http://www.al.com/search/index.ssf?/base/news/1139739690121570.xml?mobileregister?npol&coll=3Riley builds bigger lead over Moore
Sunday, February 12, 2006
By BILL BARROW
MONTGOMERY -- Alabama Gov. Bob Riley has opened a 2-to-1 lead over ousted Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore in the race for the Republican Party's gubernatorial nomination later this year, the results of a new statewide poll suggest.
The Mobile Register-University of South Alabama survey of registered likely GOP primary voters showed Riley with 56 percent to Moore's 28 percent, a wider margin than similar Register-USA polls have reflected in the past and the first time the governor has cracked the all-important 50-percent barrier.
The results continue Riley's upward trend since 2003, when voters drubbed his billion-dollar tax plan at the ballot box, just as Moore's political star was burning arguably at its brightest over his efforts to display the Ten Commandments in the state judicial building.
Nearly three years later, Riley continues to have difficulty navigating the Democratically-controlled Legislature. But he's afforded the election-year advantage of presiding over a bustling economy that has yielded record-low unemployment and record-high tax revenues for public education. Riley has also out-raised Moore 8-to-1, according to the two men's campaign finance disclosures released last month.
"Unless Riley really messes up something -- given relatively good economic times, given the lack of scandal, given the fact that all of the tax business is in the past -- it's hard for me to imagine how Riley could blow it," said USA political scientist Keith Nicholls, who directed the poll. Nicholls, however, did add the caveat that "it's still early" and that Moore could become increasingly competitive if he can raise more money.
The Riley campaign declined comment on the results.
Moore spokesman J. Holland said the former chief justice is receiving a "tremendous" response from Alabamians. "We are confident," he said. "It's not about polls and politics -- it's about principle and people. The people of this state will send a clear message to the politicians and special interests in Montgomery."
Party primaries are June 6, with the general election to follow in November. The Riley-Moore winner will face the Democratic nominee, likely to be either Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley or former Gov. Don Siegelman.
The Register-USA survey, conducted Feb. 4-8, asked for the preferences of 400 registered Alabama voters who said they are likely to vote in the Republican primary. The results carry a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
A similar Register-USA poll in October of last year showed Riley with a 44-25 lead over the former chief justice. In January 2005, Moore led the governor 43-35 in what was then a hypothetical matchup. Both of those previous polls also queried only likely Republican primary voters.
Riley's gain in the latest poll is linked largely with a drop in undecided voters, which made up 31 percent of the respondents in October, but just 16 percent in the most recent sampling. Perhaps the greatest significance of the drop in undecided voters is that it apparently has pushed Riley beyond the benchmark of 50 percent. In public opinion polling, incumbents want to stay above that mark.
"The undecideds dropped considerably, and Riley appears to have gotten nearly all of them," Nicholls explained.
The governor also led in nearly all income levels and educational levels. The greater the income level, the larger Riley's lead over Moore. For example, among respondents who reported an annual household income of less than $30,000, Riley held a 50-34 percent advantage. Those in the top income bracket -- annual household income more than $60,000 -- Riley's lead was 65-22 percent.
Moore's strongest performance in any demographic group Nicholls calculated came among those without any education beyond high school. Riley led that category 48-37. The governor's margin jumped to 60-24 percent among those who said they have some education beyond high school.
Taken together, those numbers suggest a strong advantage for Riley regardless of exactly what the Republican primary electorate looks like in June. That defies what was once the conventional wisdom that turnout could determine the GOP nominee.
Nicholls did note that the poll does not identify perhaps Moore's strongest core support: religious fundamentalists. "There's no simply way to accurately identify just who those people are" when conducting a poll, Nicholls said, adding, "I just don't have data on that. ... So it's still dangerous to write (Moore) off."
He continued, though, that Moore's potential to generate huge turnout among some religious conservatives cuts both ways. Put simply: Polarizing political figures energize both their supporters and their opponents.
"If Moore can really mobilize his voters, don't think that Riley won't be mobilizing his voters, and don't think there's not a lot of anti-Moore sentiment," Nicholls said. "It's not like Moore's polarizing influence only helps Moore -- it also mobilizes voters on the other side.