ANALYSIS

Dill says she’s gaining momentum, but the numbers don’t show it

Posted Aug. 23, 2012, at 10:23 a.m.
Last modified Aug. 23, 2012, at 11:06 a.m.
Cynthia Dill, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, at the Liberty Festival in Lewiston on July 4.
Cynthia Dill, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, at the Liberty Festival in Lewiston on July 4. Buy Photo

Democrat Cynthia Dill is trying to show she has momentum in the race for Maine’s open U.S. Senate seat. Republicans are pushing that line, too, as they try to piece together a narrative about former independent Gov. Angus King losing steam in his bid to replace departing Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe.

Dill, a state senator from Cape Elizabeth, trotted out a fundraising appeal from former Gov. John Baldacci on Aug. 16 and followed it up with a news release claiming that she has support from other big names in Maine’s Democratic party, including U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud, state Sen. Phil Bartlett and former Maine State Housing Authority director Dale McCormick.

Dill’s campaign also said endorsements from other big name Democrats are “in the pipeline,” an attempt to dispel the notion that Democrats have largely opted to support King over her.

The campaign on Tuesday announced endorsements from the Maine State Employees Association SEIU Local 1989, a union that represents state employees and public service workers, and the Maine State Nurses Association. Dill scheduled appearances with active and retired state workers on Thursday. She also planned a Thursday visit to nonprofit organizations that work with women and children in the Waterville area.

“If you vote for me, you know what you get,” Dill said in an Aug. 17 interview, referring King’s frequent statements that he hasn’t decided whether he’ll caucus with Senate Democrats or Republicans. “I tell you exactly where I stand and why. A vote for me is not taking anything on blind faith.”

Meanwhile, Republicans pointed to Baldacci’s appeal on Dill’s behalf as a sign that Democrats are dropping their support for King.

In an Aug. 17 email to supporters, Lance Dutson, Republican Senate candidate Charlie Summers’ campaign manager, wrote that Democrats are “jumping ship” and deciding not to support King.

“Clearly, the weaker [Dill] is, the better it is for Angus,” said Ethan Strimling, a former Democratic state senator and political analyst for the Bangor Daily News and WCSH-6 TV. “If she stays really low, it makes it advantageous for King.”

The discussions about Dill’s momentum follow the release of an internal poll conducted by the Republican polling firm Moore Consulting and obtained by Strimling and fellow BDN blogger Phil Harriman that shows a lower level of support for King than previous surveys have shown. The Summers campaign paid for the poll, according to Dutson.

The survey, conducted Aug. 5 and 6, put King’s support at 46 percent. The latest public poll, conducted by the Portland firm Critical Insights in late June, showed King with 55 percent support.

Crystal Canney, communications director for King’s campaign, said the two polls do not offer a fair comparison because they come from separate sources that don’t share the same methodology.

Kay Rand, King’s campaign manager, said that the campaign’s internal research showed an initial shift from support for King and Summers to “undecided” after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sponsored ads critical of King during telecasts of the Olympic Games in late July and early August. “However, that movement is back in terms of where our candidate is,” she said Wednesday.

Ultimately, the “ads did not move the needle” in terms of support for King, Rand said. “We are comfortable with where [King] is positioned in the race.”

Rand declined to share the King campaign’s internal research.

If Dill is picking up some of King’s momentum, it isn’t obvious. The Moore Consulting poll put her support level at 8 percent. In June, two public surveys, by Critical Insights and by the Boston-based MassINC Polling Group, agreed with that poll, finding 7 percent and 9 percent support for Dill respectively.

“She faces the unique challenge of having another candidate in the race that a lot of people in her party are planning to vote for or are supporting already,” said MassINC Polling Group president Steve Koczela.

She’s also challenged by the fact that she’s still not known to many Maine voters.

The MassINC survey, conducted June 13 and 14, found that 29 percent of voters had formed either a favorable or unfavorable opinion of her, meaning the remainder had either no opinion of her or hadn’t heard of her. Nearly two months later, the Moore Consulting poll produced a similar number: 27 percent of voters had either a favorable or unfavorable view of her.

Dill said she’s on the campaign trail meeting voters, but conceded she’s still not known to many.

“The most important poll is in November,” she said. “Between now and then, there’s a lot of work to do, and I’m happy to do it.”

The fall will offer Dill a number of opportunities to introduce herself to Maine’s electorate, she said.

“There’s still plenty of time for me to meet voters, and there’s going to be a series of debates,” she said. “When there are, people will start paying attention and it will be more about the choices and the issues and less about advertisements and some of this other stuff.”

There’s no doubt it will be difficult to overcome low name recognition and her rivals’ large fundraising advantage, according to Strimling.

“What’s good for Dill is only 30 percent of the people have an opinion about her,” he said. “She has a tremendous upside because people don’t know her yet. She really has an opportunity to introduce herself.

“The downside is she needs significant money to do that.”

 

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