The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Democratic poll shows close race to succeed Adam Putnam in House, with strong Tea Party showing

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August

The Democratic candidate in the competitive open-seat race to succeed Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Bartow, released a poll today that showed her leading the three-way field, but she's within the poll's margin of error, meaning it's no better for her than a tight race.

According to the poll, Lori Edwards, the Democratic primary frontrunner, leads likely Republican nominee Dennis Ross, 35 percent-32 percent, with Tea Party candidate Randy Wilkinson snaring 20 percent of the vote. The poll was conducted for the Edwards campaign by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a Democratic firm. It surveyed 400 likely voters in late July and had an error margin of 4.9 points.

A big grain of salt is warranted, since a Democratic firm conducted the poll; because Edwards' lead is within the margin of error, meaning that Ross might actually be ahead; and because she barely scored more than one-third of the vote.

On the other hand, the poll only queried likely voters. Usually, this means counting only the most energized voters, which this year tend to be Republicans. If Edwards can lead a poll in such an environment, it could be a more meaningful result than if the poll had asked all registered voters. A memo released by the campaign did not indicate whether the firm also did a broader poll of registered voters. If so, the campaign didn't release those numbers.

National and local political experts have been considering the contest to be one of two Democratic pickup opportunities in Florida, though as we reported recently, the contest has been a quiet affair so far, with few high-profile candidate appearances, little advertising and modest fundraising totals for all of the leading candidates. The Buzz considers the race to be one of the six most competitive U.S. House seats in the state, though in the most recent iteration, it was ranked sixth in the likelihood to flip parties.

Even making a close race at this point in a rural, Republican-held district would be something of a victory for Democrats, considering the strong tide against their party nationally. But the poll suggests that if the contest is close, it's due to Wilkinson, the Tea Party candidate -- a potential nightmare for Republicans not just in this district, but in many across the United States.

Adding Ross' and Wilkinson's totals together would amount to nearly an outright majority of the vote even when "don't know" responses are counted. Wilkinson was specifically identified in the poll question as the Tea Party candidate, which, given the movement's popularity among Republicans these days, may have ensured a high score.

Wilkinson lags in fundraising, and his official Tea Party ballot line has been attacked by rival Tea Party groups. But he is a three-time elected county official, unlike many of his peers in the anti-incumbent movement, and that means he has a longstanding relationship, and high name identification, with voters in the district. This could give him some clout in the race -- if not enough votes to win, than at least enough to potentially shift the outcome.

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[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 11:16am]

    

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