GOP Gov Poll: Riley's Up; Moore Down, but Not Out
It should be noted that the poll was taken Oct 3 - Oct 7. There is no way to be certain, but it is possible that Moore's October 3rd announcement and subsequent press attention bolstered Moore's poll numbers. The next poll of the race should be a more reliable indicator of the actual positioning of the candidates.
The poll, taken among likely GOP primary votes, shows the candidates current support as following:
The first reaction of many to this poll has been to proclaim it good news for Riley. The Mobile-Register quotes two academics (Keith Nicholls and William Stewart) who generally agree that Riley should be pleased with these results. Likewise, many of my blogger brethren like RedStateDiaries and Alabama-Democrat (both Moore detractors) take heart at these early numbers.
On one hand I agree that the poll could have been worse for Riley. Indeed a January poll showed Moore leading 44% - 35%. Riley has certainly improved his standing in the intervening months. Also, as I mentioned above, these results don't take into account a Riley announcement "bounce", whereas the poll was taken at the peak time to maximize any Moore "bounce". So in reality the spread between the two might even be a bit larger.
However, I don't think this poll is an unabashedly positive place for Riley's campaign to start. For starters, I'll cite the often repeated and usually true maxim that an incumbent is in trouble if he is polling under 50%. The logic is that most after, 3 and 1/2 years, have already made up their minds on Bob Riley and are much more likely to ultimately break for the challenger. Such logic is complicated in this case due to Moore's unusually high (for a challenger) name recognition. However, a recent poll showed that more voters were unfamiliar with Roy Moore than with Riley, which gives Moore more room to see his support grow.
This poll, while giving Riley a solid lead, shows that it might be difficult for Riley to reach the magic 50% mark to avoid (or eventually win) a runoff. Especially if Harri Anne Smith, or another credible Republican, joins the race, Riley's path to 50% gets even trickier. Smith is probably not a serious threat to win the primary, but if she can siphon off even 5-10% then a runoff is much more likely. Though Riley could win a runoff, it is likely that the momentum would then be with Moore.
Additionally, the Mobile Register -USA poll included only likely GOP voters. It is no secret that Roy Moore will attempt to broaden the primary electorate to include his potentially unorthodox coalition of supporters. Whether it is anti-establishment independents, conservative rural Democrats, or black Democrats tempted by Moore's religious appeals, this poll probably missed many of the voters that could ultimately support Moore.
The Mobile Register even remarked that previous polls have shown Moore generating more "across the aisle" support than Riley. I have previously said and still maintain that many liberals Democrats and left-leaning independents may ultimately bypass the Democratic primary and support Riley. However, the polling, at least to this point, does show Moore with more appeal to non-Republicans. The concept of a "hidden" Moore vote looming over the GOP primary will be with through the primary, but it cannot be entirely discounted until the votes are tallied.
On a final note, Riley does seem to have been able to successfully put the Amendment One debacle behind him, at least with a majority of the GOP electorate. However, tax cuts and more specifically opposition to higher taxes has been the defining issue of the Republican party for a generation. Once Roy Moore and his allies resurrect the issue and remind GOP voters of Riley's "tax hike" advocacy, I think a softening of Riley's numbers could occur. Whereas Moore's support, although significantly less in this poll, is probably more committed to their candidate no matter which way the political winds blow during the next several months.
Again, I think on whole this poll has some good news for Riley and his political revival over the past two years has been very impressive. I just wanted to weigh in and discuss why this poll might not be quite the "golden ticket" some Riley supporters would like it to be.