By Alexander Bolton - 06/13/06 12:00 AM EDT
Former state Rep. Peggy Lamm leads her main rival, former state Sen. Ed Perlmutter, in the heated Democratic primary to replace retiring Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-Colo.), according to a new survey.
Press reports have mostly given Perlmutter a slight lead, but the new poll by Denver’s NBC TV affiliate and Survey USA suggest not.
Perlmutter’s campaign has unleashed a barrage of criticism against various polls to convince financial backers that he has the best shot.
The winner of the Aug. 8 Colorado primary will face former Colorado Department of Higher Education head Rick O’Donnell (R) in the general election.
Democratic leaders and donors in Washington are paying attention because there are several thousand more registered Democrats than Republicans in Beauprez’s district, which Democratic presidential nominees John Kerry and Al Gore narrowly won in 2004 and 2000, respectively. The general-election race is widely anticipated to be one of the closest in the nation.
The small edge Democrats have in registered voters may be offset, party leaders fear, by the possibility of a divisive primary among Lamm, Perlmutter and a third candidate, former Carter and Reagan administration official Herb Rubenstein.
Channel 9 News in Denver announced the results of its joint poll with Survey USA last week showing Lamm with the highest favorability rating and name identification of the three Democratic candidates. The data provide new fodder for debate over polling in the race.
Although primary voters may pay little attention until July, candidates believe, poll standing is crucial to attracting money for when the campaign hits high gear next month. Danielle Radovich Piper, Perlmutter’s campaign manager, complained when The Hill reported during a Perlmutter fundraising trip to Washington that Lamm was considered the front-runner on the basis of two polls Perlmutter disputed.
The Channel 9 News-Survey USA poll put Lamm at 24 percent favorability; only 28 percent of those surveyed were unfamiliar with her. The poll also showed her with a 19 percent unfavorable rating, the highest of the candidates.
Perlmutter garnered a 12 percent favorable rating and 15 percent unfavorable, showing that while fewer respondents had a negative view of him than of Lamm, more disliked than liked him. Forty two percent said they were unfamiliar with him.
Rubenstein received a 4 percent favorable rating and 11 percent unfavorable. More than half of those surveyed did not know him.
The new poll appears to support earlier polls that Perlmutter sought to discredit. In February, Ridder Braden Inc., a consulting and polling firm working for Lamm, found her with a 16-point lead. Perlmutter’s campaign suggested that the pollster manipulated the results.
Lamm’s campaign has circulated news of a survey by Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who has worked for Perlmutter, showing Lamm with a lead of nearly 30 points. The poll was part of a larger survey Lake conducted on the minimum wage, and only about 80 people gave their opinions about the candidates. Perlmutter said the sample size was far too small to be meaningful. His campaign also questioned reports of the polling results, which where posted on a local political blog, coloradopols.com. But Perlmutter’s opponents seized on a memo by Lake downplaying the results of the poll, though not disputing them, as evidence that reports of the poll were accurate.
Perlmutter’s campaign disputes Survey USA’s methodology, contending that the pollster did not identify Republican and Democratic affiliations or limit the survey to likely voters.
“There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors about whether Peggy Lamm is the front-runner,” said Alan Salazar, who is Rep. Mark Udall’s chief of staff and is serving as general chairman of Perlmutter’s campaign. Salazar said reports of polls showing the candidate’s name-identification rate are “great for fundraising.”
“I think people who are here in Colorado read those stories and laugh at them,” he said.
Rubenstein, generally considered the underdog, predicts the primary winner will receive only 8,000-9,000 votes, a pool too small to capture in surveys.
Sparse turnout would give him a chance, he says. He expects to have 500 volunteers and an active field operation.
Amy Walter, an analyst with the nonpartisan Cook Political report, said it takes more than higher name identification for a candidate to win. Many congressional races are lost by better-known candidates whose support turns out to be thin, she said.
“The last name Lamm is one of the biggest assets that Peggy Lamm has,” Walter said. “The question is whether she can use that name ID advantage, whether that is enough to give her a win.”
Lamm shares her name with popular former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm (D), who served as the top state official for 12 years. Gov. Lamm’s wife, Dottie, was a popular first lady who later ran for Senate. Perlmutter’s campaign says that voters are confusing Peggy with Dottie.
But Jim Merlino, managing director of Lamm’s campaign, disagreed, saying, “The Perlmutter campaign has little faith in the intelligence of the voters of 7th District. I’m sure the voters know the difference between Peggy and Dottie Lamm.”