by Max Brantley
Fox 16 has just released the gubernatorial horse race numbers from Stephens Media-sponsored polling..
Hold onto your hats and get your earplugs to dampen the shrieks shortly to be emanating from Republican offices:
Little Rock's widely respected and reliable Opinion Research Associates (Ernie and Zoe Oakleaf) polled 500 Arkansans on the four potential candidates and got these numbers:
Beebe by 21? I don't think even the pollsters themselves would enthusiastically credit this wide a gap. Stephens columnist John Brummett has written a column for Tuesday saying he doesn't believe his organization's numbers. But the numbers are the numbers and so they're releasing them, as they should.
We can say with utter confidence that the Oakleafs are straight up professionals. They've worked for both Republican and Democratic candidates over the years and their record is as good as any research outfit I know of. The sample was evenly distributed among the four congressional districts. There are some underlying numbers -- favorability ratings on the president and governor; name recognition numbers, favorability numbers on the gubernatorial candidates -- that square with other surveys. But 21 points for Beebe?
It won't end that way, we're reasonably sure.
But, just for the sake of argument, consider these factors: Beebe has consistently been polling around 45 percent. He's just gone on the air with a major ad buy. Hutchinson had not hit TV when the polling was done. A 52-point score for Beebe isn't far outside his margin of error on earlier polls (nor is Hutchinson's 31, against his numbers, which have generally been in the high 30s to about 40.) For both of them to hit the best (or worst) possible outcomes seems unlikely, we grant you.
Republicans will respond by sliming the Oakleafs. The last time Republicans slimed them was when their polling indicated Mark Pryor would beat Tim Hutchinson. There was much Republican wailing about the numbers then and the GOP made their standard argument that the Oakleafs should have overweighted Northwest Arkansas. You know how that election turned out. In fact, the name Hutchinson for the current gubernatorial candidate probably contributes to his poor favorability rating among many poll respondents. Some confuse him with his brother.
Other key factors: Beebe enjoys much lower unfavorable ratings among conservative voters than Hutchinson registers among moderate to liberal voters. Hutchinson is viewed, overall, far more negatively.
Only one poll counts. A couple of million bucks, at least, will be spent on TV before it's done.