Monday, August 23, 2010

In Maryland, Comparing Ehrlich/Murphy to Townsend/ Fustero is Ridiculous

A new poll conducted by Center Maryland/OpinionWorks found what most analysts had long expected - that former Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich is in no danger of losing the GOP nomination to newcomer Brian Murphy. The survey of 600 likely General Election voters (and a much smaller sample of 170 Rebublicans) found that Ehrlich leads Murphy 75% to 13% with only 11% undecided.

The poll is devastating news for the Murphy campaign. It shows that after two weeks of generally positive news, a high profile interview on a national cable news station, multiple interviews on statewide television, talk radio, and newspapers- all the result of a surprise endorsement by Sarah Palin - Murphy has barely topped 10%. One cannot help but wonder - how low was his support before the last two weeks?

Center Maryland is to be commended for conducting this poll, it fills a much needed void in the Maryland race, but the write-up on the poll contained a very poor analogy.  It their write-up, Center Maryland states
But with 11 percent of likely Republican primary voters still undecided, it’s possible that Murphy could break through Maryland’s “Fustero line” – the 20 percent threshold that political observers suggest might represent a weakness in Ehrlich’s hold over his party base.
For many political observers, the performance of established gubernatorial candidates in primary elections against unknown or relatively unknown challengers marks an opportunity to assess how well those candidates will hold their base in general elections. Eight years ago, when then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend lost 20 percent of the Democratic primary vote to an unknown retired grocery clerk named Robert Fustero, many analysts quickly suggested that she was having trouble energizing core Democratic constituencies. Townsend ultimately lost to Ehrlich two months later. Similar questions might be raised about Ehrlich if Murphy were to exceed 20 percent of the vote in the September Republican primary.
This is simply a ridiculous analogy and no serious observer of Maryland politics should ever compare the Ehrlich/Murphy race to the Townsend/Fustero primary. In 2002, the campaign of Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend was deeply embarrassed when David Fustero managed to win 20% of the primary vote. Fustero had no organized campaign of which to speak, virtually no money, and was all but ignored by the press. As the primary approached he was campaigning via letters to the editor. Fustero had spent less than $1,000 on his candidacy, compared to Townsend's $2.3 million. Fustero should not have received 5% of the vote, let alone 20%. It's safe to say that few who voted for Fustero had ever seen his name before reading it on the ballot - it was a pure protest vote against Townsend.

Murphy, on the other had, is an organized and reasonably well funded candidate. He has respectable name recognition, has run a rather good insurgent campaign and he's received plenty of press coverage. He has also raised over $200,000 and spent $170,000 on his campaign. It may well be much less than the $1.3 million that Ehrlich has spent, but there is a sizable difference between $1,000 and $170,000.

The question should not be whether breaking the "Fustero Line" of 20% indicates weakness by Ehrlich, the real question should be how is Murphy not doing any better than 13%? Reaching 20% on primary day will not signal dissatisfaction with Ehrlich, rather it would mark a low bar of achievement for Murphy's campaign. Spinning it any other way is just nonsense.