A pollster who boldly declared that candidate Donald Trump had “no chance” of becoming President now says Senator Lamar Alexander is polling as a virtual lock for reelection in 2020.
Alexander’s longtime pollster, North Star Opinion Research President Whit Ayers, wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece in April, 2016: “A Trump nomination has as much chance of success in the general election as Trump University, or Trump Mortgage, or Trump Shuttle, or Trump Vodka, or Trump Casinos. Trump is an electoral disaster waiting to happen.” That was, of course, before Trump won the White House over Hillary Clinton by a somewhat comfortable electoral margin.
That same pollster is now claiming that an internal poll conducted in advance of an expected announcement by Senator Lamar Alexander that he will seek reelection in 2020 shows Alexander with strong approval ratings among Tennessee voters. The Monday internal polling memo from Ayers to the Senator’s campaign team claimed that Alexander’s favorability rating among likely Republican primary voters is 65 percent, just shy of two-thirds support.
The 600-person survey was conducted Nov. 26-29. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent. The 78-year-old Alexander told The Tennessee Star last month that he intended to announce his plans before year end. Based on Ayers’ track record, the Alexander team should be very cautious about his polling data.
Ayers’ poll results are in stark contrast to recent polling conducted by The Tennessee Star. In the Triton Poll of 1038 likely general election voters in September, 2018, Alexander had an approval rating of 32% and a disapproval of 41%. A huge number of voters, particularly for a figure as well known as Alexander, were unsure or did not know how they felt about the Senator. A poll of likely GOP voters in June, 2018 showed Alexander facing a virtual even split among Republicans with an approval/disapproval of 37-38.
Tennessee Star political editor Steve Gill noted in September that Alexander’s low approval figures could be traced to several factors. “First, his colleague Senator Bob Corker regularly attacks President Trump; Corker’s behavior is splashing back on Lamar despite the fact that he’s actually been very supportive of the President and isn’t launching the kinds of cheap shots that Corker constantly spews out. Not calling out Corker and standing more clearly with the President doesn’t endear him to the Trump supporters.”
“Second, those who support Trump among the conservative Republican and independent voter base, including Tea Party activists, see Alexander as too entrenched with the Establishment and too moderate; while the never-Trumpers and liberals see him aligned too closely with the President, so both sides of the ideological aisle are not supportive of Alexander.”
“Finally, in a time when many political leaders express themselves in the raw, bold and blustery manner of professional wrestlers, Lamar has a restrained, thoughtful and genteel manner that leaves some voters wondering if he has the ‘fight’ in him necessary for these combative and rough-and-tumble times.”
Unlike Corker, Alexander is not disliked and has retained a strong level of respect from the voters, Gill added. “Looking towards 2020 he has a lot of work to do in connecting with Tennessee voters in an environment vastly different than he has ever faced,” Gill said. “He has to stay true to who he is while communicating his solidarity and alignment with Trump on key issues while not trying to emulate the President’s tone and tenor. It’s a difficult challenge.”
Should Alexander seek re-election, he will be running as President Donald Trump is also on the ballot. The Tennessee Star September poll indicated that Trump retains a strong measure of support from Tennessee voters. His approval/disapproval numbers are 51.8% approve versus 42.4% disapprove with only 5.8% undecided. Trump’s approval rating is a full twenty points higher than Alexander’s. The strength of the Trump brand in Tennessee was reflected in his support for Marsha Blackburn — which helped her to an 11 point margin of victory over Phil Bredesen in November, Gill notes.
“For Lamar to prevail in a Republican primary in Tennessee in 2020, he will need the full embrace of President Donald Trump — the same President Trump that his pollster said could not win! Nevertheless, at this point Lamar has to be considered a favorite for reelection if only because ‘you can’t beat somebody with nobody’.”
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