Two New Polls Point To A Shift In The Governor's Race

Two new polls out in the last week suggest that the ground is shifting in the governor’s race in Washington State.

1.  Last week’s Survey USA poll showed a dead heat between McKenna (42%) and Inslee (41%).  Digging into the cross tabs though, I found a couple of interesting threads.

A.  There is no bounce for McKenna among independents as a result of the health care decision.  Whereas independents, I think, would have likely been largely upset and moved towards Inslee had the Court moved in the opposite direction (assuming a full rather than partial repeal), the opposite isn’t happening.  They aren’t moving as a result of the decision, and the base on both sides is staying with their candidate.

B.  An important divide is with adults old enough to have children in public schools (ages 35-49).  While both candidates split evenly on the basic question of education (36%-35% for McK) in that demographic, on the question of the charter school initiative shows an opportunity.  51% of respondents in this demographic support the charter school initiative versus 24% that don’t.  In fact, it’s supported by every single cohort in the cross tabs, including “liberals”, self-identified Democrats, and across all income and education levels.  The only exception here is the 50-64 age group where it’s opposed 36%-40%.  This strikes me, in this poll’s crosstabs at least, as a potential silver bullet for Rob McKenna to win this election.

2.  This week’s Elway Poll shows Inslee pulling into a strong lead of 43%-36%.  Knowing the context of the this poll is important, and tells us a few things.

Context:  Inslee began running his first TV ad statewide a few weeks ago.  It was a positive piece, a minute long, and may be the most important thing the Inslee campaign has done: define the candidate early.  Indeed, usually the candidate that goes on the air first win (though admittedly that’s correlation rather than causation).  McKenna’s campaign also hit a rough patch with a staffer’s less-than-politic tweets becoming a three day news story.

What it tells us:  This election is fluid and close.  As campaigns start spending money on TV and other media, there will likely be a responsive electorate watching closely.  And, even the little things matter – like a young staffer’s tweets.  So any misstep will be magnified in a close race.

Taken together, I’m reminded the numbers are what they are in Washington State.  Translation:  a Republican candidate has to run an absolutely perfect race to win the governorship and at the same time be blessed with a good environment in which to run.  Put more succinctly by Elway’s poll:

This was never going to be easy for Rob McKenna…  The pace lap is over.  Let the race begin.