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Poll Artificially Props Condon
Jimmy Moore
May 7, 2003

I guess by now everyone who cares at all about political polls with a primary election well over a year away has seen the latest one on the current GOP candidates for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (whose website boasts a slogan that says “Performance Is Better Than Promise.” I’ll reserve commenting on that for another day if Hollings ever decides he wants to run again!).

The headline of the press release story that goes with the poll reads “CONDON LEADS IN U.S. SENATE PRIMARY POLL.” Okay, fine. So former state attorney general and gubernatorial candidate Charlie Condon leads in a meaningless poll in a race that nobody really cares about yet. Gee, isn’t that nice. Good for him.

According to the story, here are the results of what is described as a “four-man” race:

Charlie Condon - 27%
Jim DeMint - 19%
Thomas Ravenel - 4%
Mark McBride - 4%
Undecided - 46%

Call me a cynic, but wouldn’t you say that this race goes to the “fifth man” named “Undecided” in a landslide? Yet, the way this poll is being spun by the newly formed Condon For Senate campaign, you would think Condon got an overwhelming number of votes more than all the other candidates mentioned in the poll.

But since there were only 500 “likely Republican primary voters” asked in the poll who they favor in the race, here are the hard numbers broken down of the actual votes cast for each in the poll:

Charlie Condon -135 votes
Jim DeMint - 95 votes
Thomas Ravenel - 20 votes
Mark McBride - 20 votes
Undecided - 230 votes

Yee-ha! Condon got 40 more votes than DeMint. Wow. I can hardly contain my excitement. Okeydokey! Is it really such an overwhelming lead?

Did anyone else notice that “Undecided” received just as many votes as Condon and DeMint did COMBINED?! This should be a sobering point that the Condon For Senate campaign should ponder for a while before celebrating their poll victory too much. This is glaring evidence that it is too soon to be polling people about this race.

Could Condon’s early “lead” in the U.S. Senate poll be attributed to the fact that he is one of the highest profile state officeholders in South Carolina in recent memory and, thus, has the highest name recognition in this race so far? Without a doubt. And how many people in South Carolina even know who Jim DeMint is outside of the Upstate? I would venture to say that the number is small right now. I’m sure when campaigning kicks into high gear, DeMint will be spending a lot of time in the Midlands and the Lowcountry.

Let me be blunt. This story is not very newsworthy at all. If this was May 2004 and the results of the poll were parallel, then THAT would be news worth writing about. It is a real shame that politicians oftentimes put so much stock in polls early in a political race that most of the time the polls are inaccurate to a fault or terribly misleading. We all saw that last year in the Governor’s race.

Who was leading most of the early polls in the GOP Governor’s race in 2002? Bob Peeler. Who was in second place in most of the early polls? Charlie Condon. Who won the nomination? The man who was in third place in the polls for most of the primary campaign, even as late as a couple of weeks before the election. Although he was still trailing Bob Peeler in the polls, the voters of South Carolina chose him over all the others to be the South Carolina Republican Party’s nominee for Governor. And he eventually defeated Jim Hodges soundly in the November 2002 election. His name is Mark Sanford.

You see, polls are simply a snapshot of where people stand in the here and now. But even those can be flawed. I believe that any political poll asking citizens to declare which political candidates they would vote for in an election that is still more than a year away is a waste of time and money.

If I were one of the people called to participate in that poll, then I would have said “Undecided.” I haven’t heard enough evidence from any of the candidates yet about who would be the best to replace Hollings (although any of the current crop of Republicans would be better than ole Fritz!). Furthermore, I am sure there will be several other candidates to enter this race by the end of the year.

According to Politics1.com, here are several other possible candidates for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate:

- Rita Allison - Ex-State Rep. & '02 Lt. Governor Candidate
- David Beasley - Ex-Governor, Ex-State House Speaker Pro Tempore & Attorney
- Tommy Hartnett - Ex-Congressman, Ex-State GOP Chairman & '92 Nominee
- Van Jenerette - College Professor, Ex-Congressional Aide, Army Veteran & '00 Congressional Candidate
- Bob Peeler - Ex-Lt. Governor, Agribusinessman & '02 Governor Candidate
- Knox White - Greenville Mayor

DCPoliticalReport.com adds these other names into the mix as well:

St. Rep. Robert W. Harrell, Jr.
U.S. Att. Strom Thurmond, Jr. (now wouldn’t it be ironic for a man named Strom Thurmond to succeed Fritz Hollings as U.S. Senator?!)

Since Hollings can’t seem to make up his mind whether he’s going to run or not, the Republicans will more than likely capitalize on this opportunity and have an easy time picking up this extremely vulnerable seat. None of the possible Democrat candidates who could step in if Hollings retires has a chance to win in South Carolina. I believe the lone star of the South Carolina Democrat Party, Inez Tenenbaum, is waiting to run for Governor.

Because of that, many of these other Republican candidates will enter the race before it’s all said and done. I say the more, the merrier! But it is foolish for any of the current candidates to cite some poll that shows them ahead of the rest. It’s nothing more than a manipulative (or smart strategy, depending on your perspective) ploy to get people to contribute money to their campaign.

Condon’s campaign is publicizing the poll as evidence of support for his candidacy after he formed his leadership team of people from all across South Carolina. Truth be told, though, what have any of these people done that would make any recognizable dent in the poll? From what I’ve seen, they haven’t done anything more than add their name to a list of Condon supporters. Oh, they did do one thing. They posted this on what they call the Condon for Senate Exploratory Committee website (hasn’t Condon declared already? Why haven’t they updated the website to reflect he IS no longer exploring yet?):

From: Charlie Condon for Senate Exploratory Committee

Dear South Carolina voter,

As you know, the 2004 U.S. Senate race is quickly approaching. Not only will this election be crucial for Republicans as they defend and expand their narrow majority in the Senate, but the escalating War on Terror, at home and abroad, promises to make this Senate election important to all concerned voters.

For these reasons Charlie Condon is seriously considering stepping forward and running for the U.S. Senate in 2004. After eight successful years as South Carolina's Attorney General, Charlie Condon wants to take his ideas of lower taxes, responsible government, and principled leadership to the U.S. Senate. There, he will join Lindsey Graham as they support President Bush's efforts to keep America prosperous and safe.

Being a valued voter in South Carolina, we would like to hear from you: we want to know if you think Charlie Condon would represent you favorably or unfavorably and why. Please feel free to respond to this message and give us your ideas regarding Charlie Condon running for the U.S. Senate and which issues you feel most strongly about.

Thank you for your time and your concern about our government.

Even with the support he has received from his election committee so far, Condon admits that he hasn’t come up with any ideas yet in terms of what he would do as the junior United States Senator from South Carolina:

“...I'm especially excited about outlining in detail my vision of how we can tackle the challenges facing America today. I'm confident that it's a vision that will earn me the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2004.”

So why is the Condon campaign so happy about these early poll numbers? Could it be they are trying to discourage some of these other possible candidates from entering the race? Are they desperate to catch up with the DeMint campaign who already has over $300,000 in the bank for this campaign? Are they all just eternal optimists looking for the silver lining whenever they can find it? Regardless of the reason, it intrigues me why they have chosen to exploit this to their advantage so early on. This poll only artificially props Condon in a race that's just barely getting started.

I certainly hope that Condon gets some better advice from his consulting firm this time around. He was severely manipulated by Richard Quinn last year. Condon got played by Quinn and everyone seemed to know it but Condon. Bad advice, inaccurate polling and ill-advised strategy all led to a sharp downward spiral of the Condon for Governor campaign last year. It was due in no small part to Richard Quinn’s lust to make as much money off of Charlie Condon’s campaign as he could. I’m sure Quinn is still smiling all the way to the bank. I hear that Condon has wised up and is going with a new consulting firm this time around in his bid for the U.S. Senate. That’s a good start in the right direction for him in this campaign.

The telephone poll was conducted by a group called Basswood Research. A gentleman by the name of Jon Lerner is one of two principal owners of Red Sea, LLC, the parent company for Basswood Research. According to the biography on the website, Lerner was the “lead general, media, and polling consultant to the winning campaign of Governor Mark Sanford (R-SC)” in the 2002 election. Could Lerner’s involvement in the Condon for Senate campaign have anything to do with paying him back for his support for Sanford’s bid for governor in the runoff election? Hmmm?

There were only 500 people included in the survey. Why was the sample so small? Couldn’t the “professional interviewers” get a more representative sample for the poll if they asked 1500 people to participate in the survey? Call me suspicious, but I think the small sample was purposeful to get the desired results. I’ll be interested in seeing an independent poll on this race at the appropriate time (say, February or March 2004).

The “analysis” of the poll concludes that Condon leads in every category polled. It claims that Condon has a double-digit lead over DeMint in every area of the state except for the Upstate, where Jim DeMint is the Congressman from the 4th District. Also, the remaining candidates are viewed as regional candidates with pockets of support in certain areas, but they are “not significant factors in the race at this time.” This, of course, leaves the door open that they COULD possibly become factors later on.

The poll “analysis” concludes that Charlie Condon is in the “strongest electoral position in the race at this time.” Again, the door is left wide open that someone else either in the race already or a new candidate can overtake him in the polls. While it is true that Condon has enormous name recognition statewide and has a solid conservative base of supporters, especially in Charleston, I think it is a bit premature to declare that he will automatically be victorious in the U.S. Senate race next year. We are still in the warm-up stretches before a long game of baseball for anyone to be declaring victory just yet.

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