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Poll shows GOP with advantage in three Arkansas Congressional races

story from Talk Business & Politics, a TCW content partner

A new flurry of polling shows Republicans with a solid victory in one Congressional District, advantages in two other districts, and an air-tight race for the remaining district in Central Arkansas. U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, is safe in the 3rd District, and GOP candidate Bruce Westerman has a lead in the 4th District race against Democrat candidate James Lee Witt.

The latest round of Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College polling centered on four Congressional District level surveys that provide a first glimpse at this fall’s congressional match-ups.

“Rather than obsess on the specific numbers in these head-to-head races at this juncture of the election cycle, I’d encourage readers to view the big takeaways and some cross tab data analysis to interpret these results,” said Roby Brock, Talk Business & Politics Editor-in-Chief. “With little advertising in these match-ups so far and with the suffocation of messaging from the Senate and Governor races, the Congressional campaigns have taken a back-seat this cycle. I expect campaign spending in the final 90+ days to impact the current state of these races.”

The four polls that construct these Congressional District results were conducted July 22-25 in all four Congressional districts. The surveys used a combination of IVR technology and live caller connections. The margins of error fluctuate for each district, but range from +/-4.5% to +/-4.9%.

The Congressional head-to-head questions were the first question asked in our survey after determining voter participation in the November general election from a list of likely Arkansas voters in each Congressional District. Only voters who answered in the affirmative for participation were allowed to complete the poll.

Congressional District 1
Among 450 respondents, with 20% being cell phone users, the First District survey has a margin of error of +/- 4.6%.

Q: In the race for Congress in your congressional district, the candidates are Republican Congressman Rick Crawford, Democrat Mayor Jackie McPherson, and Libertarian Brian Scott Willhite. If the election for U.S. House were today, which candidate would you support?
47.5% Republican Congressman Rick Crawford
33% Democrat Mayor Jackie McPherson
3% Libertarian Brian Scott Willhite
16.5% Undecided

Takeaways: As an incumbent, Crawford remains poised to capture enough of the undecided votes to win his re-election campaign. But as our polling has suggested over the past two years, there has consistently been a sizable number of voters who remain unfamiliar or undecided with him. The 16.5% undecided suggests Crawford is still not a household name in the district.

Congressional District 2
Among 483 respondents, with 19.5% being cell phone users, the Second District survey has a margin of error of +/- 4.5%.

Q: In the race for Congress in your congressional district, the candidates are Democrat Patrick Henry Hays, Republican French Hill, and Libertarian Debbie Standiford. If the election for U.S. House were today, which candidate would you support?
43% Democrat Patrick Henry Hays
44% Republican French Hill
3% Libertarian Debbie Standiford
10% Undecided

Takeaways: The Second Congressional District, which has elected Democrat Vic Snyder and Republican Tim Griffin in recent years, appears to be a toss-up at this point. Throw any number of variables in this race — age, gender, ethnicity, geography, the margin of error — any way you slice and dice it, this race is competitive.

Congressional District 3
Among 408 respondents, with 17% being cell phone users, the Third District survey has a margin of error of +/- 4.9%.

Q: In the race for Congress in your congressional district, the candidates are Libertarian Grant Brand and Republican Congressman Steve Womack. If the election for U.S. House were today, which candidate would you support?
20% Libertarian Grant Brand
57% Republican Congressman Steve Womack
23% Undecided

Takeaways: The Third District remains solidly Republican and without a Democratic challenger, Cong. Steve Womack is on cruise control to re-election. The larger undecided block may reflect dissatisfaction with no Democratic choice in the race.

Congressional District 4
Among 439 respondents, with 15% being cell phone users, the Fourth District survey has a margin of error of +/- 4.7%.

Q: In the race for Congress in your congressional district, the candidates are Republican Representative Bruce Westerman, Democrat James Lee Witt, and Libertarian Ken Hamilton. If the election for U.S. House were today, which candidate would you support?
48% Republican Representative Bruce Westerman
34% Democrat James Lee Witt
3% Libertarian Ken Hamilton
15% Undecided

Takeaways: There appears to be a Republican advantage in this race, which has really yet to heat up. Westerman won his GOP primary, but it was his opponent who did the major advertising. Neither Westerman nor Witt have spent major money on paid media for the general. With four TV media markets in the Fourth, spending by the candidates or third party groups could cement or alter these results quickly, as we saw in the GOP primary.

ANALYSIS
Dr. Jay Barth, professor of political science at Hendrix College, offered the following analysis of the results.

Second Congressional District
At this stage, the battle for the open seat in central Arkansas’s Second Congressional District appears to be the one to watch moving into the stretch run of campaign 2014. Former North Little Rock mayor Pat Hays has been well-served by his years of visibility in that office in the sole media market in the district and is in a statistical tie with Little Rock banker French Hill, coming off an impressive GOP primary victory in May.

Patterns we have seen in other races emerge in this race. Both are in exceedingly strong shape with their fellow partisans, but Hill leads comfortably (53% to 30%) with independents. A significant gender gap expresses itself as Hill leads 50% to 40% with men and Hays leads 46% to 40% with women. Finally, typical racial patterns emerge with Hill leading among whites and Hays leading strongly among African-Americans (although Hays’s support among African-Americans – at 80% to 7% – is particularly solid for a Democratic candidate this cycle, as will be noted below).

It should be pointed out that our Second District sample is flawed in that it undersamples African-Americans from Pulaski County, bringing down the overall African-American percentage to 9%, and oversamples whites from Pulaski County. Pulaski County voters compose 60% of our sample in contrast to approximately 55% of the 2012 vote. Democrats hope to best their 2012 turnout in the Democratic-swinging county, but 60% of the district vote would be exceptional.

However, when the sample was re-weighted to take geographical and racial patterns into account, the race shifted only marginally, to a 44% to 44% tie indicating the closeness of the race and the importance of turnout in determining the eventual winner.

Cross tabs of the Pulaski and non-Pulaski County votes show Hays with a 47% to 43% lead in both men’s home county, but Hill leading 47% to 38% in the suburban counties surrounding it. At present, Hays is underperforming for a Democrat in Pulaski County and Hill is underperforming for a Republican in the counties outside of the state’s largest county. The question: Do those patterns hold, keeping the race exceedingly close, or does either Hill or Hays make a move in a race that may well be overshadowed by the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races? Editor’s note: Dr. Barth’s household has contributed financially to both the Hill and Hays campaigns.

Fourth Congressional District
A different pattern emerges in the race for the other open seat. Coming off a victory in the GOP primary, State Representative Bruce Westerman is in strong shape at this point against former FEMA Director James Lee Witt in the Fourth Congressional District.

Democratic nominee Witt has to solve several electoral problems if he is to close the gap with Westerman in the coming months. First, Westerman is destroying the Democratic nominee among independent voters, leading 57% to 23%. Witt will portray himself, like Hays in the Second District, as a nonpartisan problem solver but the fact that Independents are now behaving much like Republican partisans in the Fourth District makes that a tough challenge.

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Second, at this stage, Witt appears to face some challenges with African-American voters. One in five of the district’s African-American voters express support for Westerman and, just as problematically, fully one in four African-American voters are undecided in the race suggesting that the Witt campaign must engage in more effective outreach among African-Americans in the coming weeks. As the race proceeds, Witt will likely attempt to attach himself to President Bill Clinton – still exceedingly popular with the state’s African-American voters. Bringing African-Americans fully into the Democratic fold in this race is particularly important in a district with a significant African-American electorate.

At this stage, a big advantage for Westerman. The key question: Can he hold off the advertising barrage coming from a well-funded Witt in a massive district where multiple media markets means that advertising can shift voting patterns quickly?

The Incumbents
First District Congressman Rick Crawford has a solid 47.5% to 33% lead over Heber Springs Mayor Jackie McPherson driven heavily by his 61% to 14% lead with independent voters in our sample. Crawford’s continued low name recognition for a veteran congressman, shown in previous surveys, is holding down his lead and keeping a chunk of voters (16.5%) in the undecided camp. This presents some opening for McPherson if he were able to pull together funding to reach across the large, mostly rural district with its multiple media markets. Like Witt, McPherson will also have to bring African-American voters, historically strong Democratic voters, back into the fold (at this stage, one in five express support for Congressman Crawford) as well as closing the chasm with independent voters.

Finally, one thing is completely clear: Third Congressional District incumbent Steve Womack appears on his way to a strong re-election. Lacking a Democratic opponent, Womack is left to battle Libertarian Grant Brand. Womack shows a solid majority in his race for a third term.

Five Star Votes: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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