Poll: Big leads for Parnell, Berkowitz

Posted: Monday, May 24, 2010

Gov. Sean Parnell holds a huge lead over his nearest challengers in the race to be the Republican nominee for governor, while Democrat Ethan Berkowitz holds a smaller but still substantial lead in his race.

The hot race in the August Alaska primary, however, may be among Republicans running for lieutenant governor. There, candidates Jay Ramras, Eddie Burke and Mead Treadwell are all tightly bunched, with a huge number of undecided voters.

The new polling numbers are from the political consulting firm Strategies 360 and its DRM Market Research polling arm. The poll was not paid for by any candidate, said David Shurtleff of Strategies 360.

The poll was conducted May 13-17 of 375 likely primary voters and has a margin of error of +/- 5 percent.

Republican candidate Eddie Burke, a former radio talk show host in Anchorage said he was happy with what the poll showed for his chances to win the nomination.

"We've got a race, it looks like," he said.

Ramras, now representing Fairbanks in the Alaska Legislature, said he doubted the poll showed much about the eventual outcome of the race.

"It's awful early to be doing polling that's anything more than just a snapshot," Ramras said. "We haven't even reached the filing deadline yet."

Burke, though, said a poll that showed him close to the competition early in the race was impressive.

"We're launching a commercial next week, and I think that's going to turn this thing into even more of a horse race," he said.

The poll was conducted recently enough to include new candidate Mead Treadwell, who recently resigned his position as member and chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission to run for lieutenant governor. He immediately jumped into close contention with the two candidates already announced.

Ramras said he welcomed Treadwell to the race, saying the addition of the prominent Republican to the race will make for a better contest.

"It elevates the quality of the discussion," he said.

Shurtleff said the surprising thing about the Republican lieutenant governor race was the number of undecideds voters.

"With two-thirds of the Republican primary electorate undecided, that race is a complete free-for-all," he said.

With the Republican and Democratic front-runners for governor holding early leads of 48 and 31 percentage points, respectively, the challengers there appear to be faced with a difficult task to winning over enough voters to secure the nomination.

"Parnell and Berkowitz appear to be runaway front-runners, and with the relatively low levels of undecideds in those races, they are the overwhelming favorites to face each other in the governor's contest this Fall," said Don McDonough, lead analyst with DMA Market Research.

Parnell's republican challengers disputed McDonough's numbers, however.

"That's not even in the ballpark of where we are," said Willis Lyford, spokesman for Republican Ralph Samuels' campaign for governor.

Lyford said they use Republican pollster Dave Dittman to develop data for internal use. The Samuels campaign doesn't publicly release its numbers, but they show the effort going well considering an incumbent governor is in the race, he said.

"Clearly Sean Parnell is the incumbent, and his name recognition is extremely high," Lyford said.

Fellow republican challenger Bill Walker said he was happy with where the Strategies 360 poll showed him, but that he expected that ranking to change.

Walker said his polling showed somewhat similar numbers, but things shifted dramatically when prospective voters were told of his stance on a natural gas pipeline.

Walker supports an all-Alaska natural gas pipeline to a Valdez export terminal, Parnell supports the TransCanada line backed by the state under the AGIA process, and Samuels opposed the big AGIA pipeline and supports a small-diameter "bullet" line.

When likely Republican primary voters learn who supports which project, Walker said his support will rise significantly.

"We're pretty convinced, based on the polls we've done, the significant issue in the election is the gasline," he said.

The Democratic Party races were less competitive, with Sen. Hollis French of Anchorage trailing former House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz by a substantial margin, but still well ahead of businessman Bob Poe.

In the Democratic lieutenant governor race, Diane Benson had an even bigger lead over new candidate Denise Michels. Benson has run two state-wide races in recent years and holds a substantial advantage in name recognition over competitor Michels, the mayor of Nome.

Despite Benson's previous runs, that race still has almost half the Democratic primary voters undecided. That means Benson is "not a shoe-in," and must appeal to the undecideds to win the nomination, McDonough said.

Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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