In the Middle of a Tick-Tight Race ... Allen West Fights for His Political Life
Around the State
In one of the most heated congressional races in a state filled with contentious contests, with millions spent on airing negative ads that voters say won’t sway their view, the battle between conservative firebrand Rep. Allen West, R-Palm Beach Gardens, and Democratic upstart Patrick Murphy remains tight.
A Sunshine State News Poll of 752 "likely" voters, conducted by Harrisburg, Pa.-based Voter Survey Service (VSS), gave a slight -- 49 percent to 48 percent -- edge to West, with just 3 percent remaining undecided entering the final weeks of the Congressional District 18 contest.
Jim Lee, president of VSS, called the so-far-$18.3 million contest “razor thin.” He nevertheless gives the overall edge to West because the district leans conservative and because President Obama is underperforming in the district compared to his 2008 results.
“It’s our understanding that other publicly released polling has been all over the lot on this race –- some showing Murphy leading, others showing West in the hunt -- so this one seems to show the truth could be closer to a dead heat,” Lee wrote.
“Both candidates have high negatives, presumably because the ads have been so nasty, with mudslinging on competing criminal charges for both,” Lee added. “It’s hard to make the case that either has much room to grow when voters are so polarized on their candidates.”
Allen West For Congress campaign manager Tim Edson, while not directly discussing the Sunshine State News Poll results because he hadn't seen the data, disagreed that the contest was close. He based it on internal polling and results posted by other news outlets.
“We’re very confident in our position in this race that we’re going to win,” Edson said. “You can see from Patrick Murphy’s desperate attack ads that they’re just throwing stuff at the wall trying to make something stick as they see his campaign circling the drain.”
Views on the race have wavered for weeks.
A poll released Thursday by Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers put the contest at 51 percent to 42 percent in favor of West.
A poll released Oct. 7 by S.PetePolls.org had West up 52.6 percent to 40.6 percent. The poll came just after national political analyst Larry Sabato shifted the contest into the “Tossup” category.
Murphy’s campaign spokeswoman Erin Moffet said the Sunshine State News Poll was more in line with their internal numbers.
“Our internal polling also has us in a dead heat,” Moffet said. “We believe it will stay close until Election Day and we do believe we have the support to win.”
Of the 752 likely voters in the Northern Palm Beach County-Treasure Coast district poll conducted Oct. 16-17, with jobs and the economy among the top issues, few gave much credence to the ads that have dominated the local market.
BusinessWeek has called the contest the nastiest in the nation.
Murphy has questioned West’s military service record and labeled West a “bully” in an ad -- paid for by a super-PAC funded by Murphy’s father -- where he was depicted in boxing gloves hitting an elderly white woman.
West, a top target of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the House Majority PAC, has countered by running a mugshot of Murphy’s 2003 arrest from a disorderly conduct charge just as West was receiving overseas deployment orders.
The ads may be having some impact, as West, who has started to run ads with his wife and daughter decrying the negative tone of the contest, has a greater favorability rating than Murphy.
And the women's vote will be a key to the contest.
Steve Dull, a senior consultant with Susquehanna Polling, expects the race to go down to the wire, with presidential coattails playing a major role as well as the women's vote -- which Murphy has hammered for, slighting West.
“The presidential race in (Congressional District) 18 reinforces the fact that Romney is winning this congressional district by 3 points because he is doing slightly better in Martin and St. Lucie counties and among females than is West,” noted Dull.
“For Murphy to win, he must hold his advantage in Palm Beach County and among females and hold West's margins below Romney's margins in Martin and St Lucie counties.”
West has the male vote 52 percent to 46 percent, with Murphy ahead with women, 49 percent to 47 percent.
“However, more females remain undecided than males in the poll,” Dull noted.
West is also up 58 percent to 38 percent in Martin County, while holding a narrow 49 percent to 47 percent edge in St. Lucie. Murphy has a 54 percent to 45 percent advantage in Palm Beach County.
West has been the bigger spender, having gone through $12.1 million as of Sept. 1, according to Federal Election Commission reports. Murphy’s campaign has dished out $2.9 million.
Another estimated $25 million has funneled into the contest from groups that claim to be working independent of the candidates.
At the start of the year, neither West nor Murphy lived in the district that is currently represented by Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta, who is now seeking that District 17 seat around Charlotte.
West, from Plantation, was expected to run for a district that was in more liberal southern Palm Beach County, around the area he currently represents, but shifted north as the state Legislature redrew the districts earlier this year.
Murphy, who had targeted West’s first defense of his congressional seat, also decided to move his campaign operations north, where the Martin County and northern Palm Beach sections lean Republican, while the growing St. Lucie County is dominated by Democrats.
Another reason pushing West forward is how the district is expected to vote in the presidential contest, where President Obama appears to be under-performing from his 2008 run.
While 52 percent of those contacted labeled themselves conservative, 30 percent called themselves liberal and 19 percent moderate.
At the same time, 51 percent disapproved of Obama's job performance, while 47 percent approved. It nearly matched the 50 percent-to-47-percent edge those likely voters give Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney over Obama.
See the cross-tabs and methodology for this poll in the attachments below.
The margin of error for a sample size of 752 interviews is +/- 3.57 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.
Reach Jim Turner at email@example.com or at (772) 215-9889.