I recently received some surprising polling results for Senate District 26, which includes a handful of communities in central Cumberland county. (The district is currently SD12 but, due to re-districting, it will become SD 26 in 2014 when Hollis is taken out and replaced with Baldwin.)
In a district where Gov. Paul LePage is winning 42-30-21 over U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud and unenrolled Eliot Cutler respectively, incumbent Republican state Sen. Gary Plummer is losing to former Democratic state Sen. Bill Diamond, 48-34. That is a remarkably low number for an incumbent and an even more remarkably low number for a Republican incumbent where the head of his party is winning handily.
The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling from Sept. 26 – 29 and has a margin of error of 4.5 percent. You can read the toplines from the poll here.
As background, the district includes Baldwin, Casco, Frye Island, Raymond, Standish and Windham. It is a classic swing/moderate district in Maine. Party identification is basically a third Democrat, a third Republican and a third unenrolled. While the boundaries have changed a little over time, Democrat Carol Kontos held it in the 1990s before Republican Karl Turner ousted her in 2000. Then, after re-districting moved Turner into a new district, Diamond won the seat. And now Plummer holds it. For those losing track at home, that means in the past 20 years the district has gone Dem, Rep, Dem, Rep. Classic swing.
First, for those of us Democrats freaking out over the fact that LePage is winning this district by 12 points, realize that this is a district LePage won. And, in reality, he is actually down by three points from his overall vote total in 2010 when he garnered 45 percent of the vote. This mirrors pretty closely what we have seen statewide with LePage down three to four points from where he finished in 2010 (38 percent then vs. 34-35 percent now). That said, LePage’s margin above the second place finisher is much stronger today than it was in 2010. LePage won the district by six points in 2010 and is now winning by 12 percent. So, we 61 percenters cannot be lazy!
However, the most interesting news is clearly that Diamond is beating a sitting incumbent so strongly. No doubt that Diamond is well known, having been secretary of state and having held the seat for eight years, but even when you control for name identification (by only counting the responses of those who know both candidates) Diamond wins handily. In fact, his lead increases to 53-37.
Perhaps the biggest reason for Diamond’s lead is the hometown edge he holds over Plummer. Both come from Windham (almost 47 percent of the district) and both are well liked — Diamond at 68 percent favorability and Plummer at 56 percent. But when you put these two up against each other in this vital battleground, Diamond crushes Plummer by 21 points, 55 percent-34 percent. Tough to win a race when your hometown goes for the other guy. (Think Al Gore losing Tennessee.)
On top of the advantage Diamond starts with, the poll tested a bunch of issues and positions showing that Diamond could probably bury Plummer further. Among the 18 percent of undecided voters in the head-to-head matchup, a plurality of 43 percent say they are less likely to support someone who voted with LePage 90 percent of the time, and 41 percent say they are less likely to support a candidate who opposed expanding health care. Both of which are positions Plummer has taken.
But perhaps Plummer’s worst piece of news is that among the people who said they would vote for him, 29 percent say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who does not support background checks for the purchase of firearms. This is a position Plummer took and one that could be easily communicated with a few pieces of mail.
In the end, if Diamond is thinking about whether to run for his old seat, there is really only one conclusion he should reach from these numbers. Run. He could barely ask for a stronger position against a sitting incumbent. Plus, if he runs and wins, he would virtually guarantee that senate Democrats would retain the majority and perhaps even expand their numbers.
However, the more interesting question is whether Plummer should even run for re-election if Diamond decides to get in. Plummer is a very decent guy (I served with him for two terms, and he has been supportive of the organization I run), and I can’t imagine him running the kind of scorched earth campaign necessary to have a shot at beating Diamond.
If he wants to stay in the Legislature, one thought is that he could easily run for his old House seat in Windham. (Rumor has it that the Democrat holding the seat now will not run for re-election.) As mentioned above, this polling showed he is very well liked in Windham (56 percent favorability to only 21 percent unfavorable), and I imagine he would win it easily. This would also help Republican efforts to win back the House and might give him some leverage for committee assignments.
One note: This poll was paid for and given to me by Diamond. Because of this, as you can see from my analysis, I insisted on full access to the entire poll and pollster before I agreed to write. Diamond provided both, and I am more than satisfied that the methodology was neutral. Additionally, PPP has a very strong record of accuracy in Maine, and a recent poll it did on the governor’s race, which showed Michaud in first, was confirmed by Mike Tipping’s results two weeks later. PPP also declared to me that it stands by this poll as if it paid for it itself.
But perhaps the best evidence that the poll is accurate is the fact that it has LePage doing so well. Clearly, as a strong Michaud supporter, Diamond would not be interested in numbers that show LePage winning by such a strong margin, if at all.
Posted by Ethan Strimling