Early internal poll shows Cain ahead in CD2 primary

from candidate Facebook pageSenator Troy Jackson has a bit of a hill to climb in the Second Congressional District Democratic Primary, according to an internal poll released by opponent Senator Emily Cain’s campaign this week. In an initial match-up question on the poll, Cain led with 32% of the vote to Jackson’s 17% (and Alden Smith’s 2%).

The survey of 400 likely Democratic voters was conducted January 13-15 and has a margin of error of +/- 4.9%, 95 times out of 100.

After the initial ballot test and after answering some issue questions, the wording of which the campaign did not disclose, respondents were given a one-sentence description of each candidate and then again asked their voting intention. The descriptions were “Emily Cain worked for the University of Maine and is a State Senator who lives in Orono,” “Troy Jackson is a logger and the current State Senate Majority Leader who lives in Allagash,” and “Alden Smith is a Navy officer and current reservist who lives in Sangerville.”

On the second match-up, Cain’s share of the vote increased to 43% and her margin over Jackson, who garnered 22%, increased by six points. 5% chose Smith.

This is an internal poll released by a campaign and all the usual caveats should apply (for instance, they wouldn’t be releasing it if it hadn’t gone their way). It shouldn’t be dismissed outright, however. Normington Petts is a good pollster with plenty of experience in the Second District, having worked on Rep. Mike Michaud’s campaigns. The questions and methodology of the survey seem to be above board. These numbers are likely a good representation of where the candidates stand right now, before the campaign begins in earnest.

The poll also apparently included some positive and negative message testing on all the candidates. The Cain campaign declined to release the questions or the results but we can guess what some of them might be. Cain has already begun to highlight Jackson’s votes on marriage equality, “women’s rights,” and the environment.

While her record is better in those areas, Cain has her own weaknesses. I like Emily and was happy to vote for her in her first run for State Representative in Orono, but she has an unfortunate habit sometimes of (for lack of a better description) talking like a Republican, especially on issues of disparity. Over the past few years, for example, she has been more likely to make a case for tax cuts than for tax fairness. Last year she even publicly endorsed the Woodbury plan which would eliminate the estate tax on millionaires, cut the income tax rate and increase the (more regressive) sales tax, shifting more tax responsibility onto those who can least afford it.

Part of Cain’s emphasis has been because of the positions she has held on the Appropriations Committee and as House Minority Leader in a Republican-controlled Legislature, places where she had to find compromise and forge relationships across the aisle and with Governor LePage. A Democratic primary, however, is a very different kettle of fish. Jackson, her main opponent, is a plain-spoken logger who tells real stories about real people and connects well with the average voter. In a primary where the name of the game is motivating people to get to the polls, she can’t afford, in contrast, to sound technocratic, conservative and cold.

In this race, where it seems Cain has a financial advantage, a more socially-progressive voting record and (according to this poll) more initial positive name recognition, a populism gap could be her one significant weakness. In a time when voters from all parties are more focused on inequality than they have been in decades, however, it could be a problem.

I look forward to spirited campaigning from all the candidates (and, hopefully, some more polling). It’s early in the race and a lot could happen to change these initial numbers, especially where half of voters are undecided.

You can view the polling memo released by the Cain campaign here.

Mike Tipping

About Mike Tipping

Mike writes about Maine politics and policy with a focus on analysis and explanation. He works at the Maine People's Alliance and Maine People's Resource Center, writes a political column for the Portland Press Herald