Primaries Today; Pressler’s Impact

Alaska, Wyoming
Another two primaries are on tap for today, as we continue to pass through the final quarter of nomination voting. Beginning tomorrow, only seven more states will hold primaries and one, Oklahoma next week, will decide a run-off situation.
The big vote of this evening comes in Alaska, in a primary that will be decided in the wee hours of the morning on the east coast. Here, Republicans will choose a nominee against first-term Sen. Mark Begich (D) in a three-way battle among the candidate projected as the favorite by most, former Attorney General and Natural Resources Department Director Dan Sullivan, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, and 2010 US Senate nominee Joe Miller.
Originally, Treadwell began the race as the leader but his poor early fundraising – he now has collected $1.2 million in campaign receipts – quickly put him behind Sullivan both in dollars raised (Sullivan has gone over the $4 million mark), and then in polling. Though the Alaska Republican establishment began to fall in line behind Sullivan, Treadwell has been hanging strong, remaining within single digits according to several late polls. Some believe Miller could be positioned to again come from nowhere to capture the nomination, exactly as he did in 2010 when upsetting Sen. Lisa Murkowski in that year’s Republican primary. As we remember, Murkowski would go onto win the general election as a write-in candidate.
The latest pair of Alaska polls produced conflicting results. The first shows a tightening three-way contest, while the other has Sullivan pulling away. Public Policy Polling (July 31-8/3; 377 Alaska Republican primary voters) gives Sullivan only a 35-29-20 percent edge over Treadwell and Miller. But Moore Information (8/4-5; 500 AK Republican primary voters), which previously detected a much closer contest, projects Sullivan gaining a major 42-25-17% advantage.
In the governor’s race, Gov. Sean Parnell faces a Republican primary challenge from the state’s former GOP party chairman, Russ Millette. At-large Rep. Don Young drew only token opposition in his Republican primary.
Little is occurring in Wyoming, though Gov. Matt Mead faces two Republican primary opponents. Sen. Mike Enzi and at-large Rep. Cynthia Lummis both drew minor nomination opposition. Former senatorial candidate Liz Cheney’s withdrawal from her challenge to Sen. Enzi gives the veteran lawmaker an easy road to renomination and re-election.
South Dakota Senate
The South Dakota Senate race has not attracted much attention since incumbent Sen. Tim Johnson (D) announced his retirement in early 2013. The foregone conclusion continues to be that former Gov. Mike Rounds (R) is the prohibitive favorite to replace Johnson, but the presence of former three-term Sen. Larry Pressler, running as an Independent candidate, may be changing the picture.
According to a new Public Policy Polling survey (Aug. 12-13; 726 SD likely voters) taken for Democratic nominee Rick Weiland’s campaign, ex-Gov. Rounds leads the field only 39-31-16 percent, over Weiland and Pressler, respectively. A second Independent, Tea Party activist and former state Senator Gordon Howie, receives five percent support.
But the more interesting part of the poll concerns the favorability ratings for each candidate. Though Rounds scores the highest number on the ballot question, he is the most disliked of the top three candidates. Forty-four percent view Rounds favorably, while 48 percent give him negative marks. By contrast, Weiland’s ratio is 42:27 percent, and Pressler’s is 42:33 percent favorable to unfavorable. Among those in the sampling universe who know Weiland well enough to express an opinion of him, he leads Rounds 42-33 percent.
Several points about this study: first, the survey is commissioned by the Weiland campaign. Therefore, we do not specifically know if the questions released constitute the entire poll or the exact order of the questions.
Second, PPP’s favorability questions tend to produce more negative results than other pollsters, so the Rounds numbers, in particular, cannot be taken at face value without further confirmation from independent pollsters.
Third, the data provides value because it gives us the first published indication of former Sen. Pressler’s strength, and it tells us that his voters are not likely to reverberate back toward Rounds. According to these numbers, Rounds’ favorability ratio among the people expressing a preference for Pressler is a horrendous 18:74 percent.
This poll indicates that the South Dakota Senate race may not be as battened down as conventional wisdom has been suggesting. It is yet another campaign that deserves watch status.

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