What the mayoral polls mean

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We've seen a lot of polls on the mayor's race, and they're all pretty similar to the one the Examiner reported today: Ed Lee has about 30 percent of the vote, and everyone else is in a big, undifferentiated pack way back in the single digits. A couple of thoughts to put this in perspective:

One: All of these polls have a margin of error; a poll of 500 voters, like this one, has an MOE of at least +/- 5 percent. Which means that Lee has somewhere between about 25% and 35% of the vote. The rest of them? They're all effectively tied. Yee and Herrera at 7 percent and Avalos at 5 percent is a statistical dead heat.

Two: What a poll like this shows, among other things, is that 70 percent of the voters are not supporting the incumbent right now. About as many are undecided as are supporting Lee. That's not a whopping show of support for the front-runner.

Three: On the other hand, nobody else in the race is even close to Lee at this point, and he's far enough ahead that he will be hard to catch -- unless either (a) one of the other candidates catches fire, comes up with a campaign that really takes off and pulls away from the pack, or (b) the other candidates attack Lee enough, and the attacks are effective enough, to bring his numbers down significantly.

Four: There's never been a ranked-choice vote for mayor, so nobody knows exactly how it will play out.

I don't buy the line that Adachi is a "long shot" -- not any more than anyone else. In fact, for better or for worse (and it cuts both ways) he's better positioned than most of the candidates to get votes from both the right and the left. If I were running Adachi's campaign, I'd be sending him out to the west side of town to tell everyone he was the only candidate tough enough to stand up to those damn city employee unions -- then I'd be going to the east side of town and saying he was the only candidate who could stand up to the cops. Tell the conservatives that pension reform is about the greedy bureaucrats; tell the progressives that it's about the greedy cops and firefighters. Wear a nice silk suit and look like a manager out west; take the tie off and talk about cops breaking into SRO rooms on the east. And with Ed Lee as an incumbent who supports a more modest pension reform plan, Adachi can run against City Hall wherever he goes.

I'm not saying he's going to win, or even that he's the number one challenger, but he did get 190,000 votes the last time he ran. And he can raise money. So he's going to be a factor in the race.

What I'm waiting for is the breakout issue, the line that takes, say, John Avalos into striking range of Lee (at which point, he can start collecting "anyone but Ed" votes from the other candidates). Remember Harris Wofford, who was given absolutely zero chance of retaining his U.S. Senate seat in November, 1991? Wofford, who had been appointed that spring, was a virutal unknown (and something of a nerd) who was facing the slick and popular former Govenor Dick Thornburgh. Wofford's campaign came up with a single-issue line that caught Thornburgh by surprise: "If every criminal has the right to a lawyer," he asked in campaign ads, "then why doesn't every sick person have the right to a doctor?" That  slogan, and that issue, brought him from about 30 points behind to a ten-point victory.

What's going to catch the San Francisco public's attention over the next two months? I don't know. Here's my suggestion:

"If San Francisco has 14 billionaires, why can't we afford to buy pencils for the public schools?"

 

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