Rasmussen Gives Landrieu A 3-Point Lead On Cassidy

You could look at the latest Rasmussen Reports poll and see it as an encouraging result for Mary Landrieu, though to do so would be admitting to some rather generous standards for “encouraging.”

Considering that a PPP poll from last month – with a decidedly optimistic Democrat sample based on registered voters rather than likely voters – had Landrieu and Cassidy tied at 47 in a head-to-head matchup, a 46-43 in a sample of likely voters such as Rasmussen shows in this survey ought to give the incumbent some measure of comfort.

The poll was done Tuesday and Wednesday, and its sample is 750 likelies.

The undecideds in the poll are six percent, while five percent said they’d vote for “some other candidate.” As the “some other candidates” are Rob Maness and Paul Hollis, who are both Republicans and their vote is entirely likely to move to Cassidy in the runoff, with this survey you’re really looking at Cassidy with something like 46 or 47 (or maybe even 48, if you believe he could pull all five percent of that vote) rather than 43, and Landrieu with 46.

Landrieu is going to struggle to get to 50 from that 46.

That said, the last time Rasmussen polled the race (back in late January), Cassidy was ahead of Landrieu 44-40. For her to gain six points as an incumbent in five months and change is a good indicator for her.

Takeaways from this? Here are a few…

1. Those Harry Reid ads calling Cassidy “against what he’s for” might have been disgusting lies, but they do look like they may have blunted Cassidy’s momentum a bit. He hasn’t done a whole lot of messaging to push back on those ads, other than to point out that the political fact-checkers savaged Reid for running what were clearly misleading spots. He didn’t go up on the air with a blistering attack on Reid as a lying scumbag, though, and it would have been a good idea to do so. It still is.

2. Lots of Cassidy’s backers have been griping at the campaign for what’s perceived as a lack of aggression, and this poll would serve to validate some of those concerns. A Lane Grigsby poll on the race back in early April generated this graph…

The meaning of the graph being that Cassidy simply isn’t well-enough-known outside of his district.

Here’s what we said at that poll’s release…

We can fairly easily diagnose Cassidy’s problem, though. Here’s his approval number: 25.6 percent.

OMG! What a disaster! What’s his unfavorable number?

11.9 percent.

Some 21.6 percent have no opinion of Cassidy, and 37.7 percent have never heard of him.

What that means is that Cassidy is going to need to go up on the air pretty soon with some TV and radio spots that define him and sell a positive image. We’ve taken to disparaging Karl Rove, but his latest Wall Street Journal column does make a very good point about how Republican senate candidates are going to need to start defining themselves, and fast, or else the panicked and out-of-options Democrats out there with numbers that look a lot like Mary’s do are going to paint that picture for them. Cassidy is the poster child for that – after all, Harry Reid’s Senate Majority PAC has run $1.3 million worth of spots attacking him so far. It’s pretty clear those ads have been ineffective, but at some point the Democrats will come up with an ad campaign that will work.

Better to start closing the sale with some voters now, so that the negative ads don’t limit him before he gets going.

Now, the Grigsby poll had Landrieu at 39 and Cassidy at 26. You could compare that to this and say Cassidy has picked up 17 points and Landrieu just seven, and say “See? He’s fixing that problem.”

And you might be right. But every national poll from late February to June had Cassidy ahead of Landrieu in a head-to-head matchup, so you can’t call this a reflection of steady momentum in Cassidy’s corner.

3. What effect does the increasing volume of Rob Maness’ attacks on Cassidy have here? Obviously it doesn’t seem to have bolstered Maness’ stock much; when he and Hollis are combining for five percent he doesn’t look like any stronger dark horse than he’s been before. That’s not completely fair, mind you, as if you don’t actually name Maness for the poll respondents you’re essentially making him a write-in candidate in your poll and that’s going to depress his impact on the race as you report it. Still, if Maness is “stirring the pot” as James Carville said he is, you would expect to see that reflected in more than five percent for “some other candidate.”

But it might well be that Maness’ insistence on either directly hitting Cassidy and not Landrieu, which we documented is the case as often as not a couple of weeks ago, or in working to equate him with the Democrat is having an effect on Cassidy’s ability to close the sale with anti-Landrieu voters.

4. We understand that by this weekend Landrieu will be up on the air with an ad attacking Cassidy, though we haven’t seen it yet. What will be interesting to watch is whether the ad echoes any of the attacks Maness has hit Cassidy with, because if it does that will put Carville’s column in The Hill in context – everybody knows he’s shilling for Mary by touting Maness as a spoiler in the race. That level of coordination, serendipitous or otherwise, would bring to mind the successful effort Missouri senator Claire McCaskill managed in 2012 to effectively choose her opponent by building up Todd Akin as the Republican nominee.

This is not to say Rob Maness is Todd Akin. It is to say that Democrats will use Republicans against each other, sometimes quite successfully, in order to divide and conquer, and with Carville’s marker already down you’ll be able to tell that’s what’s going on here  if Landrieu starts parroting Maness.

5. One reason Cassidy had jumped ahead of Landrieu in the spring was that Americans for Prosperity had spent $4.5 million absolutely crushing her on the Obamacare issue, with a host of ads that were some of the more effective anybody has run in this cycle to date. But all ads and all messaging will reach an expiration date at some point, and while Obamacare will certainly return to center stage by this fall when the poor quality of the risk pool from the first year’s signups will necessitate rate hikes made public in September and October for right now it’s not as hot an issue. As such, the AFP ads aren’t running just yet and they’re not propping Cassidy up as they did a couple of months ago.

Thus, an ebb in his momentum.

But AFP is back up on the air with a new fusillade against Landrieu, including an ad which makes the point that the government-run VA healthcare system doesn’t particularly recommend government-run Obamacare, and if the latest batch is anything like the spring Obamacare ads were it could well move the needle back toward Cassidy.

But Cassidy can’t just depend on AFP to run his messaging for him. He has to begin defining himself as well as showing the conservative voters he hasn’t closed the sale with that he’s got enough fire in the belly to satisfy them. We’re told that next week he’s going to declare a boffo second-quarter fundraising number, and that will mean he’s going to have a healthy war chest to ride for the four months heading into the primary. He’s going to have to spend some of it, and in particular he’s going to need to spend it defining himself in north, central and southwest Louisiana. Taking a baseball bat to Reid, while defining Landrieu as Reid’s puppet in the Senate, might be his best bet in shooting back at whatever attack she’s about to debut.

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