Republican down-ticket candidates face big name-ID deficits, cn|2 Poll shows

05/05/2011 06:03 PM

The races for the Republican nominations for state auditor, secretary of state and agriculture commissioner remain wide open with between 60% and 70% of likely GOP voters polled for cn|2 saying they’re undecided.

That’s not too surprising in an election in which voters haven’t show much excitement and when the candidates for those offices are just beginning to advertise this week, said Scott Lasley. Lasley is an associate professor of political science at Western Kentucky University and Warren County’s Republican Party chairman.

“After 2010, when you had a little more buzz and excitement, this doesn’t have the same level for folks,” he said.

But he said these candidates have enough time — even with only 11 days until the May 17th primary — to reach out to the die-hard Republicans who will show up to the polls.

“If someone can get out there and spend some money and their name out there, they have an opportunity,” Lasley said. “There’s time.”

*Agriculture Commissioner *

Perhaps the candidate in the best position is state Rep. James Comer of Tompkinsville, who is running for the GOP nomination for agriculture.

He is leading his opponent Rob Rothenburger, who is the Shelby County judge-executive, by 22.2% to 13.3% with nearly 65% unsure.

Plus, Comer has raised $180,000 compared to about $34,000 for Rothenburger.

Both candidates went up on radio this week. Comer’s ads are airing on radio stations in every county that will have more than 500 Republicans go to the polls. And he sent out a direct mail last weekend and plans two more mailings before the election.

“I’m spending it all,” Comer said of his campaign warchest.

Rothenburger is focusing his limited resources on radio ads in the Louisville and Lexington markets.

“I kind of felt that was going to be the case at this point,” Rothenburger said of the poll results. “Those are kind of the same feelings and things I’ve been hearing across the state. We believe the poll is very good and we plan on getting our message these last two weeks.”

Secretary of State’s race

Bill Johnson, who ran last year in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate before dropping out in March, has an early lead in the Republican primary Secretary of State.

He received 32.2% of support from respondents compared to 8.4% for Hilda Legg, the former director of the Center for Rural Development in Somerset. But about 59.3% haven’t picked a side.

“We are excited to see that our strength in grassroots support is reflecting in the polls,” James Young, political director for Johnson’s campaign.

But Legg has much more money to spend on ads down the stretch with $120,000 raised compared to about $23,000 for Johnson.

“A poll in which over half the respondents are undecided clearly reflects we have a wide open race on our hands,” said Julia Bright, Legg’s campaign manager. “We will finish this race strong and plan to utilize advertisement in the final 10 days to help us build name recognition and close the gap while we continue to travel the Commonwealth meeting and listening to the concerns of the voters.”

State Auditor’s race

The race with the highest number of undecided voters was for state Auditor, in which more than 70% of likely Republican voters said they don’t know whom they’ll support.

Of those who picked a candidate, nearly 25% chose John Kemper, a Lexington developer. About 5% said they support state Rep. Addia Wuchner of Florence.

“The only poll that matters is the one on election day, and were confident in our message and strategy going into the final 10 days,” said Timothy Gilliam, Wuchner’s campaign manager.

Kemper has struggled with his personal finances while undergoing bankruptcy restructuring, as Pure Politics has reported.

He’s also struggled in fundraising, bringing in about $20,000 for the election. He said that will make it difficult to reach voters beyond the most involved Republicans who have been attending county GOP dinners.

“That’s not good with all the undecideds,” he said of the poll results. “I think it’s more than just voter fatigue. I think it’s economic fatigue.”

Wuchner had raised just a little more with $35,000 by mid-April.

The name game

One other factor in a primary could be the candidates names.

In an election in which candidates struggle to advertise and get their name out, voters could pick the most common name on the ballot, said Lasley, the political science professor.

“I think it plays into it,” he said. “Names like Kemper and Bill Johnson and David Williams — names that people think they know the name even if they don’t.”

That might have been a major factor in the 2003 Republican primary for attorney general, in which the virtually unknown Jack Wood won a three-candidate primary with 38.7% of the vote and defeated the favorite in the race, then-state Rep. Tim Feeley.

About the poll

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.

- Ryan Alessi with additional reporting by Kenny Colston


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