Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Early Ballots Drop Today: Game On in City Elections

Posted By on Wed, Oct 19, 2011 at 3:00 PM

So we've had some time to digest the Global Strategy Group poll showing Democrat Jonathan Rothschild leading Republican Rick Grinnell by 17 percentage points.

The survey, done over Oct. 10-12, showed that 49 percent of 400 likely voters back Rothschild, while 32 percent support Grinnell and 4 percent support Green Mary DeCamp. Margin of error: 5 percent.

“I'm pleased,” says Pima County Democratic Party chairman Jeff Rogers, in what has to be the understatement of the week. “Seventeen points is a good lead.”

At Monday night’s candidate forum, Grinnell said he hadn’t seen the poll, but he fell back on the standard response to discovering that you're behind: “The only poll I’m counting is Nov. 8.”

Rogers has also released a poll showing that the Democratic City Council members have even bigger leads than Rothschild. Shirley Scott led Tyler Vogt by 25 points (53 percent to 28 percent); Paul Cunningham led Jennifer Rawson by 29 points (54 percent to 25 percent); and Regina Romero led Green Beryl Baker by 32 points (49 percent to 17 percent).

All good news for the Democrats—but we are hearing rumblings from the other side that the GOP has polls showing a much closer race. Republican operative Jonathan Paton said on Arizona Illustrated's Political Roundtable a few weeks back that he'd heard tell of a poll that showed Grinnell was trailing Rothschild by just 3 points.

More on that in a moment. But first: Let’s look at the Democratic poll, which appears legit. The firm, Global Strategy Group, does political strategy and communication for candidates in battleground states, as well as PR work for clients that range from developers to the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Rogers tells us that the poll shows there are still undecided voters out there, but an August poll had shown that Rothschild had the support of 40 percent of voters, while Grinnell was backed by 24 percent. Rogers’ takeaway: Undecided voters are breaking in equal numbers for the two candidates and Rothschild is maintaining a consistent lead.

Rogers points to another tidbit: Within the city of Tucson, 54 percent of those surveyed had a favorable view of the Democratic Party, while 37 percent had an unfavorable view. Voters had a nearly opposite perspective on the Republican Party, with 39 percent viewing the GOP favorably and 53 percent viewing it unfavorably.

It’s hard to predict which voters are going to cast a ballot in the November election. Normally, city elections, which are held in odd years, see turnout in the range of 25 to 40 percent, which is considerably lower than turnout in presidential or gubernatorial contests.

As we’ve noted in the past, that’s been one of the main reasons that Republicans have had so much success in city elections, despite being outnumbered by Democrats. Turnout in eastside precincts, where more Republicans live, tends to be much higher than turnout on the south and west wards, where more Democrats live.

But for the first time this year, every voter in the city of Tucson will receive a ballot in the mail, which could lead to much higher turnout. (The vote-by-mail program already significantly boosted participation in the August primary.)

Rogers anticipates that higher turnout will benefit Democrats: “The trend toward more people voting helps us more than hurts us, so the late-breaking trends may be even better for us, because we’re expecting a rather extraordinary turnout because of the vote-by-mail."

He tells The Range that the survey contacted high-propensity voters.

“We looked at people who vote in nearly every election,” Rogers says. “And even if they did vote in every election, we even screened them and if they said that maybe they’d vote, we stopped the poll. It’s a much stricter model than we’re probably going to see in the voter breakdown.”

But for all the sunny skies that Rogers is predicting, we hear from the other side that a hard rain is going to fall on the Democratic ticket.

Still: Republicans are running out of time to get that rain dance underway. Early ballots drop today.

For a storm to blow down from the north, Republicans are going to have to step up their fundraising game. So far, only one of their candidates, Tyler Vogt, has qualified for matching funds and it could still take weeks before Grinnell and Ward 2 Republican Jennifer Rawson get city dollars for their campaigns.

Another potential source of dollars for the GOP side: The Arizona Republican Party, which can supplement those campaigns, if Jim Click and his friends can be persuaded to donate dollars to the party that can be turned into slate pieces. (For the record: Of course, we all know that actually earmarking dollars for a specific campaign is against the rules and would never happen.)

We did feel the first few drops of rain yesterday, when Vogt debuted a new TV ad hammering Scott over the city’s Rio Nuevo downtown redevelopment effort and linking her to the ongoing FBI and AG investigations.

Combined with the sprinkles we’ve seen from the Pima County Republican Party and Republican National Committeeman Bruce Ash in recent days, we’re guessing that we’ve just seen the start of a coordinated campaign designed to knock down the Democratic ticket by splashing them with negative ads centered around Rio Nuevo and various other spending decisions by the council.

Game on.

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