Paul Dietzel is 28, which is entirely too young for a Congressional candidate. He’s also just about out of money a month before Election Day, which means he can’t control his message and lacks the resources to gain support from undecided voters. And he’s a first-time candidate not affiliated with any of the state’s major political factions.
So why is it that Dietzel’s campaign seems so cheerful these days?
We sat down with J. Ryan Hudson, Dietzel’s campaign manager, and John Couvillon, the campaign’s pollster, today and got an inside look into the Dietzel camp’s thinking.
Hudson and Couvillon see something totally different than the conventional wisdom of the 6th District race, which is that Dan Claitor has the experience and name recognition and Garret Graves has the money and media to put Dietzel out of the running for the Republican spot in the runoff against Edwin Edwards.
What do they see? For one thing, a lead.
Couvillon showed us a poll he’d just conducted of the 6th District race which had Edwards at 32 percent, Dietzel with 12 percent, Claitor and Graves tied for third with 10 percent and Lenar Whitney at 7 percent. Some 10 percent went to other candidates, with Craig McCulloch and Rufus Craig catching three percent each in that pool, and 19 percent were undecided. Couvillon shows Cassie Felder with less than two percent of the vote.
The trajectory of the poll’s results is interesting. In August, Edwards was at 34 while Claitor was second with 11, while Dietzel and Graves were at eight points apiece (Whitney was at four percent). Couvillon shows Dietzel moving from eight to 10 percent in September to 12 percent now, while Claitor dropped from 11 to nine in September before rebounding to 10. Graves stayed at eight through September and jumped to 10 this month, which is a likely reflection of his major TV blitz of late.
But Couvillon doesn’t believe Graves’ mass-media presence, which dwarfs the rest of the candidates (Whitney and Claitor are up on the air with TV spots but not in the volume or frequency of Graves’ run), can get him where he needs to be. Dietzel’s camp says Graves’ support is leveling off at a smaller percentage of the vote than he’ll need to make the runoff.
And Dietzel’s campaign touts their construction of a volunteer army which has made, they say, well over 100,000 phone calls to voters in the 6th District. They believe they’ll generate a lot more votes than any polls show.
The thinking in Dietzel’s camp is that Claitor has advanced as far as his name recognition will take him, and that his messaging – touting small business and hammering on illegal immigrants and Mexican drug cartels – isn’t going to get him anywhere. They also believe seven percent is about as far as Whitney can go. And they just don’t think Graves’ TV can buy the race.
Is this thinking realistic? Sure, maybe. There is no question but that Dietzel’s grassroots operation is the best of any campaign in the 6th District race, and if he can actually keep that operation going through to Election Day it might be a big advantage; Dietzel’s volunteers won’t need to be trained in get-out-the-vote operations like other campaign volunteers will be, because they’ve already had that training. And an air-war campaign like the one Graves is running could well be dependent on a constant stream of new ads to fuel the campaign.
Claitor, Graves and Whitney will no doubt dispute the theory and assumptions of Dietzel’s campaign, and we look forward to bringing you their responses.
But Hudson and Couvillon want you to know their man has a path to victory, and they’re going to win this thing. In a month we’ll know whether they’re visionaries…or all wet.