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Another dramatic momentum shift in GOP gubernatorial primary?

By Steven Harmon
Monday, May 24th, 2010 at 6:58 pm in 2010 governor's race, Meg Whitman, polls, Republican Party, Republican politics, State politics, Steve Poizner, Uncategorized.

Mike Murphy, the chief strategist for Meg Whitman’s gubernatorial campaign, has been itching to release his own internal polling showing that his boss has resumed her dominance over her GOP rival, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.

Campaign sources say that, with two weeks left in the race, he may gather reporters real soon for a conference call trumpeting Whitman’s internal numbers, now that polls appear to be consistently going her way.

Last week, Murphy had downplayed the Public Policy Institute of California survey showing Poizner closing to within 9 percentage points, saying it hadn’t captured a mood shift that was breaking Whitman’s way big time — after she’d blown a 50 percentage-point lead.

A SurveyUSA poll, released Sunday night, gave glimpse to that apparent momentum shift, with Whitman stretching her lead from 2 percentage points to 27 (54 percent to 27).

The SurveyUSA poll, which critics don’t much like because of the robo-call, push-button mechanics, had more certainty than one commissioned by Daily Kos, which gave Whitman a 10 percentage point lead and had more undecided voters. Murphy said the SurveyUSA poll matched up with numbers he’s seeing in other private polls. Republican primary voters, he said, are returning to Whitman after giving her a second look.

“Every private track and our own internals are showing similar numbers, give or take 5 or 6 points,” he said. “To me, that’s a confirmation that things are moving our way.”

Murphy said that a number of factors have turned the momentum around. First, Democrats’ attacks on Whitman have backfired. “Republicans are starting to understand that Jerry Brown is doing everything he can to help Steve Poizner. That’s the wrong kind of endorsement.”

Murphy said he is convinced that the much-maligned ad of Whitman speaking directly to the camera and complaining about Poizner’s attacks worked.

“It worked like a charm,” Murphy said. “People are starved for information. They like ads when candidates talk to the camera. So we did 60 seconds to break through the clutter and push back on two things bothering voters the most” about Whitman’s campaign, which were her position on immigration and her past endorsement of U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer. Here it is:

Pivoting off that ad, the campaign put up new 30-second spots tearing into Poizner as a liberal, as seen here:

And the ads were supplemented by a heavy voter-to-voter contact effort — unanswered by Poizner: through the mail and by phone.

Poizner’s “one-note” campaign — hammering the anti-illegal immigrant issue (seen here:)

helped raise his profile, but “he hasn’t done anything” to fill out a larger picture of who he is and how he’d govern, Murphy said.

He noted that Poizner’s team, which  touted internal polls a couple weeks ago when it was riding a strong anti-Whitman wave, hasn’t been so loud about its internals lately.

Jarrod Agen, spokesman for Poizner, said that polls — internal and public — are showing “this race is much closer and that we’re within striking distance. The reality is it’s going to come down to the last two weeks and which candidate can convince more undecided voters.”

Poizner’s tough, bracing talk on illegal immigration is “cutting through” to voters and works better with primary voters than the establishment backing Whitman has played up, Agen said. Whitman on Monday released an ad with Mitt Romney, the former Republican presidential candidate (and her ex-boss), Condoleezza Rice, the former Secretary of State, and Jon Coupal, president of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, showing their support:

“We think that’s a huge error on their part, showing other establishment Republicans endorsing Meg,” Agen said. “Last week, we saw everybody who used that method lost (in primaries around the country). We’re in a cycle of changing the status quo, reforming the establishment. And Meg is running as the establishment candidate.”

Poizner’s team doesn’t plan on showing internals any time soon, but not because they lack for confidence, Agen said. “When we released them last time, we were in a gap when there weren’t any polls out and we wanted to show people that things were shifting. With the PPIC poll just out and others to come out, there’s no reason to release another poll.”

Unless you’re Mike Murphy, and you have another momentum shift you’d like to share.

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