What does early internal polling show? Not, according to Republican strategist Allan Hoffenblum, who is "winning," but what issues and traits resonate with voters.
"Campaigns poll early not because of the ballot question, but to come up with what the issues are," Hoffenblum said. The only part the public hears about — who is ahead — is usually "a reflection of the candidates’ name ID," Hoffenblum said.
Someone like Hertzberg, for example, isn’t doomed just because no one has heard of him yet. He has money. His polling shows him what issues are strong, and what segment of the electorate will be most responsive to his message.
But that doesn’t stop supporters of candidates like Villaraigosa from using favorable poll results to persuade voters to jump on the bandwagon. In this case, though, the single-issue focus trumped the viability argument, and a majority ended up siding with people like Lisa Lopez, who noted that only Moore vowed to stop the killing of animals in city shelters right away.
"Even if Walter doesn’t win, there’s a message there," Lopez said. "Just know we will never back down until we stop the killing."
Besides, Moore himself noted, there are actually two elections. There will be a second chance to vote for another candidate against Hahn if Moore doesn’t make the runoff.
Moore’s presence in the race also points out some troubling realities about what it takes to be a major player in Los Angeles elections. Moore was excluded from the first two televised debates because, under guidelines promulgated by the Los Angeles League of Women Voters, he wasn’t a "significant" candidate. The criteria for significance include having a campaign headquarters, telephone number and stationery, and a 5 percent name ID "in a major, reliable, nonpartisan public opinion polls [sic] which shows all the candidates."
You already have to be a player, it seems, to be able to play. Even the Alliance of Neighborhood Councils, the grassroots organization of people involved in neighborhood affairs, is planning so far not to include Moore in its two important televised February debates.
Late last year, Moore pumped $100,000 of his own into his campaign, to demonstrate his seriousness and to win a place at the table. In a stroke of irony, the move was a boon to the bigger candidates, allowing them, under city campaign-finance laws, to brush aside the $1,000-per-donor limits and raise thousands of dollars from rich contributors and special interests.
In a smaller city, Moore probably still wouldn’t win, but he wouldn’t be so completely shut out. In Los Angeles, though, a city that historians and political scientists describe as a departure from the closed political systems of the East Coast, things are not quite so open, after all. A mayoral election here is won at arm’s length, like a senatorial or presidential election, with polling, voter segmenting, attack mailers and television ads, but without party or, for the most part, ideological plank.
The result can be that voters here feel like a commodity. They — we — are used to that in most elections, but it carries a special sting on the municipal level, where voters expect to be able to relate most closely to their government.