Abraham’s New Poll Shows A Winnable, Razor-Close Governor’s Race

Here’s a press release that popped earlier today from Ralph Abraham’s gubernatorial campaign, which has numbers we think are probably pretty close to the state of things at this point in the race…

– New Louisiana Governors poll, conducted by Remington Research Group, shows Republican Ralph Abraham opening up a commanding 23-point lead over his Republican primary challenger and closing the gap with Governor Edwards.

44% Edwards
33% Abraham
10%  Rispone
13% Undecided

Abraham, a conservative Republican, is boosted by strong favorability numbers and the fact that a majority of voters do not believe that the State of Louisiana is headed in the right direction.

“Edwards continues to lag under 50% in his attempt to be re-elected which spells trouble for the liberal Democrat Governor,” said David Weinman, Communications Director for the Abraham campaign. “It should be clear to everyone paying attention that Ralph Abraham is the only candidate positioned to take on Governor Edwards this fall.”

“John Bel Edwards continues to be in a precarious position in his race for re-election. His strongest challenger, Ralph Abraham, has half the name identification at this point. As voters become more familiar with Abraham his ballot share will only grow,” said Titus Bond, President of Remington Research Group.

View poll here

*Survey conducted March 13 through March 14, 2019. 1,464 likely 2019 General Election voters participated in the survey. Survey-weighted to match expected turnout demographics for the 2019 General Election. Margin of Error is +/-2.6%. Totals do not always equal 100% due to rounding

There is a bit of gamesmanship here, and it’s something which is bound to give Republicans – and particularly those Republicans who still have nightmares about Jay Dardenne, Scott Angelle and David Vitter playing crabs-in-a-bucket during the 2015 cycle – a good case of the fidgets. Namely, you have a bit of a back-and-forth going between Abraham’s campaign and Rispone’s – Rispone’s camp, though not Rispone himself (he’s been very disciplined in not attacking Abraham) has nibbled at times about Abraham’s record, and is positioning the Baton Rouge industrial construction magnate as the more conservative of the two candidates, while Abraham’s message vis-a-vis Rispone has consistently been that he can’t win and Abraham can.

And part of the latter narrative is that there aren’t enough undecideds out there for Rispone to snap up so as to surpass Abraham and make the runoff.

Abraham’s camp is selling what’s essentially a mathematical equation in talks with prospective donors. They’re looking at the history of gubernatorial elections in the state and they’re saying you’re looking at a turnout in the October primary which will be in the neighborhood of 40-45 percent; or somewhere around 1.2 million votes. Figure that about 500,000 of those would go to Edwards as the only major Democrat in the race and the incumbent, and that’s more or less where Edwards is polling in every survey of the governor’s race, which means you’ve got around 700,000 votes to be had by other candidates. That would mean 350,000 or so votes would put either Abraham or Rispone into the runoff.

And Abraham’s math says that last year when he ran for re-election to his congressional seat, with every voter in his district knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was running for governor this year, he reeled in 149,000 votes. That’s a base of proven Abraham voters he knows he’ll have with him, and it’s 149,000 votes more than Rispone can claim based on past elections (because he’s never run for anything before). So all Abraham needs is a couple hundred thousand more voters and he’s in the runoff.

Alternatively, you can look at this poll and see that if Rispone were to add all 13 percent of the undecideds to the 10 percent he has, he’s still 10 points short of catching Abraham and making the runoff.

And what that means, Abraham’s people will tell you, is that Rispone has to attack Abraham. But if he does, he risks his ability to get the undecideds – almost all of whom likely are Republican voters who can’t decide between the two (Edwards’ 44 percent in this poll is more or less the base Democrat vote in the state, and Republicans typically get between 55 and 60 percent of the vote in statewide elections). Most of those undecided voters are going to immediately see a reprise of 2015 as soon as one Republican candidate attacks another, and the resulting freak-out probably becomes a backlash against the attacker.

Abraham’s camp sees this as insurmountable for Rispone. Obviously Rispone’s camp sees it differently; they point to the fact Rispone’s name ID is miniscule compared to Edwards and Abraham and once their guy turns loose some of that $5.6 million war chest he has with biographical ads and other messaging he’s going to make a jump to double, or more, of his current poll numbers and some of that will come at Abraham’s expense even without Rispone having to attack him.

It’s too early to know whose theory of the race is correct. But if the Remington poll is to be believed, a few things are apparent.

  • Edwards can’t get above 50 percent against either Republican. He’s at 48-42 against Rispone, about whom 71 percent of the respondents have no opinion (he’s at 10 percent approval and 19 percent disapproval), which tells you where he is with respect to name ID at present, and he’s at 47-45 against Abraham (27 up, 19 down on approval, with 54 percent no opinion; his name ID isn’t fully developed either). Rispone’s camp has to look at those numbers and conclude anything Abraham says about being the only one who can beat Edwards is bunk. Rispone’s camp might also say that he’s gaining on Edwards – he’s at 42-48 on him now, whereas in the Remington poll in December he was at 39-46 – while Abraham actually lost ground since he was 44-44 with Edwards in this poll’s December installment and he’s at 45-47 now. But those numbers can be chalked up to noise, since they don’t show a whole lot of movement and this is still very much spring training rather than the heat of the campaign.
  • Edwards’ approval rating is worse in this poll than it’s been in any others we’ve seen. He sits at 45 percent approval, which is around where he’s been in some surveys (usually he’s a couple of points higher), but his disapproval is up to 42 percent. That’s considerably higher than in previous surveys, and it’s an indication that voters are beginning to take stock of his record as governor. The poll also had a right track/wrong track question, with a 42-41 right track/wrong track score which doesn’t particularly bode well for Edwards. Remember that the campaign, in which both GOP candidates and some considerable third party independent expenditures (IE) will savage Edwards for his record, has barely begun. That Truth In Politics ad we talked about on Friday, which will have a hefty $400,000 IE spend behind it, is a pretty hard shot at Edwards – there will be a lot more like that coming over the next 6-7 months.
  • Edwards only has 59 percent of the Democrat vote, which is a slightly better figure than the 53 percent he showed in Remington’s previous poll, but nowhere near what he’s going to need if he’s going to get re-elected. In the December poll there were 15 percent of the Democrat respondents who said they wouldn’t vote Democrat this fall; that number is now 19 percent. Obviously, that’s going the wrong way. But in the December poll 25 percent of the Democrat respondents said they’d consider voting for another Democrat besides Edwards, and that number is now down to 17 percent. Obviously it’s hard to assess that number unless or until there is actually another Democrat in the race – one of the items you’ll get widespread agreement among Republicans in the state for is that this race really needs a black Democrat, and particularly one whose last name begins with A, B, C or D so as to appear on the ballot atop Edwards’ name, to qualify. But Edwards might be solidifying his base a bit, if at the cost of running off a few conservative Democrat voters.
  • Finally, something which vexes us a bit. The sample for the race is definitely not a Republican-friendly one. While R-D-I voter registration in Louisiana as of March 1 stands at 31-43-26, this poll shows 35-50-15. So it oversamples Democrats by 7 points and Republicans by four points, while undersampling independents by 11. That’s probably a three or four point overfriendly sample to Edwards on net, which would account for him sitting at 47 percent against Abraham and 48 against Rispone when previous Democrat candidates in statewide elections (Foster Campbell for Senate in 2016, Derrick Edwards for Treasurer in 2017, Gwen Collins-Greenup for Secretary of State last year) topped out in the low 40’s. The primary R-D-I turnout numbers in 2015 were 28-46-26, and they were nearly identical in the runoff that year as well, so barring some development we’re not quite catching (there is the potential for an Obama-style turnout machine being built on the Democrat side arising out of some suspicious campaign expenditures and turnout numbers in the House District 18 special election race, which we talked about a couple of weeks ago) it’s debatable whether you’re going to get anything like 50 percent of the voters being Democrats in October. The Remington poll back in December had the same 50 percent Democrat sample, so it’s consistent – if perhaps consistently generous to the D’s. If you’ll remember, the Edwards-friendly Education Reform Now outfit put out a poll of the race a couple of months ago with a 53 percent Democrat sample, and Edwards couldn’t get above 47 against Abraham or Rispone in that one either. If this turns out to be an electorate that looks more like 2015 – namely, if Democrats are more like 45-48 percent of the electorate rather than 50 percent – Abraham might well be ahead of Edwards in a head-to-head and Rispone might be close.
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