The twenty-plus point blowout surprised almost all observers of the race between Audra Strickland and Linda Parks, and speculation has begun on the cause of the rout.
What did the polls say before the race started?
The first question to ask is: was Strickland doomed from the start, or did something happen during the campaign that cost her victory?
Back in January, before Strickland officially entered the race, a poll was paid for by Strickland allies that seemed to indicate the termed out assemblywoman would be competitive. However, the Ventura County Star labeled it a push poll, indicating that it would artificially make Strickland appear to be more competitive with Parks.
The Ventura County Deputy Sheriffs' Association, a Parks ally, polled in February and showed that voters had a "toxic" level of negative views about Strickland just before she launched her campaign. Marc O'Hara, who owns the company that conducted the poll said Linda Parks had the much easier path to victory and estimated that if the election were held in February, Parks would get 52 percent of the vote.
His poll showed that 58.5 percent of registered voters had a positive opinion of Parks compared to Strickland's 45.6 percent.
The final vote tally was 61 percent for Parks and 38 percent for Strickland. After seeing the results of the poll, Dr. Herb Gooch said:
"If I were running Audra Strickland's campaign, I'd be worried," he said. "She's got a lot of work to do. ... In order to win, she's got to not only project herself on the positives, but she's got to build up Parks' negatives, which should tell you it's not going to be a very pleasant campaign."
Gooch considered the O'Hara poll a "rough estimate" of the attitudes of the voters of the 2nd District. Were voters turned off that Strickland flirted with running for three different offices? Did they disapprove that she would have to move into the district to be eligible to run? Did they not like her performance in the Assembly? The poll can't provide those answers.
If the poll--and we should be wary of both polls as they were paid for by people with interests in the race--indicated a close race in February where Parks would have started off with 52 percent of the vote, and she ultimately won with 61 percent of the vote, we must assume that something happened during the campaign to widen the gap.
What happened during the race?
Two of the main characteristics about the campaign were that it was expensive and contentious. There were numerous attack mailers, debate standoffs, allegations of carpetbagging, and allegations of campaign finance violations. Both sides engaged in each of those, but--assuming Strickland and Parks started off about even, as the above section would attest--voters sided with Parks convincingly. Why?
It seems voters associated Strickland more with each of those points of contention above. Her supporters did spend much more money on negative mailers. The Star opined:
In response, voters expressed disgust at the sheer volume of the mailers, the harsh negativity and the apparent high cost. Many complained that hundreds of thousands of dollars were being squandered in a bid to replace one Republican with another -- in a nonpartisan office -- instead of spending those resources in key partisan races.
Mrs. Parks even turned the withering negativity to her own advantage. She issued mailers identifying contributors to the opposition, and suggested that the onslaught was evidence that special interests aimed to defeat her. It is overly simplistic to say that voters re-elected Mrs. Parks to repudiate negative politicking. But if that was only a part of it, we approve.
When the Star endorsed Parks, one of the main reasons they gave was that Strickland didn't come off well by backing out of a debate and by agreeing to a subsequent debate where the objectivity of the moderator was called into question.
Another theory is not that voters rejected negativism, but that the mailers' messages didn't strike a chord.
"So much of the negatives were also generalized. If you are going to attack people, you better make it local," Dr. Gooch said.