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Lessons learned from the runoff election

Posted: July 29, 2014 - 11:16pm

There are some important political lessons to be learned from last week’s runoff election.

Bob Barr should have learned that perhaps he can forget about running for elective office anymore.

Although Barr kept reminding voters in the 11th Congressional District that he was one of those who impeached Bill Clinton in 1998, they didn’t seem to care. They picked a younger, fresher face in Barry Loudermilk and gave him a two-to-one victory margin.

Karen Handel, likewise, should have learned that it’s time for her to think about a career path that doesn’t involve running for public office. Republican voters now have rejected her in statewide elections in both 2010 and 2014. They also turned down the candidate she endorsed in this year’s Senate GOP runoff. It would appear Republican voters have sent Handel a very clear message.

If you are a sitting member of the U.S. House of Representatives, you should have learned the lesson that it’s not a good idea to try to step up and run for higher office – not at a time when public approval of Congress is at historically low levels.

House members Jack Kingston, Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun all thought they had a clear path to winning the Senate seat being vacated by Saxby Chambliss. All three were rejected by the voters.

Journalists and pundits should have learned the lesson that political endorsements don’t really carry too much weight and don’t guarantee a transfer of support to the candidate who gets endorsed.

If endorsements really mattered, Kingston would have clobbered David Perdue in the Senate Republican runoff by at least 10 percentage points. Nearly every GOP official of any stature in Georgia endorsed Kingston, as did two of the candidates who finished behind him in the primary (Handel and Gingrey).

Even some tea party types got behind Kingston in his runoff campaign, but all of these high-powered endorsements amounted to nothing. Perdue beat Kingston anyway for the Republican nomination and the right to oppose Democrat Michelle Nunn.

Everyone involved in politics – voters, candidates, consultants and journalists – should have learned this valuable lesson from the runoff: you can’t always put a lot of faith in what the pollsters are telling you.

During the week prior to the July 22 runoff, three major independent polls were released that showed Kingston leading Perdue by an average of 6 percentage points.

Public Policy Polling (PPP), a Democratic-leaning firm based in North Carolina, had Kingston ahead of Perdue by 47-41 percent.

Landmark Communications, a Republican-leaning firm based in Atlanta, said Kingston was leading Perdue by 48-41 percent.

A poll conducted by Insider Advantage and OpinionSavvy had Kingston ahead of Perdue by 46-41 percent.

Matt Towery of Insider Advantage released this statement after his firm conducted the poll that showed Kingston leading by 5 points:

“This survey indicates that Kingston has managed to retake momentum in the race with under a week to go. . . . Perdue’s campaign and his supporters have emphasized their candidate’s ‘political outsider’ position as a candidate running against the ‘insider’ Kingston. While that theme has worked well with older voters, it has lost its magic, having run long enough to pull in all of the votes it can.”

Actually, Perdue hadn’t lost any magic at all. As the events of July 22 subsequently proved, his strategy of running as an outsider was precisely the path to victory that his campaign needed.

Inaccurate polling is not something that is isolated to Georgia. In Mississippi’s Senate race, runoff election polls had tea partier Chris McDaniel running several points ahead of longtime incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran.

But Cochran succeeded in persuading voters from predominantly Democratic precincts to cross over and vote for him in the GOP runoff, giving him a surprising victory over the favored McDaniel.

In Virginia, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s internal pollster showed him to be 34 points ahead of tea partier David Brat heading into the June 10 Republican primary. In a very low-turnout race, however, Brat upset Cantor and ousted him from Congress.

This leaves us with a lesson that Georgia’s voters should always remember: no matter what the polls might say, you should still turn out and vote for your candidate.

You never know when those polls might be mistaken.

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