UPDATED THROUGHOUT AT 8 A.M. WEDNESDAY
By Andy Mead – firstname.lastname@example.org
Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry has a solid lead in his re-election bid going into Tuesday’s primary election, according to a new Kentucky Poll of likely Lexington voters.
Newberry’s two main challengers — Vice Mayor Jim Gray and former Mayor Teresa Isaac — are in a tighter six-point race to determine who likely will face him in the general election this fall.
Newberry has a nine-point lead over Gray and a 15-point lead over Isaac in the poll conducted from Saturday through Monday. The telephone survey of 600 likely voters has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.
When voters were asked to look more than five months ahead to the fall election, Newberry came out on top in head-to-head matchups with his two chief challengers, although his eight-point lead over Gray is within the poll’s margin of error. He outpaced Isaac by 17 points.
In the primary poll, 36 percent chose Newberry, compared with 27 percent for Gray and 21 percent for Isaac. Another 14 percent were undecided. Businessman Skip Horine, who has run a limited campaign, was picked by 2 percent of respondents.
While Newberry’s lead in the primary is outside the poll’s margin of error, that doesn’t mean the mayor has a lock on being the top vote-getter, said Del Ali, president of Research 2000 in Olney, Md., which conducted the poll for the Herald-Leader and WKYT-TV.
“Can Newberry just relax between now until next Tuesday? Heck no,” Ali said. “The bottom line is he’s still in single digits with Gray.”
Don Dugi, a political science professor at Transylvania University, said Isaac’s support is stronger than he expected.
“The race is really for second, so the question is can Isaac make a move on Gray?” he said.
If there is significant movement in the next few days, Ali said, it could be Isaac voters deciding that her cause is lost and moving to Gray. The more likely outcome, he said, is that they would just stay home Tuesday.
Dale Emmons, a Richmond-based political consultant not affiliated with any Lexington mayoral campaign, said that even the order of finish in the primary is not necessarily an indicator of who will be the next mayor. A dozen years ago, he noted, incumbent Mayor Pam Miller finished behind Councilman Chuck Ellinger (father of current Councilman Chuck Ellinger II) but came back to win in the fall Four years ago, Isaac, then the incumbent, beat Newberry by 600 votes in the primary and lost by 20,000 in the general election. “It’s important for everyone to realize that this is the preliminary heat,” Emmons said.
When asked about a general election match-up between Newberry and Gray, 40 percent went for the mayor and 32 percent for the challenger, with 28 percent undecided.
Newberry would do better with Democrats in that fall contest, with Gray appealing more to independents. The next mayor of Lexington could be chosen by how the Republican vote goes. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans were undecided between Newberry and Gray.
“This race is definitely ‘to be determined,’” Emmons said. “The person who does the best job defining where the community is and where’s it’s going, casting and ultimate vision, will be the ultimate winner.” In a Newberry-Isaac runoff, Newberry would pull down 48 percent of the vote to Isaac’s 31 percent, with 21 percent undecided.
Newberry was picked by 75 percent of Democrats, Isaac by 62 percent of Republicans.
Voters responding to the poll also were asked whether Lexington is heading in the right or wrong direction. Only 27 percent said things are going in the right direction. Thirty-four percent said the city is going the wrong way, and 39 percent weren’t sure.
Ali, the pollster, said those numbers aren’t bad compared to national levels.
But Emmons said the finding could pose trouble for Newberry.
“When you have only one-fourth of your city saying things are going in the right direction, that’s a problem for the incumbent,” he said. “That’s a big problem for an incumbent.”
The mayor’s race is non-partisan, which means every registered voter can take part regardless of party registration. Although Newberry, Gray and Isaac are all registered Democrats and Horine is a Republican, their party affiliation will not appear on the ballot.
But in the primary poll, Newberry got the nod from 52 percent of Democrats, compared with 38 percent for Gray and only 4 percent for Isaac. Isaac has the support of 48 percent of Republicans, with Newberry getting 15 percent and Gray 9 percent. Gray polled best among independents, with 37 percent. Newberry got 31 percent of independents in the poll, and Isaac had 12 percent.
Black voters were almost evenly split between Newberry and Gray. Only 3 percent chose Isaac, who has traditionally done well among minority voters in north Lexington. The margin of error for black voters, who made up 11 percent of those surveyed, is plus or minus 13 percentage points.
Dugi was puzzled by the Republican support for Isaac, whose administration was characterized by social programs. “There are moderate Republicans; maybe they are the only ones they talked to,” he said.
More than half of those polled — 52 percent — have a favorable opinion of Newberry, compared with 47 percent for Gray and 38 percent for Isaac.
Isaac has the highest unfavorable rating at 35 percent. Newberry’s unfavorable rating was 31 percent. Gray had the fewest negative responses, with 27 percent.
Voters might think well of Newberry, but they don’t necessarily think he’s doing a good job running the city. Forty-six percent approved of his performance. Another 33 percent said they were disappointed. Twenty-one percent were not sure.
Democrats were more likely — 68 percent — to approve of the mayor’s performance. He fared worst among Republicans, only 17 percent of which approved of his performance.
A pillar of Gray’s campaign has been his contention that Newberry’s role in the stalled CentrePointe project that cleared a downtown block was an example of “failed leadership.”
About one in five voters said the CentrePointe controversy makes them less likely to vote for Newberry, compared with 13 percent who said it made them more likely to support Newberry.
For two-thirds of respondents, CentrePointe is not a topic that will sway their vote.
Lance Blanford, Newberry’s campaign manager, said he was pleased with the poll results, “but we are not taking anything for granted.”
Isaac said she will keep fighting her “uphill battle” against better-financed opponents. “One thing is certain: you can count on me knocking on doors and shaking hands until 6 p.m. on Election Day.”
Carrie Glenn, campaign manager for Gray, focused on the 64 percent of respondents who chose someone other than Newberry. She said the number proves that “voters are looking for a change in leadership and a fresh start for Lexington.”