#NCSEN: A theory about that Tillis ad buy

Dr.-Evil-One-Million-DollarsThe NC House speaker’s fan club is beside itself over the Tillis for Senate campaign’s $1 million ad buy.  Mainstream media are touting the fact that the ad is biographical, does not mention Kay Hagan, or any of the other GOP candidates, or even Tillis’ tenure on Jones Street.   There is a lot of cooing over the price tag.  The ad buy is being spun as a sign of strength — burying Mighty Thom’s foes under an avalanche of advertising.  But IS it? 

Exhibit A: The Elon University Poll of February 23-26.  Take a look at the linked polling cross-tabs for the poll (especially page 17).  The survey shows that Tillis has a whopping 38 percent name ID.  Fifty-eight percent of respondents had no idea who the man is. This survey was taken after the man had already dropped $300,000 in his first ad buy.  He also holds one of the top elected positions in state government.  Tillis can flatulate and get press coverage.  Yet, he has 38 percent name ID.  

What ought to be more alarming for Theam Tillis was the favorability ratings respondents gave their man.  Combined — Democrats, Republicans and Independents gave Tillis an 18 percent favorability rating.  The total group gave him a 34 percent unfavorable rating.  The rest apparently had no idea what to think.   Republicans in the survey only gave Tillis a 29 percent favorable rating. 

You can dismiss the Elon poll as an aberration, but that survey’s numbers don’t stray too far from the findings in other polls of the GOP primary field.  The decision to downplay Tillis’ legislative service is wise.  At least one recent poll shows service in government is not exactly a plus for a Senate candidate.  

Tillis has been anointed by the media and the GOP Establishment as the inevitable nominee against Hagan.  He’s been able to out-fundraise his nearest primary opponents by roughly 3-to-1. Yet, he’s consistently showing poll numbers like this, and locked in a tight battle with Kay Hagan and multiple lesser-known, lesser-funded GOP rivals. 

This $1 million ad blitz is all about reversing the numbers like those found in the Elon Poll.  Sources tell me that Public Policy Polling is planning to poll the Senate race this weekend.  The ads should help boost the speaker’s name ID and favorability in time for the PPP survey.  Improved standing in that poll — which gets a lot of coverage statewide — will aid in the campaign cash chase and improve his standing in the primary field’s perceptions game.  (Sources tell me the Greg Brannon campaign will also be attempting to influence the PPP poll by sending out a huge statewide mailing touting their man.) 

Thanks to Tillis’ position in the House, there is a rather unfortunate perception of invincibility.  He’s been in the state House for four terms.  In his most competitive race — his first in 2006 — he won with 1805 votes to his opponent’s 1,061.  At most —  roughly 3000 people in a small sliver of Mecklenburg County have had a chance to evaluate him and vote on him.  Tillis convinced his GOP colleagues in the House — ranging at times from 50 to 70 people — to elect him to leadership posts.

Outside of the legislative building and that small sliver of Mecklenburg County, he’s a relatively unknown quantity.  The Raleigh-based mainstream media and the serious politicos may find that hard to believe. They live and breathe quorum calls, press conferences, and committee hearings.  But most people — too busy working to pay their bills and feed their families to fawn over politicians — have experience with the General Assembly that consists mostly of scratching their heads over just who the hell that guy or gal on the ballot is. 

Theam Tillis KNOWS they need to do some serious warm-fuzzy PR work on their guy.