Illustrative polling highlights East Bay assembly candidate’s evolving campaign strategy

Assembly candidate Buffy Wicks at a 
candidate forum last January in Albany.

15TH ASSEMBLY DISTRICT
–ELECTION 2018–
An extensive poll from the well-bankrolled upstart in the wide-open race for the 15th Assembly District shows a candidate unsure over how to present herself to voters with just over three months before the June primary.

In the poll sent via email and conducted in early February by Buffy Wicks‘ assembly campaign, it not only delivers attack lines against four of her top opponents, but also tests a number of fundamental campaign strategies. For instance, whether to support charter schools or public schools, her own basic campaign description, whether to present herself to supporters of Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, and how she might describe own her experience to voters.

The poll takes particular aim at four candidates–Richmond Councilmember Jovanka Beckles, Oakland Councilmember Dan Kalb, Berkeley school board member Judy Appel, and El Cerrito Councilmember Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto.

A number poll questions skewered Wicks’ opponents for either being inattentive local councilmembers, disagreeable, or lacking experience.

“I’m not surprised. We’ve seen this before with Chevron,” said Beckles, referring to the Chevron Richmond refinery, which has used far more aggressive campaign tactics against Richmond progressives in the past.

Nicole Derse, Wicks’ campaign consultant denied the survey was a “push poll,” which is typically used by campaign not only to test potential stances on certain issues, but also to denigrate opponents. “This is certainly not a push poll. This poll said, ‘Here’s the candidates. Here’s there biographies.’ There’s nothing misleading,” said Derse. The February survey was conducted by well-known pollster David Binder, added Derse.

(A sampling of the poll questions can be found below.)

The type of polling done here is often cost-prohibitive for campaigns. Wicks’ campaign, however, is flush with cash. She reported more than $385,000 in cash on hand, according to the most recent campaign finance reports through Dec. 31. By contrast, the next richest campaign belonging to Oakland Councilmember Kalb, reported just $150,000 in the bank.

The internal poll also tested a few possible negative attacks that might be used against Wicks, including her limited residency in the district and a notable question about luxury housing.

“Wicks may have national experience, but, she just moved to the area and is already running for office. She hasn’t lived here long enough to really understand the community and its needs,” according the poll, which asks respondents to rate how convincing the statement is or whether it’s false. A separate question more specifically aims to gauge support for the same sentiment–do voters support local experience or national experience.

“Wicks thinks building luxury housing will somehow get us out of the affordable housing crisis. She wants to gut rent control and give carte blanche to developers. Maybe it’s because she takes so much money from real estate developers,” according to a poll question. Another pits housing strategies against each other, asking respondents whether they support building new housing at slow pace in order to “preserve a neighborhood’s character” or to build new housing at all levels “even if it changes our neighborhoods?”

Other times, certain phrases appear to be tested in the poll, such as, describing herself as “an outsider progressive with a history of getting things done.” An effort is also made to test a number of short descriptions Wicks might use to attract voters, including, non-profit director, community organizer, small business woman, and children’s advocate. The latter phrase has been use by Wicks in recent weeks.

Wicks campaign also appeared to be weighing how much they should focus on local issues like housing, education and traffic, or position the campaign as part of “The Resistance” against President Donald Trump, according to the poll.

Wicks’ past as the head of Hillary Clinton’s campaign in California two years ago is also measured. The question is likely included to ascertain whether district supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign may still harbor resentment toward Clinton and, by extension, Wicks’ strong connection to that campaign.

The poll even asked about the favorability of Gabby Giffords, the former Arizona congressmember who was shot in 2011. The polling numbers apparent were positive. Giffords, and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, will be special guests at the opening of her Berkeley campaign headquarters this Saturday.

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