Readers respond to Pombo-McNerney column

My Sunday column about the latest polling information in the Nov. 7 election race between incumbent GOP Rep. Richard Pombo and Democratic challenger Jerry McNerney drew some passionate responses.

The first e-mail was short although not so swetet:

“Perhaps you could further help Pombo by going out and killing a tree in his honor.”

Then, this reader said:

Boy, for a California political columnist you sure don’t know a lot about CA-11.

First of all, Jerry McNerney has been named an “Emerging Races” candidate by the DCCC, which means they are giving him money.

Secondly, the Democratic voters are opening their wallets for McNerney and have been for a long time. The Democratic voters helped McNerney recently raise $100,000 in five days and have helped him raise over a million dollars this election cycle. And note that this money isn’t coming from land-pillaging corporations, or corporate PACs, or Bush and Cheney. The money is coming from average citizens.

As for Pombo being untainted by corruption, you really are drinking the GOP kool-aid. The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics once again named Pombo as one of their “20 Most Corrupt Members of Congress.” How much pandering does a politician have to do for his family, Indian Tribes and extraction industries before you call them tainted?

With standards as low as yours, no wonder Republicans get away with their culture of corruption.”

(This writer is incorrect with respect to her statement the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. I specifically asked this question and the DCCC spokeswoman told me that “emerging candidates” do not receive any committee money, although the extra publicity may lead to the candidate receiving contributions on his own.)

And finally, I recieved a very thoughtful response from Eric Antebi, national press secretary for the Sierra Club:

“Some thoughts after reading your column yesterday:

I totally agree that the way you word the question can have a huge impact on the outcome of a poll. But keep in mind that we’re doing these polls to get honest tracking information so that we know whether the race is worth our time and energy. The primary goal of the poll is to tell us what is actually going on out there in the electorate. It doesn’t do any good to manipulate the outcome.

The part of a survey which is more variable is whether or not to release the results to the press and the public. That’s an afterthought and not the purpose of the poll. If the results had shown that Pombo was sitting pretty, we never would have released the info, and we might have chosen to back off our involvement and spend our resources somewhere else. The poll genuinely gave us strong reason for encouragement, so it became something worth sharing. On the other hand, you’ll notice that Pombo’s campaign, which must be getting the same feedback in its surveys, hasn’t made its results public. That should tell you something too.

Wording of the questions does matter, especially in trying to figure out exactly where Pombo is vulnerable or McNerney is strong. That’s more about messaging. The order of the questions can also influence the results.

But the language we use to gauge how candidates are doing overall is very straight forward and comes at the very beginning of the survey. It reads: “Now, I’d like to rate your feelings toward some people and organizations, with one hundred meaning a VERY WARM, FAVORABLE feeling; zero meaning a VERY COLD, UNFAVORABLE feeling; and fifty meaning not particularly warm or cold. You can use any number from zero to one hundred, the higher the number the more favorable your feelings are toward that person or organization. If you have no opinion or never heard of that person or organization, please say so.” In that question, McNerney leads Pombo 45 to 42 points. McNerney benefits in part because he is less well known. But it is also true that Pombo’s negatives solidly outweigh his positives (45 to 36) and drag him down, thereby giving a relatively unknown challenger a chance.

In the following section, the poll asked: “If the election for U.S. Congress were held today and the candidates were: Renewable Energy Businessman Jerry McNerney, the Democrat, and Rancher and Congressman Richard Pombo, the Republican — for whom would you vote, Democrat Jerry McNerney or Republican Richard Pombo?” McNerney leads Pombo 45 to 43 with 6 points for “undecided.”

I can’t tell you what is going to happen on election day. But I can tell you that there is no question that McNerney is giving Pombo a real run for his money right now. This poll was also taken before the Foley scandal, which may or may not affect the 11th in any meaningful way.

Just thought I would share. Let me know if you have any questions.