Jesse Kelly held a two-to-one advantage late last month over former lawmaker Jonathan Paton in the Congressional District 8 GOP primary, according to a survey released last week by Conservatives for Congress, an independent campaign committee.
The poll of 300 likely GOP voters—which got remarkably little play in the local media—showed that 36 percent of voters were supporting Kelly, while 17 percent were supporting Paton, and 5 percent were supporting Brian Miller. Another 39 percent were undecided.
There was more bad news for Paton in the poll, which was taken on July 26-27 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.66 percent.
The survey asked what things might hurt a candidate's chances at the ballot box. Only 8 percent of those polled said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who was a lobbyist before running for office; 31 percent said it would make them somewhat less likely to vote for the candidate; and 43 percent said it would make them much less likely to vote for the candidate.
Even worse news for Paton: Only 4 percent said they'd be more likely to vote for a candidate who worked for the payday-loan industry; 83 percent of GOP voters said it would make them less likely to support the candidate.
Now you know why Democrats have been highlighting Paton's work as a lobbyist for the payday lenders over the last several months.
There was bad news for Kelly as well. Only 12 percent of Republican voters said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate if they knew that he "works for a family business that receives large government construction contracts paid for from federal stimulus funds." Nearly two-thirds—64 percent—said that would make them less likely to support a candidate.
Now you know why Paton has been making a big deal about the stimulus-funded contracts that Don Kelly Construction—the firm owned by Jesse Kelly's father and employer—has been receiving.
Kelly told us via e-mail that the poll's results "confirm what we are hearing when we knock on doors and at our neighborhood campaign events: Voters are rejecting the big-spending, establishment candidate."
The Paton camp, meanwhile, moved to discredit the poll with an e-mail the following day that dismissed the survey as a "push poll."
But National Research's Adam Geller, who did the poll, insists it was not done as a push poll, but as a scientifically conducted survey that targeted likely voters in the Aug. 24 primary.
"A push poll is a poll in name only," Geller says. "They call, and it's a negative message, and they purport to be doing a poll, but they don't really collect any data. The other thing about push polling is that they call as many people as they can."
In other words, a push poll would have asked questions like: "Would you still vote for Jonathan Paton if you knew that he was a lobbyist for the payday-loan industry?"
Earlier this week, Paton campaign spokesman Daniel Scarpinato stood by the characterization of the poll as a push poll.
"Conservatives for Congress is clearly a pro-Jesse Kelly group," Scarpinato said. "Given that they're closely connected to the Kelly campaign—a campaign which has had about as much accuracy and credibility on things as Countdown With Keith Olbermann—I don't really believe anything that comes from them as the source."
Scarpinato cited as further evidence a story on the website thestarpress.com, in Indiana, that said National Research Inc. had been involved in push polling earlier this year.
But Geller says the firm at work in Indiana was actually a different firm with a similar name, National Research LLC.
"That's the bane of my existence," Geller says. "I don't know much about them, but I would not want people to confuse their firm with my firm."
Scarpinato said he'd look into whether he had leveled a false accusation.
"If it's not the same one, it's not the same one, but it certainly appeared that way, given that they had the same name," he said.
Geller characterized the Paton camp's efforts to discredit his firm as: "If you don't like the message, shoot the messenger."
We haven't done any polling of our own, but we suspect the race is tighter than the Conservatives for Congress poll suggests. And as Geller himself points out, the poll is just a snapshot in time, and much could change in the final weeks of the campaign.
"I tell my clients that these polls have the shelf life of a carton of milk," he says. "Everything that you do in a campaign is designed to change your numbers."
Scarpinato said the Conservatives for Congress poll "didn't track" with Paton's internal polling, but he declined to release any information from those surveys—even though the Paton campaign did release an earlier poll showing him in a dead heat with Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in the general election.
Robert Mayer, a one-time organizer of the Tucson Tea Party, has launched his own campaign against CD 8 Republican candidate Jesse Kelly.
Mayer, who has stepped away from tea partying to take a job campaigning for a health-care initiative on the November ballot, sent out an e-mail last week saying he'd support either Jonathan Paton or Brian Miller in the Congressional District 8 race.
That somehow got turned around as an endorsement of Paton and Kelly by Arizona Daily Star reporter Andrea Kelly (no relation), who wrote a big Sunday bio piece about the CD 8 candidates. Oops.
Andrea's goof, combined with a considerable backlash toward Mayer from Jesse Kelly supporters, led Mayer to send out a lengthy e-mail asking Jesse Kelly 13 questions about his record.
We don't have space to go into the 13 questions here, but you can find them at The Range, our daily dispatch, at daily.tucsonweekly.com. (We will take a moment to point out that several of the questions are based on reporting done in the pages of the Tucson Weekly.)
Mayer says he just doesn't think Kelly is a very good candidate.
"I think Jesse Kelly is a phony," Mayer says. "He certainly isn't who he says he is, and I don't think he has the knowledge to have any core beliefs."
Kelly's response, via e-mail: "My primary opponents must be very desperate if all they have left are baseless personal attacks."
Meanwhile, a new website, JesseKellyforstimulus.com, has gone up with similar questions about Kelly's background. The site is anonymous, but it has a companion Facebook page that's purportedly being administered by Julia Tymoshenko, a former Ukrainian prime minister who probably has not developed a sudden interest in Southern Arizona politics.
Learn a little bit about the candidates for State Superintendent of Public Instruction when Republicans Margaret Dugan, John Huppenthal and Beth Price and Democrats Jason Williams and Penny Kotterman appear at a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters and several other local organizations.
The forum, which will be moderated by Skinny scribe Jim Nintzel, will be from 7 to 9 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 12, at Rincon/University High School's Little Theater, 421 N. Arcadia Ave.
Find early and late-breaking Skinny at The Range, our daily dispatch, at daily.tucsonweekly.com.
Follow the Skinny scribe on Twitter: @nintzel