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New poll projects Brennan as winner in Portland mayoral race

Pat Wellenbach | AP
Pat Wellenbach | AP
Vehicles pass a multitude of signs representing some of the mayoral candidates in Portland at dusk Oct. 19, 2011. The election in November won't be a typical election because there will be 15 candidates in a ranked-system voting. All of those candidates will have to wait until the day after the election to learn who won because an outside party will have to crunch the numbers.
By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — A poll conducted by the Maine People’s Resource Center over the weekend projected Michael Brennan as the likely winner of the high-profile Portland mayoral race, with Ethan Strimling finishing second, according to the nearly 500 city residents questioned.

Current Mayor Nicholas Mavodones pulls in third, followed by David Marshall and Jed Rathband respectively in the 15-person race, according to the poll results.

But with a week to go before Election Day, Mike Tipping of the Maine People’s Resource Center acknowledged there’s still time for candidates to maneuver. The center, which was founded in 1984, encourages people to become involved in community and political issues.

“Things could always change a great deal, especially in a race with so many candidates,” Tipping said. “But what I think this makes clear is it’s not simply enough to gain name recognition at this point. These candidates not only need to increase their first choice appeal, as advertising is good at, but they also need to make sure they increase their second and third choice appeal, and that’s not necessarily the same thing.”

The poll was sponsored by Down East magazine and conducted by telephone from Oct. 28 to Oct. 30. According to the Maine People’s Resource Center, calls were placed at various times of day “to maximize the diversity of respondents” and the results are based on the responses given by 477 “likely Portland voters.” The margin of error reported for the poll was 4.44 percent.

The organization asked responders to rank their first, second and third choices among what it considered the top nine candidates, as well as a 10th option representing the remaining six candidates who appear on the ballot.

The Maine People’s Resource Center conducted a simulated instant run-off process, as Portland will do on Nov. 9 if no single candidate earns more than 50 percent of the first place votes on Election Day. By this process, the last place finisher is eliminated from the field and his or her second place votes are changed to first place votes and redistributed among the remaining candidates, and the math is done again.

If no candidate claims more than 50 percent of the vote at that point, the process is repeated until one does.

While Brennan held an advantage in first place votes among survey takers, what ultimately made him the projected winner in the exercise was that he was the top receiver of second place votes as well, said Tipping.

“There were definitely some surprises,” Tipping, who also writes a political column for Down East magazine, told the Bangor Daily News. “One was the degree to which Ethan Strimling has high support in the first round, but then has less support among second and third choices. Over a number of [elimination] rounds, Brennan gains 30 points of support, while Strimling picks up about 15. If those numbers were reversed, and Strimling was gaining in the run-offs while Brennan held steady, the results of the election would be reversed as well.”

Using the Maine People’s Resource Center model, it takes 12 rounds of eliminations before Brennan breaches the 50 percent mark and wins the election. At that point, with all but Brennan and former fellow Maine senator Strimling left, Brennan claims the race with roughly 61 percent of the votes compared with Strimling’s 39 percent.

In simply first choice votes, the poll shows Brennan receiving 27.4 percent, while Strimling claims 21.6 percent, Mavodones 12.6, Marshall 7.2 and Rathband 6.7. The option including “six other candidates” considered by the organization to be long shots adds up to 11.1 percent of the votes.

In second place votes, Brennan receives 25.2 percent, while Strimling drops to 9.6 percent. Mavodones earns 16.1 percent of the No. 2 votes in the poll.

Brennan told the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday his campaign plans to run television commercials this week and send out mailers while he conducts door-to-door visits.

“I’m pleased to hear the results of the poll, but I know enough not to sit back and assume the poll will exactly mirror what will happen next Tuesday,” Brennan said. “Certainly, I know enough about polling to know they’re a snapshot in time. We’d always thought we would be very competitive with No. 1 votes, but also that we’d be competitive with No. 2 votes, so this poll supports that. I’m happier with where I am in the polls than where else I could be, but we have a campaign plan we’re following in the remaining days. We’re not going to take anything for granted.”

Strimling said Tuesday research done by his campaign contradicts the poll results.

“We think Nick [Mavodones] is stronger than this [poll] is showing, and our numbers show me running much stronger,” Strimling said. “We don’t have anything showing anybody winning by 20 percent in the end, that’s for sure. We see this really as a three-way race, and we’re excited about the final leap.”

David Loughran, campaign manager for Mavodones, argued the poll reflected a wider diversity of respondents than is typically found voting during off-year elections and didn’t adequately weigh undecided voters. He also said that since the poll was conducted using “robo-calls” and Brennan was the first candidate listed because of his place in the alphabetical order, “a lot of [survey takers] probably just hit ‘1’ and hung up.”

“I think we have a lot of support,” Loughran said. “We’ve knocked on 16,000 doors and made another 8,500 phone calls. The poll doesn’t really reflect what we’re seeing and hearing out there. It’s always difficult to say what will tip the scales in an election, but we’re pretty confident that our get-out-the-vote efforts will be good for a 5, 6 or 7 percent boost on Election Day.”

In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, Rathband said he found the poll results encouraging because the exercise counted him in the upper echelon of candidates despite the fact that it’s his first run for an elected position. Every other hopeful in the poll’s top five is either in an elected office or has held one in the past.

“Having never run for public office before, I knew that winning this race would not be easy,” Rathband said. “However, the poll’s results, which show me in the uppermost tier of candidates, prove that my message is resonating with Portlanders. … I am an underdog in this race. But, as the poll results indicate, I have broad support from voters all across the city and of all political affiliations.”

In its survey documentation, the Maine People’s Resource Center said it determined its top nine based on “political experience, media reports, fundraising strength and straw poll results.” The organization added that it paid particular attention to the odds placed on candidates by the Portland publication The Bollard, which ranked hopefuls based on different tiers of “electability.”

The top nine as defined by the polling group are: Brennan, Strimling, Mavodones, Marshall, Rathband, Deering High School teacher Markos Miller, City Councilor Jill Duson, Former state Rep. John Eder and Portland Democratic City Committee Vice Chairman Ralph Carmona. The group considered the bottom six to be Jodie Lapchick, Hamza Haadoow, Peter Bryant, Charles Bragdon, Christopher Vail and Richard Dodge.

Tipping said its assumptions of which candidates were in the top nine largely were validated by the polling numbers, which indicated that the other six candidates split up less than 12 percent of the first place votes. When eliminated as a group in the Maine People’s Resource Center simulation, no single candidate was elevated to beyond the 50 percent threshold, suggesting that ranking and eliminating them individually would not have altered the results of the poll, he said.

“It would be an issue if one of those six candidates was a front-runner, but our polling didn’t show that,” he said.

Tipping said Monday’s announcement by Eder that he’s throwing his support behind Strimling, a move made after the polling was conducted, may or may not make a difference in the outcome. In the polling, those who chose Eder as their No. 1 option picked fellow Green Party candidate Marshall as their second choice 27 percent of the time, followed by Duson 20 percent of the time.

According to the poll numbers, none of the Eder supporters questioned named Strimling as their second choice at the time, which may change with Monday’s announcement.

“Eder endorsing Strimling, even if he can carry his voters with him, that may not increase Strimling’s likelihood of winning,” Tipping said, noting that other candidates may begin to urge supporters to back like-minded opponents in the coming days. “I think those considerations may be made and some candidates are already considering those moves. Eder has already made that decision and others may be having conversations behind the scenes, but it’s not clear how much they can determine the outcome.”

Strimling said the Eder announcement, as well as recently filed finance reports indicating he has raised as much as 11 of the other candidates combined, have given him momentum in the last few days perhaps not reflected in the poll results.

“We feel very good about the momentum we’ve built up,” he said. “People have been coming on board every day.”

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