CHUCK MALLOY: Labrador hopes early poll numbers don’t lie

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Congressman Raul Labrador has neither raised nor spent a ton of money for next year’s governor’s race. But there’s a quiet confidence within the Labrador camp that suggests things are going quite well.

The polling numbers are on their side. In fact, it appears that this three-way dogfight for the Republican nomination is Labrador’s to lose. Certainly, polling numbers can change radically in the next six months; just ask “Congressman” Vaughn Ward and “President” Hillary Clinton. Ooops, they didn’t win.

To a lot of political front-runners, the last thing they want to do is release their polling data that shows them to be well ahead. It provides extra motivation for their opposition, and it’s no secret that Labrador has his share of political enemies. Lobbyists have never been part of his fan club, and the media hasn’t gone out of its way to provide positive coverage. Some political heavyweights, such as Gov. Butch Otter and Congressman Mike Simpson, probably would prefer Putin over Labrador for the governorship.

But none of this seems to matter to Labrador, or his army of supporters. The more the political-establishment types whine, the stronger he seems to get. Attacks only add fuel to the sentiment that things need to be shaken up, both in Washington and Idaho. And Labrador supporters will vote in primary elections, correctly figuring that political power starts in the voting booths. Those who are more moderate are left to complain about the outcome.

Labrador’s Colorado-based pollster, Magellan Strategies, apparently is one of the good ones. I’m told that he was on target with his projections in 2014 when Otter defeated challenger Russ Fulcher by 7 percentage points. Pundits generally thought Otter’s margin of victory would be much larger.

The campaigns for Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Tommy Ahlquist did not release their polling information, which is understandable. David Johnston, Ahlquist’s campaign manager, did offer this comment: “This is a desperate attempt by DC politician Raul Labrador to energize his campaign that’s wracked by both fundraising woes and an enormous lack of enthusiasm with Idahoans. If you have to tout polling to try to convince others you are the front-runner, you are clearly a pretty weak one.”

The polling numbers actually are favorable toward Ahlquist, who has spent about $2 million to build his name recognition. He’s now in a virtual tie with the sitting lieutenant governor — a standing that would have looked good by next March.

But finishing second in a primary election is no moral victory. The Magellan tracking poll, which surveyed 714 likely primary voters (with a margin of error at 3.66 percent) shows Labrador with a healthy 14-point lead — 37 percent for Labrador, to 23 percent for Little, 21 percent for Ahlquist and 19 percent undecided.

“Among the three Republican candidates tested in this survey, all have strong image ratings and name recognition,” according to the pollster. However, Labrador “has the strongest with 67 percent of respondents having a favorable opinion of him and only 18 percent having an unfavorable opinion. Among all respondents, 57 percent have a favorable opinion of Brad Little and 15 percent have an unfavorable opinion of him. Tommy Ahlquist’s image is 48 percent favorable and 19 percent unfavorable.”

The pollster suggests that siding with President Trump is a good thing for candidates. Likely primary voters in Idaho give Trump an 87 percent approval rating, with 64 percent “strongly” approving his job performance. Of those strongly approving Trump, Labrador has a 23-point lead over Little — 44 percent to 21 percent.

Labrador doesn’t fare as well as the voters’ second choice in the race. He would not be the second choice among Little’s and Ahlquist’s supporters, which leads to the pollster’s conclusion: “Overall, it appears that Brad Little and Tommy Ahlquist are competing for the same voters.”

The polling firm offers some encouraging words overall. “In our years of experience conducting Republican primary voter surveys, it is unusual to see three Republican primary candidates for governor with such high name recognition and image ratings six months before Election Day. These candidates are well known by Republican primary voters, and they like their choices.”

For now, they seem to like Labrador better. But it’s far too early to make plans for the inaugural ball.

• • •

Chuck Malloy, a Silver Valley native and longtime Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly and an editorial writer with the Idaho Press-Tribune.

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