Strange polling, misplaced anger

Herald-leader columnistOctober 3, 2010 

Crazy. Just plain crazy.

Well, maybe not just plain crazy. More like stoned-on-locoweed, running-screaming-through-the-streets-in-your-altogether crazy.

Start with the polls. A railroad car full of jumping beans doesn't experience the kind of bouncing around we've seen in some of the poll numbers this year.

In early September, for instance, a Courier-Journal/WHAS11 Bluegrass Poll conducted by SurveyUSA showed Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul leading Democrat Jack Conway by 15 percentage points. By late September, the same poll showed the Tea Party movement poster boy ahead of the state attorney general by just 2 points.

Sure, Conway has made effective use of Paul's own words — albeit sometimes out of context — to portray the Bowling Green ophthalmologist as soft on drugs and crime and callous on Medicare.

Over the years, as well as in this campaign, Paul has given an opponent a lot of ammunition for such ads, which may be why he spends so much time clarifying things he's said and positions he's taken previously. This waffling, as the Conway camp calls it, no doubt has cost Paul some support.

Arguably, the reversal with the most potential for damaging Paul involves the Wall Street bailout Tea Partiers rail against. In the primary, Paul vowed never to accept fund-raising help from Republican senators who voted for the bailout. Since the primary, though, he's twice gone begging to them with hand extended. You can't spin the hypocrisy out of this particular flip-flop.

Of course, races tend to tighten up the closer you get to Election Day. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last week showed the Republican lead in a generic election dropping from 9 points to 3 points in recent weeks. However, a 6-point shift in a matter of weeks for a generic race at the national level seems far more believable than a 13-point shift in the Paul-Conway race over roughly the same period.

SurveyUSA has a good track record. But even with Conway's ads, Paul's waffling and the natural tendency toward tightening races as Election Day approaches factored in, the numbers in its last two polls in this election make no sense to me. They may be accurate in reflecting a narrowing gap, but my guess is Paul wasn't 15 points ahead in early September and Conway hadn't closed to within 2 points by month's end.

Which means Conway, who has trailed throughout the campaign, could still use some help for a final push. A couple of more Aqua Buddhas popping out of Paul's closet wouldn't hurt. But the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll contained a big neon sign flashing a message directly at the Conway campaign about a better source of help:

"Bill Clinton! Bill Clinton! Bill Clinton!"

The most popular political figure in America, according to the poll, the former president remains a fave in Kentucky as well — particularly in the eastern and western ends of the state where Conway needs the biggest boost. And Clinton's connections to some of Conway's supporters should make a campaign swing or two doable, if the Conway camp is smart enough to reach out and ask.

But we were talking about crazy. If some of this year's poll numbers seem nonsensical, the voters' mood — including here in the Bluegrass State — is even more so.

There is anger and fear, and even some bigotry. The first two can be justified; the latter cannot. But all three are being channeled in a counter-intuitive fashion that runs against the best interests of those who are angry, fearful and bigoted.

A deregulated Wall Street screwed them, along with everyone else. They respond by supporting candidates who want to leave Wall Street unregulated.

Insurance companies screwed them, along with everyone else. They respond by supporting candidates who want to repeal health care reform that will help keep the insurance companies in line.

Big Oil and King Coal screwed them, along with everyone else, for decades (and Kentucky sweltered through a record number of 90-degree days this summer). They respond by supporting candidates who'll sit idly by through more oil spills, more mountaintop removal mining, more global warming and more climate change.

A massive federal debt will screw their grandchildren, along with everyone else's grandchildren. They respond by supporting candidates who want to extend tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, thereby adding $700 billion to the federal deficit over the next 10 years.

It's nonsensical.

It's a rebellion by the oppressed in defense of their oppressors. It's a sailor in the olden days who, after being on the receiving end of a good lashing, picks up the cat-o'-nine-tails, hands it back to the captain and says, "Please, sir, do it again."

It's crazy — stoned-on-locoweed, running-screaming-through-the-streets-in-your-altogether crazy.

Reach Larry Dale Keeling at (859) 231-3249, 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3249 or lkeeling@herald-leader.com.

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