptions he’s received on the campaign trail.

“I feel very good with my campaign at this time,” Scott said. “I’m sincere about that, and there’s no way, believe me, no way that I went 8 (percent in the March 10 Bluegrass Poll) to 3 (percent). You’ll find me more in the 12 to 15 (percent) range right now in Kentucky and climbing.”

Triumph Campaigns also polled down-ticket GOP races with only one, the campaign for agriculture commissioner, showing a candidate with a double-digit lead.

Here’s a breakdown of those results:

Agriculture commissioner: Rep. Ryan Quarles, R-Georgetown, 21 percent; Rep. Richard Heath, R-Mayfield, 10 percent; 66.5 percent undecided

Attorney general: Lawrence County Attorney Michael Hogan, 21.6 percent; Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, 14.5 percent; 60.9 percent undecided

Treasurer: Prestonsburg attorney Allison Ball, 16.7 percent; former Fayette County Judge-Executive Jon Larson, 10.9 percent; Rep. Kenny Imes, R-Murray, 6.7 percent; 62.7 percent undecided

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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