Russell Moore: Taveras’s Gamble
Monday, September 23, 2013
Providence Mayor Angel Taveras released a poll commissioned by his campaign showing (surprise!) he has an impressive 19 point lead in a head-to-head matchup with Rhode Island General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, his presumed rival in the Democratic Primary next year.
But the campaign declined to release the poll’s full methodology. That means we have no idea what the sampling looked like—in other words, who were these 400 people? Was the data a good cross-section of Rhode Island? It must be nice to be able to take poll, cherry pick the data you like, and then watch the media report on it verbatim.
Most Rhode Island political pundits seemed to see it as affirmation of their analysis that Taveras will garner a victory next September thanks to his support from labor and Latino voters. Just what the significance a poll one year before the election and before even one dollar has been spent is questionable at best, so it’s hard to take it seriously even assuming the sampling is an accurate depiction of the electorate.
Behind the glossy announcement
Here’s the real scoop: my sources tell me that third quarter fundraising results will show that Taveras raised roughly $100,000. Raimondo, by comparison, will likely have hauled in somewhere around $300,000 through the same time period. As of the latest reports, Raimondo is sitting on roughly $2 million in campaign cash. Taveras, by comparison, has about $700,000.
Raimondo is hauling in $3 every time Taveras raises $1. This, by no means, is a knock against Taveras or his talented fundraising staff. Make no mistake about it: Taveras’s fundraising numbers, by Rhode Island standards, are impressive.
But Raimondo is a fundraising juggernaut. It’s like comparing a runner who runs a 5 minute mile with someone who runs a 4 minute mile. Both are tremendous runners, but one outclasses the other.
All of this means Taveras finds himself in a precarious position regardless of his polling data. Let’s face it: it’s hard to imagine a candidate winning an election after getting outspent by a 2-1 margin—let alone a 3-1 margin. It’s like trying to win a battle with one-third the ammunition of your enemy. I suppose it can be done, but I don’t want to be the one to try and find out.
And that’s what the Taveras campaign faces if the current trend holds. Unlike his friend Governor Lincoln Chafee, Taveras doesn’t come from considerable family wealth and his checkbook can’t make up for fundraising disadvantages.
Taveras + The Art of War
So why did the Taveras campaign release this poll? College freshman assigned to read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War know that when if you’re way ahead, you want your opponent to think you’re far behind. It’s easier to deal with someone who doesn’t know how strong you are.
This is especially true given the fact that in previous Rhode Island elections, big leads early on seem to be a curse—not a blessing. Just last year, Congressional candidate Brendan Doherty was up by 15 points in the polls early on, but saw his lead crumble after the David Cicilline’s impressive campaign got rolling.
In 2002, Sheldon Whitehouse was the early favorite to become the state’s next Governor. But despite a head start in the polls, he ended up losing the Democratic nomination to Myrth York. York, for her part, rolled into the general election with a big lead in the polls, only to see it crumble and Don Carcieri emerge as the victor.
Given some recent history in Rhode Island, tracking might not be the worst thing early on. Given that fact—and Taveras is nobody’s fool—why would Taveras show his hand so early and put a spotlight, and all the scrutiny that comes along with it, on himself?
The rationale behind the poll’s release, in my humble opinion, was to try and further bolster Taveras’s fundraising marketability. Would-be campaign contributors are going to be far more receptive to donate to Taveras if they perceive him as the frontrunner. When money is on the line, contributors, for some reason, are far more likely to back someone they believe is going to actually win.
The strategy may very well work. But like any other gamble, it doesn’t come without risks. If a neutral pollster comes out with their own poll in a couple weeks that shows the race neck and neck, or, with Raimondo leading, Taveras will end up with considerable egg on his face and, what’s worse, could irk some of his financial backers.
One thing is for certain, despite the fact that neither candidate has actually declared him or herself a candidate, the race is on. That’s quite a delight for Rhode Island political junkies.
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