Secrest’s Political Clients Stay Put

Posted June 21, 2004 at 6:50pm

Less than a month removed from his high-profile separation from Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), Democratic pollster Alan Secrest says the incident has done little to impact his business and has even won him private kudos from many in the political community.

“Any time you have a public disagreement in this business it can make folks a little uncomfortable,” said Secrest, comparing the reaction of his clients to “overhearing a couple arguing at a restaurant.”

“We have been very gratified and overwhelmed by the gracious expressions of support and trust we’ve received from clients new and old,” he added.

In interviews with a number of his current Congressional clients, none of the Members said that they were reconsidering that relationship.

“What happened between Jim and Alan is between Jim and Alan,” said Rep. Tim Holden (D-Pa.). “I don’t want to get in the middle of a fight.”

Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), who has used Secrest since the start of his political career in 2000 when he defeated then-Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.), said he would not discuss “internal campaign politics” but added: “[Secrest] has always given me reliable information and I have always won.”

Most Members were similarly reluctant to address Secrest’s decision to quit the Moran campaign and blast his former client just days before the embattled seven-term incumbent faced a primary challenge from Arlington lawyer Andy Rosenberg.

Moran won that race with 59 percent of the vote, although Secrest’s resignation and subsequent allegations that the Congressman had made an anti-Semitic remark in a private meeting dominated the news coverage in the campaign’s final days.

As first reported in Roll Call, Secrest quit the Moran campaign, after two decades as the Virginia Congressman’s pollster, in a May 25 letter, writing that “a critical mass of poor judgment, at best, and maliciously inappropriate characterizations of others has finally been reached, at least for me and my staff.”

Moran chose not to comment for this story.

Secrest is renowned as a hard-driving, skilled, and at times irascible, figure in the Democratic consulting world.

Though several of Secrest’s rivals portrayed the Moran incident as simply the latest in a long string of contentious client relationships, none would speak for the record about these incidents.

Secrest chose to frame his approach to clients in a slightly different light.

“We have high expectations of those we work with as well as for ourselves,” he said. “I am impatient with the conventional wisdom when the conventional wisdom ill serves a client.”

Bob Doyle, a general consultant who regularly works with Secrest, conceded that the pollster is “tough” and “highly demanding.”

“Alan has been around a long time and he has lots of scars and lots of scalps on his wall,” said Doyle. “Anyone who has been in this business for a while knows what they are getting when they hire Alan.”

Last cycle, Secrest helped guide gubernatorial candidates to unlikely victories in the traditional Republican strongholds of Kansas and Oklahoma.

Secrest also touts himself as the only Democratic pollster who has managed to help House challengers oust Republican incumbents over the last few cycles.

Of the 19 new Democrats elected to the House in 2002, seven were Secrest clients.

Of those seven, three defeated Republican incumbents — the only Democratic challengers to do so. Republican Reps. Connie Morella (Md.), George Gekas (Pa.) and Felix Grucci (N.Y.) all fell to Secrest clients last cycle.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D), who defeated Morella in Maryland’s 8th district, said he had no qualms about continuing to employ the pollster.

Van Hollen did add that he was “planning to have a discussion with Alan to better understand the situation.”

Secrest said his firm has sent packets of information on the Moran situation to a few clients designed “to put these circumstances in an appropriate context.”

He has also fielded a few follow up questions but, for the most part, “people have better things to focus on.”

Holden, who defeated Gekas in a redistricting-forced Member versus Member race in the Republican-leaning 17th district, said that he had spoken with Moran, whom he called “a personal friend” but had not reached out to Secrest.

“We have a good professional relationship,” said Holden. “He has never been wrong about my numbers.”

Using Secrest as his pollster, Rep. Tim Bishop (D) emerged victorious in a race against Grucci, but the two parted ways in November 2003, according to a spokesman for the New York Member.

For his part, Secrest paints himself as something of an outsider in the often insular-consulting world, taking on races widely viewed as unwinnable.

“It is not uncommon for us to be swimming upstream in terms of our methodology or our analysis,” said Secrest. “I am much more interested in serving our clients’ needs than posturing for the broader [political] community.”