Democratic insiders, startled to learn that Republican Frank Hotchkiss is the nominal leader in the mayor’s race, grappled on Monday with the perplexing political calculus concocted by three candidates of their party campaigning for the job.
“Your poll has generated a lot of calls and emails,” Democratic Assembly member Monique Limon told Newsmakers, in a serendipitous chat at Peet's.
Limon, who so far has been neutral in the campaign, said that she has been urged to endorse in the race since Sunday morning, when Newsmakers published a survey of registered likely voters that shows Hotchkiss running first in the five-candidate field.
The 19-to-16 percent lead Hotchkiss holds over fellow council member Cathy Murillo, the Democratic Party candidate, is statistically insignificant, but politically volatile.
Hal Conklin and Bendy White, both Democrats, trail the two leaders and some Democratic activists and apparatchiks blame them for opening the door to a possible conservative victory.
Amid the persuasive efforts being brought to bear, Monique noted that not only Cathy, but also Hal and Bendy, have stood with her in her previous campaigns.
“It’s hard to come out against someone who’s supported you,” Limon said. “As of now, I’m not jumping in.”
Who are the undecided? As a political matter, Limon’s choose-between-your-children dilemma is being duplicated all over town.
With Conklin and White offering longer-running variations of her progressive politics, our survey shows that Murillo has not succeeded in unifying Democratic voters, despite the party endorsement, for reasons that may range from policy to personality.
The Newsmakers Poll represents a snapshot in time of the race, and is not predictive of the outcome. That will be shaped by the performances, messaging, marketing and media coverage of the candidates in the final two weeks.
With a margin of error of plus or minus five points, it shows the candidates ranked this way:
Frank Hotchkiss 19
Cathy Murillo 16
Hal Conklin 10
Angel Martinez 9
Bendy White 6
The key number is the 40 percent undecided.
Our poll takers interviewed 400 registered voters, who have a history of casting ballots in citywide elections, and who said they already have, or are likely, to take part in the Nov. 7 election.
This means that the 40 percent undecided bloc includes 132 survey respondents.
As a matter of methodology, sub-samples of that sub-sample are too small to be statistically significant, so it is imprudent to draw sweeping conclusions about the demographics or attitudes of the group.
That said (and because some readers asked) we note for the record that: 78 of the undecideds are Democrats (59 percent); 25 are Republicans (19 percent); 21 are registered decline-to-state independents (16 percent); and 8 are registered third party (6 percent).
If these proportions are generally reflected in the electorate as a whole, a reasonable man might infer that the bulk of the undecided are Democrats.
Within that context, local party leaders have begun imploring those who may be considering Conklin or White to rally behind Murillo.
“With two weeks remaining in this election, it is time for the voters and Democratic leaders of our city to unite around the only Democratic candidate who can defeat Frank Hotchkiss,” Gail Teton-Landis, chair of the Santa Barbara County Democratic Party said in a statement that was e-blasted around town.
“It is now time for all Democrats to unify around Cathy Murillo, who is the only viable Democratic candidate in the race,” her statement added.
In a telephone interview, Gail said that she was “speaking to voters” with her plea, not calling for Conklin or White to quit and throw support to Cathy (which would be a neat trick in any case, given that mail-in ballots with their names on them went out on Oct. 9).
“Certainly it’s a problem that three Democrats are running, but I’m just trying to get voters united,” she said. “It’s unimaginable that we’ll wake up on Wednesday morning (after the election) and find this progressive, environmental city has elected a climate change denier as its mayor.”
More fun with numbers. The Angel Martinez camp is applying its own spin to our poll, arguing that the large undecided group is made up primarily of voters unhappy with the state and direction of the city. As Josh Molina reported at Noozhawk:
Brian Robinson, Martinez’s campaign manager, suggested that many of the undecided voters will turn toward his candidate because they are turned off by the incumbents, all of them veteran council members.
“A majority of undecided voters think the city is on the wrong track,” he said. “Why would you vote for an incumbent if you thought the city was on the wrong track? We knew there were a lot of undecided voters. We see them breaking for us.”
We’re not sure what Angel’s internal polls show, but that’s not what data drawn from our undecided group suggests.
We broke out what the undecided group said, when asked if the city is on the right track or wrong track. This is what we found:
Santa Barbara is on: Percent
Right Track 49
Wrong Track 29
Don’t know 22
This mirrored the results from asking the question of the entire sample:
Santa Barbara is on: Percent
Right Track 49
Wrong Track 35
Don’t know 16
So there’s that.
Images: Assembly Member Monique Limon; Frank Hotchkiss (Paul Wellman, Santa Barbara Independent); Gail Teton-Landis (Democratic Women of Santa Barbara County); Angel Martinez.
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