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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Is it Medina or "Neither of the Other Two" who's "coming on strong" for the Texas GOP gubernatorial nomination?

After a long blogging hiatus, I wrote last Friday about the 2010 Texas gubernatorial race. I was dismissive of the chances of GOP candidate Debra Medina, who's identified with both the Tea Party movement and, perhaps less closely, with the 2008 enthusiasts over Ron Paul's presidential candidacy.

Today InstaPundit Glenn Reynolds links a David Fredosso post in the Washington Examiner which, in turn, touts a Public Policy Polling report that "Medina is coming on strong," asserting that she's "now at 24%, just four points behind Kay Bailey Hutchison's 28%." Claiming to be a poll of "likely GOP primary voters," PPP's poll was apparently one of those telephone robo-polls.

Now, as I've written here before many times over many years: I hate polls and pollsters in general; I think they're pernicious and evil, that they've come to distort the American political process in ways that are usually bad, and that they're given undue weight by the media and pundits and (worst of all) by politicians. One of the things I liked best about George W. Bush throughout his presidency was that he absolutely refused to be driven by polls, in very dramatic contrast to his immediate predecessor in office. Agree with them and him or not, Dubya has principles, and he governed by them for the most part (albeit with some conspicuous exceptions, and he was most consistent with regard to his most passionately held principles, e.g., on matters of post-9/11 national security). I don't know or much care whether PPP is one of the "better and more honest" pollsters; as far as I'm concerned, that's like discussing "better and more honest" timeshare condo salesmen.

Accordingly, I'm especially skeptical of any poll that's automated and that relies on what is essentially offensively-oriented voicemail — using the word "offensive" there in both the sense of being unpleasant, and in the sense of being non-passive and intrusive.

But when you drill down into the actual polling questions and results, you'll find this question and answer that I think is hugely significant, but that PPP, Fredosso, and Prof. Reynolds all ignore:

Q5 Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Debra Medina? If favorable, press 1. If unfavorable, press 2. If you’re not sure, press 3.

Favorable........................................................ 40%
Unfavorable .................................................... 9%
Not Sure.......................................................... 51%

If there's a figure that's significantly understated in this entire poll, I suspect it's that last one. I would wager a Whataburger Patty Melt Meal, even a Whata-sized one with a milkshake and a hot apple pie, that nowhere close to 49% of likely Texas GOP primary voters could tell us one significant fact about Debra Medina other than, perhaps, at most, that she's not an incumbent state or federal politician.

I think that the appropriate interpretation of this poll, in the current political climate, is that most of the votes purportedly for Medina are actually for "Neither of the other two" — at least when the only other choices are Perry and Hutchison. Perry and Hutchison have been on the ballot over and over and over again; their names are extremely familiar to Texas voters in a year in which that's as much a curse as a benefit. Indeed, the poll shows that both Perry and Hutchison have roughly 50% job approval ratings, which I think is probably not too far off. But Perry has some high negatives — not all the voters who snicker at references to "Gov. Goodhair" are Democrats, and even some who like him are very uncomfortable with the ideal of a 10-year governor running for re-election — and Hutchison is widely perceived in some parts of the state as being part of the elite Bush-41-style RINOs who've been thoroughly corrupted by spending too long in Washington. (That's not exactly my own view of either of them, for what it's worth, but it's also fair to say that I'm not doing backflips over either's candidacy.)

It's very easy to blow off some steam in an automated telephonic robo-poll where pressing the button for an unknown or little known candidate costs you nothing. Taking the trouble to go to the primaries to cast a vote to match that phone button stab — whether as a protest or as a substantive endorsement of Ms. Medina's candidacy — is a whole 'nuther deal.

I can't rule out entirely the possibility, suggested by Freddoso and others, that Medina now threatens to beat out Hutchison for a spot in a GOP run-off, although I still think that's pretty unlikely. I wouldn't much mind seeing that happen, actually, if it served to help re-enforce the Tea Partiers' message to both major political parties that they can't just continue to give lip service to fiscal conservatism while spending like promiscuous frat boys at a strip club with Daddy's Amex Platinum Card.

But will a majority of Texas GOP primary voters actually cast their ballots, at the only poll which counts, for a political unknown with no prior experience in any public office — knowing that candidate will be running against a formidable and extremely well-financed Democratic candidate like Bill White? Nuh-uh, compadre. That's just not going to happen. Not in a state-wide race in Texas, anyway — not this year.


UPDATE (Fri Feb 12 @ 1:25am): As reader "Paul in Houston" commented below, Ms. Medina has, at a minimum, hit a speed bump when, in response to questioning on Glenn Beck's radio show as to whether the government was involved in the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11, she answered: “I think some very good questions raised have been raised in that regard.” (DRJ has posted a transcript over at Patterico's.)

I'm inclined to agree with Ed Morrissey that her later written statement trying to walk this answer back is not very convincing, and Ed may also be right that the recent polling before this statement may have constituted "the apex of her political career."

If Ms. Medina had a track record of solid performance as a principled conservative in any public office, one might be inclined to say, "Oh, well, Glenn Beck — he's a big-mouthed rabble-rouser who's just out for ratings," which is unquestionably true, and to assume that this was just an unfortunate misstatement by Ms. Medina, a "gotcha moment" in which we ought to credit her written retraction over her spontaneous answer in the Beck interview. But if we take politicians at face value, then we'd all have to believe that Barack Obama is absolutely committed to fiscal conservatism and to reigning in government spending. Deeds trump statements; absent deeds, spontaneous words trump carefully rewritten words.

Although I think Beck's usually a clown, he stumbles upon or makes real news from time to time, and there's no doubt that he's high-profile enough now that this incident will dramatically increase Medina's name recognition among Texas GOP primary voters. But I think it probably will diminish the odds of her making a run-off to nearly nothing.

Posted by Beldar at 05:57 PM in 2010 Election, Politics (2010), Politics (Texas) | Permalink


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(1) Paul_In_Houston made the following comment | Feb 10, 2010 10:02:17 PM | Permalink

That's just not going to happen. Not in a state-wide race in Texas, anyway — not this year.

Unless and until she makes herself much better known, you are probably correct.

Look at the Kinky Friedman run for governor; lots of people had heard of him, and many had seen him in interviews where he was very good at anecdotes, but he had almost nothing to say about what he would actually try to do in office; no details, nada. I still can't decide if the joke his run became was intentional or not; I have difficulty believing that he was serious.

Texans love characters, but are far more pragmatic than many realize when it comes time to actually vote for someone.

If Medina becomes much better know, and we like what we see, then the picture changes considerably. Can she become another Scott Brown? We'll just have to see.


(2) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Feb 11, 2010 1:31:06 AM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: Nope. At the moment, I'd give 5 to 3 odds against Medina. Those are bad odds, but not hopeless. It's a poor year for long serving incumbents and establishmentarians. It's true that Texas doesn't have these factors that helped Scott Brown:

a) no arrogant inept candidate as Coakley was.
b) no state political establishment that thinks it's in the bag for one candidate.
c) no issue for any candidate to seize the way Scott Brown seized the "41st vote" issue to get national attention and dough

But the anti-incumbent mood is strong enough and 2010 is shaping up as a GOP year. This may encourage voters to take a flyer on Medina to send the state and national establishments a message. I also think that strong turnout will help Medina more than the other two. We'll see on 2 March.

Do you have any thoughts on this Texas case?

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(3) Paul_In_Houston made the following comment | Feb 11, 2010 10:52:26 AM | Permalink

This just in, re: Debra Medina

Debra Medina Just Screwed Up....

Kathleen McKinley (who used to blog as RightWingSparkle) wrote extensively about Debra, with great hope, and is the reason I've even heard of her.

If she's become disenchanted; not good, not good at all. :(


(4) Beldar made the following comment | Feb 11, 2010 3:14:01 PM | Permalink

Mr. Koster (#2): I've seen similar articles to the one you linked about Nurse Mitchell, and they're obviously troubling, but I'm not sufficiently confident that I know what's actually going on out there to blog about it yet.

Regarding anti-incumbency, my sense is that at least here in Texas, that's largely (although not quite exclusively) directed at the federal government and at officials in federal elective offices. The grumbling at and mocking of what goes on in Austin is not much above "normal" levels. I could be wrong about that, because most of my knowledge about the Texas elements of the Tea Party movement comes from the press and the blogosphere rather than from first-hand involvement in it. I agree with your listed items, and that there's no strong Scott Brown parallel here in our state primaries this year (although I was thoroughly delighted to watch his success in "Massachusettes" and made a rare-for-me modest donation to his campaign).

Paul in Houston (#3): Thanks very much for that link! It tends to confirm something I've strongly suspected, which is that Ms. Medina hasn't yet been very thoroughly vetted, and that again is a function of the fact that she's a political newcomer as a candidate. If I'm not mistaken, her most notable prior political achievement was to be the head of the Wharton County GOP for a time. While Wharton and Wharton County are fine places, and while I reject the prejudice of those who think rural communities can't produce very fine and able people, I think even most folks there would acknowledge that as a pretty limited public position, and an unlikely platform from which to launch a serious campaign to become the state's chief executive.

Is she a Truther? Does she subscribe to some of Rep. Paul's most extreme beliefs? It's very hard to be confident of the answer to questions like that without a track record to also consider. By contrast, Rep. Ron Paul has such a track record; I first met him and chatted with him at a Texas Young Republicans function in Dallas during the mid-1970s as he was starting his career, and I've followed him ever since; and I have no doubt about him. Which is to say, I am entirely confident, and have been for many years, that Rep. Paul is an idiosyncratic crank with a few good ideas and a great many absolutely awful ones. I don't mean to insult his many supporters, and I respect their passion, their willingness to reason from first principles, and their eagerness to challenge authority; but they are a very mixed crew themselves, with considerable internal tension, and he is a dreadfully imperfect vessel for their hopes.

I've spent some time browsing Ms. Medina's website, and one disquieting thing about that -- I'll admit she's not the only candidate of whom this is true -- is that there are rapturous supporters posting there who are each absolutely certain that "their Debra" has firmly endorsed this position or that, and some of those positions are directly contradictory. Ironically, that was also true of Obama's campaign: Very disaffected people used him as a canvas upon which to project their hopes and preferences, without regard to what he had said and done. Now many of those folks are suffering buyer's remorse.

I suppose there could be a significant downside to Ms. Medina making the runoff, in opposition to the upside I speculated about in my original post, above: If it turns out that she is a crank, or a Truther or whatever, she may feed ammunition to the powerful, entrenched, and very liberal interests who are actively (and mostly covertly) engaged in trying to discredit the Tea Party movement as something confined to an ultra-conservative fringe. To the extent that, in turn, might reinforce the smug isolation of a lot of Washington incumbents of both parties, it would be a bad thing.

(5) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Feb 11, 2010 7:48:58 PM | Permalink

Holy cow. Paul, here's the audio of what Medina said on Glenn Beck's show. Completely unforced error. I could never support her after this. Hope all Texas voters come to the same conclusion.

(6) Mark L made the following comment | Feb 13, 2010 7:25:03 AM | Permalink

It is more than Medina saying that the question of whether or not the US government was involved in the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11 is open. By saying "I think some very good questions raised have been raised in that regard," she is also saying that there are very good questions as to whether a former Texas governor - George W. Bush - was involved in the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11.

She did not say that directly, but Bush was President on 9-11. If the US government was involved in the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11 Bush was either in on the plan or criminally negligent.

Some of W's actions as President irritated me, but the idea that Bush would sanction the deaths of thousands in such a manner is plain nuts. And anyone who could answer a question implying that Bush was capable of doing that with any answer short of a flat, plain, unequivocal "no" does not deserve to be governor of Texas.

(7) BBstile made the following comment | Feb 13, 2010 9:13:08 AM | Permalink

See following email I sent to Medina's website after the Glen Beck thing:

"I was going to vote for you, but:

1: You are either so stupid that you said you were a truther on national TV, or

2: You are an idiot truther.

Either way, you are an idiot and no longer a viable candidate for governor of Texas as far as I am concerned and I have told all of my friends who were going to vote for you about this.

I am greatly disappointed!"

Many of my friends were going to vote for her (If for no other reason, than to 'send a message')and I believe she had a good chance to push Hutchinson out of the race. My response was sent to all of my friends and their thoughts were similar to mine. She is now toast.

P.S.: Apparently she went on TV? in Houston yesterday and did the same thing about the "Troofers"! Where do these people come from, and how do they float so easily to the top of the pond? Of course, if we knew the answer to that, we would know the answer to Obama. Best wishes on your return.

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