Illinois: Durbin Challenger Mounts PR Offensive

Posted July 23, 2008 at 6:34pm

You can’t manufacture a competitive race with a poll and a press release.

It would be generous to call GOP nominee Steve Sauerberg a long shot against Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D). But you wouldn’t know it by the rhetoric coming from the Republican’s campaign.

“New Polling Shows Sauerberg within Striking Distance of Durbin,” blared a July 15 release. The campaign points to a July 12 poll by Southern Outreach showing Durbin ahead of Sauerberg 52 percent to 35 percent.

“This polling confirms what we have long believed,” Sauerberg campaign manager Christopher Hage said in the release. “No amount of money from Washington special interest groups will be able to change Dick Durbin’s disastrous 25-year record in D.C.”

But there are multiple problems with the release and analysis. First, the poll doesn’t inspire confidence. It’s an automated poll of 1,500 likely voters taken on a single day. And Southern Outreach, known more for its phone banks than survey research, doesn’t have much of a polling track record.

Second, despite Hage’s claims, money will be a factor, should a race actually develop.

Durbin had more than $8.1 million in the bank on June 30, compared with just over $1 million on hand for Sauerberg. Through the second quarter, Sauerberg raised only $431,000 from individuals, but he dumped in $1.3 million of his own money.

In addition, 60 percent of poll respondents said they didn’t know enough about Sauerberg to have an opinion of him. His campaign views it as a “tremendous opportunity for growth,” but he’ll need more than $1 million to boost his name identification. Maryland resident Alan Keyes (R) spent more than $2.5 million when he received 27 percent of the vote in the 2004 Senate race against Barack Obama (D). At least Sauerberg is doing better than Keyes in the polls.

Finally, the Sauerberg news release points out that Durbin is under 50 percent, and led Sauerberg by “only” 7 points, outside the Chicago-metro area. You can file that information under “irrelevant,” since Chicago votes will count in this election.