Tiahrt, Moran duel over poll claims

The internecine fight for the GOP Kansas Senate nod ramped up last week when Rep. Todd Tiahrt was called out for unsubstantiated allegations that his foe conducted a push poll.

According to Jennifer Duffy of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, fear drove the Tiahrt camp’s “striking” accusation that opponent Rep. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) commissioned a push poll, shortly after Moran’s outfit released results of an in-house poll showing their candidate with a double-digit lead over Tiahrt.

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“What you are seeing now is that Moran’s campaign is better funded, they can be on the air longer, so, I think what you are seeing on Tiahrt’s part is some fear that this is getting away from him,” Duffy, Cook’s Senate race guru, explained in an interview with The Hill.

Moran had a 26 percentage point lead over Tiahrt in the poll conducted by Alexandria, Va.-based Public Opinion Strategies (P.O.S.) on May 12-13, assessing 500 likely GOP Kansas voters.

In the memo accompanying the results addressed to “The Jerry Moran Campaign Team,” P.O.S. partner Glen Bolger wrote, “Tiahrt, who suffers from a significant deficit of both ballot and fundraising support, can be expected to run a negative, desperate campaign.”

Shortly after Moran’s camp released their poll on Wednesday, Tiahrt spokeswoman Michelle Schroeder shot out a highly charged e-mail with the subject line “MORAN CAMPAIGN DESPERATE, RELEASES BOGUS PUSH POLL.”  

“We have known from multiple reports that the Moran campaign has been conducting a push poll,” Schroeder wrote in the e-mail, failing to provide any details to substantiate that claim.

Duffy told The Hill that she was “surprised” by the Tiahrt response, adding that the poll was “take-it-to-the-bank, credible … firms like (P.O.S.) don’t do push polls.”

The Moran campaign commissioned the poll “after they had their ads up on the air, this is very standard stuff. They went in to see if they were working. I was a little surprised by the Tiahrt campaigns reaction because the real answer they should’ve given was ‘when we’re on the air we will close these numbers,’ which is true, by the way,” Duffy said.

Moran’s campaign spokesman, Dan Conston, told The Hill that "[the Tiahrt campaign’s] claim is unequivocally false and it has been overwhelmingly and independently refuted."

Asked for a comment on Duffy’s assertion, Schroeder wrote in an e-mail to The Hill that the campaign was “not going to engage in a war of polls. We are comfortable with where we are in this race.”

To date, however, Tiahrt has lagged behind Moran in previous third-party statewide polls. He also has money than Moran.

As of the most recent financial disclosure filings on March 31, Moran had nearly $3.5 million cash on hand, compared to Tiahrt’s $1.5 million.

University of Kansas political science Burdett “Bird” Loomis said in a prior interview with The Hill that the Tiahrt camp has to overcompensate for his less bountiful coffers by launching aggressive attacks on Moran.

“[Tiahrt’s] behind in money and he’s behind in the polls - and in that situation, it strikes me that tactically he needs to do that,” Loomis said in a recent interview.

The “push poll” allegation is one of many attention-grabbing attacks distributed to reporters by the Tiahrt’s operation, which regularly accuses Moran of attempting to “deceive” voters by running as a fiscal conservative.  

The high-stakes contest for the GOP nomination to be decided on Aug. 3, will likely determine who succeeds outgoing Sen. Sam Brownback, who opted to run for governor of the Sunflower State.

Both candidates have collected an impressive array of well-known conservative endorsements to distinguish their right-leaning street credibility.

Tiahrt, a favorite of social conservatives for his hardline stance against abortion rights, has been endorsed by spiritual leader James Dobson and radio talk show host Mark Levin -- a regular on the Tea Party circuit, as well as the Tea Party Express.

Moran, on the other hand, has been endorsed by conservative favorites Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), as well as the Kansas Farm Bureau and various veterans organizations.

Despite the glaring discrepancy in the polls, political operatives in the state contend that the race will tighten up once Tiahrt goes on the air with advertising in the market that both men are vying for: Kansas City.

In the meantime, Tiahrt plans to fundraise with conservative operative Karl Rove. Moran intends to focus on his support from veterans organizations and the farm bureau.