Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Roundhouse Roundup: NM's Straw Poll

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
September 10, 2009

You might think that the first balloting in the lengthy U.S. presidential selection process takes place in Iowa in January.

You’d be correct about Iowa. But, at least on the Republican side, the first balloting for president is the Ames Straw Poll, which takes place in the month of August the year before the election.

It’s not a binding ballot. Anyone who buys a ticket to the fundraising dinner for the Iowa GOP is eligible to vote. A very small number of people actually participate. But the candidates spend a lot of time, energy and big cash bucks to load people from all over the state onto buses to get to that dinner and cast their proverbial straws.

About the closest thing in New Mexico we have to the Ames Straw Poll is the weekly Web poll on Heath Haussamen’s N.M. Politics Web site. At least when the question deals with electoral matchups. Nobody spends any significant money, but the campaigns do their best to get out their supporters.

This week, the question is which of six announced Democrats should win the lieutenant governor primary next year.

As of 6 p.m. Wednesday, former Democratic Party state chairman Brian Colón had a commanding lead in the Haussamen poll. Colón had 412 votes, 50 percent of the online votes cast. His closest opponent, Santa Fe Sheriff Greg Solano, had 153 votes, or 18 percent.

This might not be an accident. On Wednesday morning, Colón, using his Twitter account, began promoting the poll. “Please support our campaign for Lt. Governor by voting in Heath Haussamen’s poll today,” he said in a message, which also appeared on his Facebook page. Naturally, there was a live link to Haussamen’s site.

Early in the afternoon, Colón zapped a similar message to those on his campaign e-mail list.
“Participating won’t add you to any future e-mail list,” the e-mail said. “Click your choice and let’s send an early message about our grassroots movement with the campaign.”

Colón wasn’t the only candidate to use Facebook to get the word out about the poll. Similar posts could be found on pages belonging to Joe Campos, Jerry Ortiz y Pino, Lawrence Rael and Solano, who also used Twitter to plug the poll.

But, as Haussamen said in an e-mail conversation, “Colón has been by far the most active.”
Of course, this week isn’t the first time in recent months that candidates have rallied their troops to participate in the online poll.

In early June, Republican gubernatorial candidate Allen Weh won Haussamen’s poll, narrowly beating former Congresswoman Heather Wilson — who has said she’s thinking about running. Weh issued a news release saying, “A recent online poll on one of the state’s most popular political blogs shows that Albuquerque businessman Allen Weh is the preferred GOP nominee for governor in 2010. … The results reveal that New Mexicans believe I’m the strongest candidate to take on Diane Denish in 2010.

Haussamen wrote at the time, “While I’m flattered that the Weh campaign takes my site so seriously, the reality is that I intend the non-scientific polls for fun only. It’s no secret that such polls can be manipulated.” He pointed out that his polls usually attract about 200 votes, but the week Weh won there were more than 400. “Which means someone, or more likely more than one someone, made an intentional effort to get people to this site to vote in the poll,” Haussamen wrote.
Adam Kokesh
A month later, Republican challenger Adam Kokesh got 79 percent of the poll vote against incumbent Democrat Ben Ray Luján. That week there were 951 votes. Haussamen noted that there were posts on at least two Web sites associated with supporters of Ron Paul. It can’t be determined how many of the votes cast came from the heavily Democratic 3rd Congressional District.

“Online polls can be manipulated in nefarious ways, but in general, I’ve found that the candidates who win the polls are the ones who tend to be well organized, so it does tend to be a test of organization,” Haussamen said Wednesday.

He also observed sardonically, “The candidates seems to take these polls way more seriously than I do.”