When analyzing an incumbent's vulnerability it's important to look beyond the ballot score. "Hotline" asked a number of pollsters (both Democrat and Republican) the following question: When looking at a benchmark poll for an incumbent, which number do you think is most indicative of their chances for success? Here were their responses:
Glen Bolger, Public Opinion Strategies: The most important thing to look at for incumbents is their ballot score compared to 50 percent. If it is below or hovering around 50%, then they need be concerned. (Note: Patrick's ballot support is currently at 42%). Right direction/wrong track is also important. A high wrong track means more trouble for the party in power -- trouble that might not manifest itself till late in the campaign. (Note: Wrong track is at 52% - high number and 15% points higher than right direction)
Celinda Lake, Lake Research Partners: Job performance. Negative job performance 50% or over, or ten points or more net negative would be in the danger zone. (Note: Patrick's job approval is currently at 49%)
Dave Sackett, The Tarrance Group: When looking at a piece of data, the re-elect (both hard and soft) for an incumbent is a far more important measure of the relative strength or vulnerability of an incumbent. These diagnostics help you to understand and quantify the pro and anti-base, and identify the battleground voters. The "rule of thumb" on acceptable ranges has changed over the past two election cycles, but an incumbent usually needs to have a re-elect that is ten points higher than the new person. (Note: Re-elect 33% / 55% New Person --- This is 22% LOWER than New Person)
Charlie still remains relatively unknown at this point in the race (63% have no opinion of him). This number is not only driving the ballot dynamics, but Patrick's strategy as well. It explains why Patrick has benefited from Cahill's drop and how Patrick can out-perform both his image and job approval. It also explains why Patrick has gotten so increasingly negative in the past weeks (the latest example being Monday's Herald where he called Charlie a fraud). It is still early in the race and as awareness of Charlie grows so will his ballot support. Deval, on the other hand, is already well-defined.
While Patrick may have run on "hope" and "change" in 2006 - this will be a much different race for him. Look for his campaign to get increasingly negative as they try to define Charlie before he gains any more steam. Rather than debate the issues or his record they will want to discredit the messenger because they understand the majority of voters aren't happy with the past four years (tax increases, reckless spending, Marion Walsh, support for illegal immigrants, etc...). It is why you are starting to see him use words like "dishonest," "disingenuous," and "fraud" when discussing Charlie. Just look to the on-line chatter (Twitter, facebook) coming from his campaign to get a clearer picture of their strategy. We must not get distracted by these tactics and should continue to highlight both Charlie's experiences and why he'll be a good governor, as well as Deval's failed policies and lack of leadership. As Charlie continues to push for reforms such as repealing Pacheco, ending the use of PLAs, and requiring proof of residency in order to receive state services, it will draw a strong contrast because Patrick continues to oppose these cost saving measures.
In addition, our fundraising numbers ensure we will have the resources needed to build our brand and tighten the ballot in the coming months.
Lastly - Tim Cahill is obviously in serious trouble and given his inability to raise funds and the recent revelations regarding his connections with the probation commissioner Jack O'Brien and the patronage system, it's difficult to see how he can win this race. Like so many races before it, this race will have two tiers with Deval and Charlie in the top tier and Cahill and Stein noticeably behind.