The Democratic primary in the Second Congressional District is getting tighter, and that could be bad news for incumbent Bill Jefferson. The latest independent poll shows Jefferson falling slightly and all of his major African-American challengers creeping upward.
What's really "new" about the latest poll is that the "undecided" vote is breaking solidly away from Dollar Bill, who also has seen his core base of support dwindle over the past six months.
Up to now, the large pool of undecided voters more than a third of the vote in earlier surveys was waiting to see which of Jefferson's black challengers distinguished himself from the rest of the pack. So far, no challenger has done that; most of them are now moving up ensemble. The final two weeks of the campaign will determine whether one of them can break out and make it to the runoff with or without Jefferson.
Here are the latest survey results, in a poll conducted Sept. 15-17 by pollster Verne Kennedy for a group of local business people:
Helena Moreno, 18 percent.
Bill Jefferson, 15 percent.
Cedric Richmond, 12 percent.
James Carter, 11 percent.
Troy Carter, 10 percent.
Byron Lee, 9 percent.
Kenya Smith, 2 percent.
Undecided, 23 percent.
The survey sample reflects a cross-section of the voters eligible to vote in the Oct. 4 Democratic primary but no survey is a crystal ball, not even one taken this close to the election. A poll is a snapshot in time, an accurate reflection of voter opinions and attitudes at a particular moment. Campaigns are fluid events.
However, this late in the game, you can look at a series of polls taken over a months-long period of time and see trends. In this contest, the trend is running against Jefferson.
In a poll taken last spring for Moreno, Jefferson led the field with almost 30 percent of the vote. Since then, his share of the vote has dropped steadily. Last week's poll by Kennedy had him at or near his lowest point in the campaign. Worse for Jefferson, some of his major black challengers are not only within striking distance, but also well within the margin of error. Richmond for the first time is in third place overall and first among the congressman's African-American challengers.
A closer look at the Kennedy poll shows black voters breaking away from Jefferson while a larger share of whites remain undecided. Jefferson still leads among African-American voters, but he gets only 19 percent of that vote. Richmond is second with 14 percent, followed by the two Carters with 12 percent each and Moreno and Lee with 10 percent each. Smith gets 2 percent of the black vote.
The undecided vote also shows a significant disparity between black and white voters only 21 percent of the black vote is undecided; 28 percent of whites remain undecided in the Kennedy survey.
Among white voters, Moreno leads with 43 percent. All the others are in single digits, with Jefferson getting only 3 percent.
Interestingly, both Jefferson and Moreno have inverse "gender gaps." Jefferson gets 24 percent of black males but only 15 percent among black women; Moreno gets 38 percent among white males but 48 percent among white females.
When candidates and their strategists examine poll results, they don't look so much at the total results. Instead, they concentrate on those race and gender breakouts. Those are the results that drive strategic decisions.
In the final two weeks, Jefferson's challengers are going to be focusing on the two largest blocs of "undecided" voters white males (30 percent undecided) and all females (black and white women are 25 percent undecided). Where those voters go between now and next Saturday will determine who makes the cut.