GOP Polling for Special Election in HD 31
The poll was commissioned by the Whorton campaign and tested only likely GOP primary voters. Certainly a poll paid for by one candidate can (and usually should) be viewed with a cautious eye. However, this poll was not undertaken to push Whorton's standing among interests group or media, but to gauge the current state of the race for the use of their campaign. So you can quibble with the numbers if you'd like, but I am inclined to give them a fair amount of credence.
The head to head numbers have Whorton at 35% and Mask at 15%. But as is often the case, there is more to the poll than just the initial matchup numbers. Whorton has roughly a 2 to 1 name recognition advantage (approx 65 to 35) over Mask, which is unsurprising given Whorton's stint on the county commission.
What is surprising is that the negatives on each candidate don't follow a similar scale. While Whorton reaps the expected negative perceptions from serving during a fairly controversial time on the commission, Mask also has a significant amount of negatives. Since most of Mask's career has been behind the scenes it is unexpected (and a bit baffling) that he would not enjoy a significantly better positive/negative ratio than his more battle scarred opponent.
Since Mask is generally the favorite of the Montgomery GOP establishment, he is expected to out-raise Whorton. Interestingly, Mask's once (and future?) rival State Sen Larry Dixon has been aggressively pushing a Mask candidacy. Dixon wants to see Mask take the house seat so he (Mask) will be disinclined to primary Dixon in June, as was expected before Venable's death. Don't be shocked to see Mask lose the primary then turn around and challenge his current benefactor Dixon for his State Senate seat. Dixon's "investment" in Mask's political aspirations could come back to haunt him in a few months.
Even though Mask should have a bigger warchest than Whorton, the polling shows that he has a lot of work to do before the primary and time doesn't seem to be on his side. Christmas and New Years celebrations will reduce an already short six week campaign to an even more abbreviated three week sprint. This leaves Mask with a small and closing window in which to make up considerable ground in the primary. So Mask is left with less than a month to raise his name ID, give voters a reason to vote for him (or against Whorton), and finally to energize his supporters and turn them out for a low interest special election on a cold Tuesday in January.
And that doesn't even take into account Whorton's strengths as a candidate. He is in his second term on the county commission and seems to be a solid ideological fit with the district (e.g. he's a past local ALFA president). And while his service on the commission has no doubt earned him some criticism, my understanding is that most of his detractors aren't necessarily traditional GOP primary voters.
So, while Mask certainly has support among some powerful individuals and groups, many in Montgomery seemed to have underestimated Whorton's appeal to local Republican voters. This of course wouldn't be the first time that a state (or national party) has been rebuffed by the locals.