Continuing my investigation into the mystery of why Fred Thompson has been well ahead for about a week in Rasmussen’s daily tracking poll (although he’s only up 5 in the most recent one) while most other polls have him in second place, I spoke with John McLaughlin, who is the pollster for the Thompson campaign.
A little while back, one of the Thompson Associates told me that if the other campaigns were seeing the polling numbers he was, they ought to be worried, and might be attacking Thompson because he’s become a bigger factor quicker than they expected. And Scott Rasmussen suggested that the ‘filter’ on his company’s polls was tighter, offering a better portrait of voters who were more likely to vote in upcoming Republican primaries.
In other words, Rudy’s lead in most polls might currently include a certain number of supporters who like him, but are less certain to show up on primary day.
“Fred definitely does better among conservative voters,” said McLaughlin. “If you want to be the Republican nominee, you have to win among Republican primary voters, and that’s where his message is directed. Among the voters we need to win, we’re doing very well.”
During our discussion, I referred to whether Thompson had appeal outside the South, and McLaughlin noted, “I didn’t say he was a southern candidate, I said he is a heartland candidate. He can run well in suburbs, and among Midwestern voters… As voters learn more about his background, where he stands, you see a real appeal to middle class families and working families. That’s part of that heartland appeal – it goes beyond the south, right into Middle America. As they learn about Fred, where he comes from, who he is, they like his values. And it would do well for the Republican Party to reconnect with the middle class.”
I asked McLaughlin if there were any trouble spots or worries for the Thompson campaign. He responded, “We know we got into this after other candidates. We know we have to raise our favorable name recognition up to their level. Also, we know this is the most volatile and more fluid campaign environment that this party has ever seen. We have never had a primary that has been more open, and we are not the best known and most widely recognized candidate right now. We aim to be as recognized and as favorable as any of our rivals.”
We’ve seen the polls indicating GOP primary voters are dissatisfied with their choices, so I asked McLaughlin what he was finding in his polls of the GOP base – what’s their mood?
“They’re looking for change,” McLaughlin said. “They respect the president, but they’re looking to go back to their core values. In their hearts, they truly believe that their party has the principles right. They think we really need to make some reforms and changes to get back to those basic core principles.”
“To win the nomination, you have to say what Republican Party wants to stand for and represent and Fred’s doing that the best… The other thing is, Fred’s got a record as a senator, and everybody agrees it’s conservative. He went to Washington as part of the Republican Revolution, the class of 1994. The interesting part about other candidates putting out position papers is that they’re doing it because they have to undo their statements and votes of the past.”