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Democratic PPP Polls Flood Early Senate Landscape

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PPP tested former Ohio secretary of state Ken Blackwell as a potential Senate candidate earlier this cycle before he was even publicly exploring a bid.

In recent years, Democrats have consistently criticized Rasmussen Reports for flooding the public space with polls and driving the narrative of races to favor Republican candidates. But six months into the 2012 cycle, public polling in Senate races has been dominated by one Democratic firm.

Public Policy Polling, an automated interview polling company based in North Carolina, has conducted almost 60 percent of all public polls measuring hypothetical 2012 Senate matchups up to this point in the cycle.

The firm counts Democratic candidates and interest groups as clients, but the majority of PPP’s Senate polls this year were conducted on the firm’s dime as a marketing strategy.

That strategy has drawn some criticism.

Setting aside controversy over the firm’s methodology, some Republicans believe the Democratic firm has ulterior motives.

“I think they are intentionally trying to instigate primaries,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Executive Director Rob Jesmer said.

Earlier this cycle in Ohio, PPP tested Ken Blackwell (R) as a potential Senate candidate even though there was no public reason to believe the former Ohio secretary of state was contemplating a bid. Of course, Democrats wouldn’t mind running against Blackwell based on his 2006 gubernatorial run, during which he received a smaller share of the vote than all but one candidate since World War II.

But after PPP polls in December and March found he was competitive and even led the hypothetical GOP primary field, Blackwell publicly explored a race for weeks until he bowed out Friday.

PPP also tested former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in the Arizona Senate race and unpopular Republicans Meg Whitman and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the California Senate contest even though each was highly unlikely to run for the Senate next year.

Republicans also are frustrated with the media’s failure to identify PPP’s partisanship when reporting on its surveys.

“They’re a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party,” Jesmer charged.

In an interview with Roll Call, PPP Director Tom Jensen downplayed his firm’s influence, but he made no apologies for the company’s decision to pay for its own polls. Jensen called it a “tremendous sales strategy” and added that the past six months have been the most successful in the firm’s existence.

The gratis public polls allow PPP to “build up a track record of accuracy,” according to Jensen, particularly with potential clients who are suspicious of automated polling.

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