Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Florida 13: Jennings’ Poll Neglects Reality

By Nathan L. Gonzales

A new poll released by Florida Democrat Christine Jennings is a great example of why it’s important to not accept polling numbers and memos at face value.

Two years ago, Jennings lost the 13th district open-seat race by the slimmest of margins, 50.1 percent to 49.9 percent, to Republican Vern Buchanan. Jennings contested the results for months, claiming that voting machines in Sarasota County malfunctioned, resulting in a large number of undervotes and costing her the election.

The courts and, ultimately, the House, rejected those claims.

On Friday, the Jennings campaign released a poll showing her down by just 4 points in her 2008 rematch with Buchanan. According to the Sept. 22-23 Feldman Group poll, the GOP Congressman held a narrow 44 percent to 40 percent advantage in the head-to-head matchup, with 16 percent undecided.

The problem is that there are four candidates on the November ballot, not two, including 2002 and 2004 13th district Democratic nominee Jan Schneider, who is running as an Independent. The one-page polling memo makes no mention of Schneider or any third-party candidates, but asserts, “This contest has become too close to call with atmospherics that favor Jennings.”

Buchanan is vulnerable, but this polling memo and two-way ballot ignore the reality of the electoral situation and is a misleading attempt by the campaign to generate buzz around the race.

Schneider is not a fringe candidate. In 2002, she ran unsuccessfully against Katherine Harris (R), losing 55 percent to 45 percent, despite being heavily outspent.

Two years later, Schneider defeated Jennings, 47 percent to 38 percent, in the multicandidate Democratic primary and lost to Harris again, 55 percent to 45 percent, in the general election. In that race, Schneider was named one of the “Kos Dozen,” a list of candidates promoted by, a liberal Web site.

Last cycle, Jennings defeated Schneider 62 percent to 38 percent for the Democratic nomination but lost the general election to Buchanan. Schneider was angry at the Democratic Party for backing Jennings in 2004 (and since), even though she came so close to upsetting Harris in 2002 without any party help. That’s largely why Schneider continues to run in the district.

One Democratic operative tried to make the case that Schneider’s candidacy would draw as many votes from Jennings as Independent Don Baldauf, who is a registered Republican according to his Web site, will draw from Buchanan.

But that assertion is not credible. While neither Independent has raised much money — through June 30, Baldauf, who is a licensed alarm contractor, raised $8,730 for the cycle, with $5 on hand, while Schneider had raised just $16,365 and had $13,110 in the bank — Schneider clearly has much higher name identification than Baldauf. And Schneider has a core of supporters who have voted for her repeatedly. Nobody currently knows anything about Baldauf.

In addition, Schneider told the Sarasota Herald Tribune on Sunday that she would spend $100,000 of her own money on the race before Election Day. During her past three races, Schneider’s campaigns spent a combined $1.2 million.

When asked about Schneider’s performance in the Feldman poll, Jennings Communications Director Melissa Smith responded, “We are releasing the information in the memo. We believe the voters of the 13th district want to replace Vern Buchanan, and that they will vote for Christine Jennings.” The omitted information screamed louder than the numbers themselves.

An Aug. 23-24 Public Opinion Strategies poll for the National Republican Congressional Committee showed Buchanan leading Jennings 48 percent to 30 percent, with Schneider drawing 6 percent of the vote.

Even though Jennings came close last cycle, she will need every Democratic vote possible in a district President Bush carried by 13 points in 2004.

A Sept. 23-25 Research 2000 poll for gave Buchanan a 43 percent to 31 percentage advantage. “Other” received 6 percent, although Schneider’s name was not mentioned as a specific option. Twenty percent were undecided.

According to the R2K poll, neither candidate is particularly well-liked. Buchanan showed 37 percent favorable/42 percent unfavorable compared with 32 percent favorable/38 percent unfavorable for Jennings. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) led Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) 51 percent to 38 percent in the district.

Jennings also faces a cash disadvantage, with $391,000 on hand through Aug. 6 compared with over $1.2 million for Buchanan, who is personally wealthy and spent $5.5 million of his own money to win the seat in 2006.

Democrats are harping on Buchanan for his business practices — he and his auto dealership have been the subject of several unflattering articles in recent weeks. The Congressman certainly is in a vulnerable position, but the Jennings’ polling memo actually undercuts the challenger’s argument.

In refusing to release a true ballot test reflective of the November ballot, Jennings leads observers to the obvious conclusion that she is hiding something — and to the view that Schneider’s candidacy is fatal to Jennings’ electoral chances.

This story first appeared on on September 29, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.