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Jason Cabel Roe

The Reality of the 37th Senate District Special Election

There’s been a lot of talk in Orange County about the tone of the Special Election for the Senate seat vacated by Mimi Walters upon her election to Congress, with boosters of former Supervisor John Moorlach loudly complaining about the negativity. But an examination of the campaign doesn’t quite fit the narrative.

The “negative campaigning” started when John Moorlach announced his campaign, immediately launching into attacks on Assemblyman Don Wagner. His primary attack, that Wagner was a stooge for the unions, was not supported by any votes cast by Wagner, who had the endorsement of every pro-business organization at the state and local level, but because he received a couple thousand dollars from law enforcement associations. This Moorlach attack was supported by a website, paid for by Moorlach’s campaign, and devoted to attacking Wagner.

A review of the Wagner Campaign shows half of the mail pieces produced didn’t even mention Moorlach’s name. Two pieces were comparison, i.e., side-by-side comparisons of the two candidates on key issues. And three focused exclusively on Moorlach’s record. Three.

How about the Moorlach Campaign? We found a total of four mailers sent by his campaign – and all four Moorlach mailers focused negatively on Wagner.

On television, the Wagner Campaign aired two ads, one that was mostly positive with a 5-second reference to Moorlach’s record and one that spent 12 seconds  addressing Moorlach’s record.

Early on the Moorlach Campaign committed itself to the message that Wagner was being negative, when in fact the negative started with Moorlach, and almost 100% of the Moorlach campaign was negative attacks on Wagner. On the other hand, about 50% of Wagner’s spending was directed at Moorlach.

Our January 30th internal poll showed Moorlach with a 63-34% advantage in name ID among the most likely voters, natural for being in public office for 20 years. On the ballot test, Moorlach led Wagner 39-20%. While the Wagner Campaign had a 3-1 spending advantage, it was difficult to catch up to Moorlach’s advantages in a race with only 14% turnout in just 62 days.

Politics ain’t beanbag, as the saying goes. They are tough and the arena usually requires the candidates to be tough, too.