Oxnard Senate candidate Jason Hodge, who is hosting a campaign fundraiser in Sacramento this afternoon, created quite a buzz in state political circles yesterday with the release of selected results from a private campaign poll that painted a disconcerting picture for Democrats in the new 19th Senate District.
Hodge is running against fellow Democrat Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara. Republican Mike Stoker, a former Santa Barbara County supervisor who ran unsuccessfully for Assembly two years ago, is widely expected to announce his candidacy soon.
An email from the Hodge campaign says, "The polarization issues that resulted in Hannah Beth Jackson's defeat four years ago after an $4 million effort on her behalf, continue to be a drag on her prospects and a danger to Democratic success."
The poll shows Stoker leading Jackson in a head-to-head matchup, 47 percent to 42 percent. Notable from Hodge's perspective is that the results show him to be in a virtual tie with Stoker in a head-to-head matchup.
That result is raising some eyebrows among political analysts, given that Democrats have a 12 percentage-point voter registration advantage in the district and that Barack Obama carried it by 23 points four years ago.
Jackson campaign consultant Steve Barkan told me today that the results of the Hodge's poll are "utterly inconsistent with what we've seen," and said that a poll taken by Jackson last year showed her to be comfortably ahead of Stoker in a head-to-head matchup.
What to believe? I've been hearing some pretty dubious claims from a variety of candidates and their campaigns in recent weeks about selective alleged results from their private polling. In this case, I've got to give Hodge high marks for transparency because he allowed me this morning to read over the entire poll, on the condition that I keep some of it confidential.
What Hodge didn't share, and said he didn't know, was how the universe of 400 "likely voters" was arrived at and the partisan makeup of the survey field it produced. The choice of voting history information used to define a "likely voter" can dramatically affect any poll's results.
But there was one finding that jumped out. It showed that Jackson's favorability rating was not good: 29 percent favorable, 28 percent unfavorable, 27 percent didn't know her.
That middle numble -- unfavorability -- is extraordinary high for a candidate running for a relatively low profile office.
Although I haven't seen data, I've heard summaries of recent polling in the area that shows Republican Sen. Tony Strickland of Moorpark with similarly high unfavorable ratings.
What that suggests is that the bruising, negative, $11 million campaign between Strickland and Jackson four years ago may have inflicted permanent damage upon both of them. It doesn't make either unelectable, but the notoriety generated during the previous campaign does create a handicap for both.
Barkan, although he wouldn't reveal numbers, said Jackson's own polling showed her favorable-unfavorable ratings to be significantly "rightside-up." Still, he acknowledged that what remains after the 2008 campaign is "a highly polarized district."