Republican polling firm irks GOP Reps. Cole, LaTourette

A prominent Republican polling firm has irked Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the House’s top GOP election strategist, by conducting a poll to persuade a Republican lawmaker to oppose a Democratic measure that would make it easier for labor unions to organize.  

Public Opinion Strategies (POS), the polling firm, conducted the survey for an anonymous Republican donor in the district of Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) to show the congressman that the so-called “Card Check” bill is unpopular with GOP voters.

LaTourette and 12 other GOP members from the Northeast and upper Midwest, as well as Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), voted for the bill. The House passed the Employee Free Choice Act on March 1 by a vote of 241 to 185.

Cole heads the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC), which happens to be a client of POS. He and LaTourette were upset that POS would conduct a poll that could create the perception that it is undermining a popular GOP incumbent. In addition to questions about the “Card Check” bill, the poll also included data about LaTourette’s favorable and unfavorable ratings. LaTourette remains popular in the district, according to a GOP source who saw the poll.

The unwritten rule for partisan polling firms is that they should not undercut incumbent lawmakers. POS’s other clients include more than 50 House Republican lawmakers and more than a dozen GOP senators, as well as Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), according to its website.

“I pay $200,000 in dues to the NRCC so they can use Public Opinion Strategies,” LaTourette said.
Cole said he spoke to POS pollsters who reassured him that the poll was conducted only for informational purposes. He added that LaTourette faces no threat of a primary challenge. But the poll was particularly difficult for Cole because he will need to encourage even more conservative Republicans to patch together “strange-bedfellow” coalitions to win in moderate or Democratic-leaning districts in 2008.

“The main storyline from this survey is that congressman LaTourette’s numbers with Republicans are very strong,” said Rob Autry, a pollster for POS. “What I see from this data is a congressman that is well liked and well regarded by his base supporters, and is well positioned for a reelection that’s still two years away.”

Both parties are concerned about challenges to centrist lawmakers. On the left, liberal groups have publicly discussed efforts to challenge Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.). On the right, the conservative Club for Growth-backed candidate, Rep. Tim Walberg (Mich.), defeated former Rep. Joe Schwarz in the GOP primary in 2006.

LaTourette is one of the more moderate Republicans in the House, according to the National Journal, which ranks lawmakers from “conservative” to “liberal” based on 107 votes. According to those rankings, LaTourette is more conservative than 53.7 percent of his fellow lawmakers.

Since winning his first term in 1994, he has cruised to reelection. In 2004, he faced Capri Cafaro, an heiress to a shopping-mall fortune who spent $2 million on a losing bid. Her father, J.J. Cafaro, pleaded guilty to bribing former Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio).

LaTourette has won support from local labor unions in his 12 years in Congress and has occasionally crossed party lines. Last month, conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh criticized him for voting for the Democratic-sponsored resolution condemning President Bush’s plan to send additional troops to Iraq.