Missouri Polls Shows Gingrich Leading, Brunner Rising, and Randles Edging Spence

Feb 1, 2012 at 1:00 pm

With the presidential primary campaign circus coming to Missouri both next week (for the election that doesn't count) and next month (for the official caucus), we're likely to soon see a serious spike in the number of polls about us. Which means it's is a good time for some Horse Race talk. Public Policy Polling released a comprehensive one yesterday, surveying respondent on three compelling GOP primary races: presidential, senatorial, and gubernatorial.

Here are some notable findings:

The Gingrich-Santorum Paradox

Newt Gingrich, taking 30 percent of the hypothetical vote, led the presidential primary field, although Rick Santorum, at 28 percent, was within the margin of error. Mitt Romney sat a close third with 24 percent and Ron Paul was at the back of the pack with 11 percent. Interestingly, though, when respondents were asked whom they would vote for if it came down to Gingrich and Romney, the former House Speaker led the former Massachusetts governor by just one point, 43 to 42. But when the choice was between Romney and Santorum, Santorum blew past Romney by 13 points, 50 to 37.

This seems to challenge the conventional wisdom that conservative voters will coalesce around whichever "Romney-Alternative" candidate sticks around longer, Gingrich or Santorum. These numbers suggest that there is a slice of Santorum voters who will not necessarily jump to Gingrich in the event Santorum drops out. Of course this make sense, given that many in Satorum's base, the religious right, may be turned off by Gingrich's marital history and/or his tendency in past years to promote big government policies.

Santorum has a good opportunity in Missouri. Gingrich will not be on the February 7 primary ballot, as he decided not to file for the contest. While that election is purely aesthetic, it provides Santorum the opportunity to gain some momentum by showing the country that he can challenge Romney one-on-one, perhaps more effectively than Gingrich. When respondents were asked whom they would vote for among the candidates on the ballot here (Romney, Santorum, Paul), Santorum held a commanding 45 percent, eleven points ahead of Romney. He has the highest favorability rating in the state-- 63 percent to Gingrich's 52, Romney's 46, and Paul's 28.

He seems to sense this opening. He was the first of the candidates to campaign in the Show Me State, stumping in front of a packed auditorium in St. Charles earlier this week.

Brunner Making Up Ground on Akin and Steelman

The last time PPP polled for Missouri's GOP U.S. Senate primary contest, in September, John Brunner took 6 percent of the vote. Since then, he has hit the state with a handful of television ads highlighting his history as a businessman. At the same time, he did not participate in either of the contest's first two debates. Yet the strategy seems to be working for now, as his name recognition has risen significantly. He climbed his way to 18 percent in this poll, closing the gap with Todd Akin, 23 percent, and Sarah Steelman, 32 percent.

More than a quarter of respondents answered "not sure," so, as the race heats up and the debates and stump speeches multiply, each candidate will have ample opportunity to seize control. It remains to be seen how Brunner, who has had yet to really articulate distinctive policy position, will hold up once he gets into the ring and rhetorically spars with Akin and Steelman. It's hard to imagine Brunner catching them on the thrust of campaign ads alone.

Grassroots Campaigning Beating Heavy War Chest

When Peter Kinder dropped out of the gubernatorial race in November, there was much discussion over who would step in to challenge the strong incumbent Jay Nixon. Two months later, that discussion persists. As the poll numbers illustrate, this race hasn't really gotten going yet. When respondents were asked whom they would select between the two Republican primary candidates, Bill Randles and Dave Spence, 74 percent answered "not sure," 15 percent picked Randles and 12 percent picked Spence. When respondents were asked whether they viewed each candidate favorably or unfavorably, 82 percent answered "not sure" for Randles and 86 percent answered "not sure" for Spence.

It could be worse for Spence, who's most recent headline involved his campaign misleading voters into thinking that he had an economics degree from Mizzou when his degree was actually in home economics. A packaging mogul with deep pockets, Spence launched his first television ad earlier this week. By contrast, Randles, who was the first candidate to file for the race, has been campaigning the old fashion way for months, traveling the state, shaking hands and stumping, building fervent grassroots support behind his judicial reform platform. So far, as Randles slightly leads Spence, the retail politicking has paid off.

With most voters relatively unfamiliar with both candidates at this point, their low polling numbers can't be taken too seriously. When state auditor Tom Schweich, who has considered jumping into race, was added to the ballot, respondents gave him 28 percent of the vote, nearly triple Randles' take and quadruple Spence's. But, even then, 55 percent answered "not sure."

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