Poll: Déjà Vu All Over Again

Roemer May Plot Senate Bid

Posted June 8, 2005 at 6:46pm

Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) had a bit of a “Groundhog Day” moment this week. Or maybe it was more like Mark Twain.

Either way, the events of this week prove the old adage that history repeats itself in politics — and in polling.

As a result, allies of the Foreign Relations chairman are crying foul after Democratic polling data was leaked this week that seemed to indicate Lugar and former Rep. Tim Roemer (D-Ind.) would be in a dead heat in a hypothetical Senate contest.

Roemer, a former 9/11 commissioner, and his allies have said he is considering running for Senate in 2006 in light of the recent survey data.

For Lugar, it was déjà vu all over again.

After all it was five years ago, as Lugar was preparing to seek an unprecedented fifth term, that Democrats released polling data that showed the then-68-year-old Senator losing to a relatively unknown challenger.

That survey, conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, also found that only 36 percent of likely voters wanted to re-elect Lugar, while 37 percent wanted someone new.

So when news leaked this week that a new poll conducted by the same firm showed Lugar leading Roemer by a slim 2-point margin, Republicans quickly expressed outrage.

“The season is right,” said Nick Weber, Lugar’s campaign manager. “It seems that this is fairly reminiscent of things that have happened with the Senator before.”

This week, just as in 2000, only the informed ballot test — where respondents decide which candidate they would support after being given a brief description of each one — was made public.

Yang did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday, and the generic head-to-head results have not been released, but sources said the poll showed Lugar’s re-elect at 50 percent.

The new data also appears to contrary to earlier independent polling. One survey conducted this past April showed Lugar with a 72 percent approval rating among Hoosiers as a whole, and with a 69 percent approval rating among Democrats in the state.

Similarly, public polling taken shortly after the Democratic survey was released in 2000 showed Lugar defeating Democrat David Johnson 69 percent to 24 percent — a stark contrast to the 54 percent 31 percent edge the informed ballot question had given Johnson.

Lugar went on to win re-election that year with 67 percent of the vote.

“It was not indicative of future results,” Weber said. “And I would say that any numbers that are done at this point, particularly with this push, have to be viewed this way as well.”

But Roemer does have a résumé and a fundraising ability that far eclipses Johnson, an Indianapolis attorney, former Senate staffer and close associate of then-Indiana Gov. Frank O’Bannon (D).

And if Roemer runs, Lugar could see his first close re-election contest in more than 20 years. The question is, how seriously is Roemer looking at taking on the longest-serving Senator in the state’s history?

Roemer — who served in the House from 1990 until retiring in 2002, campaigned for chairman of the Democratic National Committee earlier this year and currently heads the Center for National Policy — said this week he’s thinking about a running for office again.

“The poll suggests that the majority of Hoosiers think the country is on the wrong track — and that they are ready for change,” he said in a statement. “I will carefully consider how to best continue my public service and do what is best for my family.”

But while Roemer is said to have long harbored Senate aspirations, he has also made no secret about the fact that he doesn’t enjoy raising money — an essential aspect of any statewide bid. Also, he said his decision to retire from the House in 2002 was made in part to allow him to spend more time with his young family.

In his last House campaign, Roemer raised $679,000 and won 52 percent of the vote against now-Rep. Chris Chocola (R), who was elected to succeed him in 2002.

While Roemer is known and still remains popular in his South Bend-based district — and his moderate credentials would play well statewide — he is undoubtedly less familiar to voters outside of his home territory.

Weber, Lugar’s campaign manager, noted that now-Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) spent some $19 million to win an open-seat gubernatorial election last year. Early polling in that race showed that less than half of the state’s voters were familiar with Daniels, who had been Office of Management and Budget director for President Bush.

But if the recently conducted Democratic poll tested Roemer’s name ID — no one appears willing to talk about those results.

Neither Fred Yang, who conducted the poll, nor Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker returned calls for comment Wednesday.

According to a source familiar with the poll, which was paid for by the Indiana Democratic Party, the results boosted Roemer’s interest.

“It came back surprisingly better than anticipated,” said a Democratic strategist with ties to Roemer. “I think it’s ramped up his consideration.”

Lugar announced in April that he would seek a sixth term next year and by the end of the month he is expected to have more than $3 million in the bank. He already has a campaign office and key staff in place.

Lugar has twice defeated sitting Democratic House Members in his re-election campaigns. He beat then-Rep. Jim Jontz (D) taking 67 percent in 1994, and in 1982 he beat then-Rep. Floyd Fithian (D), winning 54 percent.