Two polls have been conducted in the Louisville mayor’s race. The first, a WHAS-11/Courier-Journal Bluegrass poll shows Democrat Greg Fischer and Republican Hal Heiner tied with 45% of the vote. The second, a CN-2 poll conducted ten days later, gives Fischer a seven point lead, at 40%, with about a fifth of voters undecided. The next three months will likely be a hard political fight as the candidates grapple for those undecided voters and try to pull supporters from each other. As WFPL’s Gabe Bullard reports, they’re drawing the battle lines now.
Democrats outnumber Republicans in Louisville, so a Heiner victory relies on voter crossover. Both polls show a substantial number of Democrats–more than 20 percent in one survey–supporting Heiner, and the candidate seems solely focused on attracting more. Heiner frequently campaigns on issues that Fischer’s primary rivals championed. At a press conference this week, he clarified his policy on revising the Ohio River Bridges Project, which Fischer says he wants completed as soon as possible. Heiner favors building an east-end bridge first, and waiting on or revising plans for a downtown bridge and reworked Spaghetti Junction until they’re more economically feasible.
“Half the cost of the project is Spaghetti Junction, and I think that’s the first place—if someone was taking a serious engineering look at streamlining this project to re-look at,” he said. “Can we use pieces of Spaghetti Junction to significantly reduce the cost of this project?”
But Fischer isn’t content to have his own party members defect. His campaign spokesperson predicts the number of Democrats who say they will cross party lines will decrease in future surveys. To encourage them, Fischer has been reminding voters that Heiner is, in fact, a Republican–a social conservative who voted against renewing Louisville’s Fairness Ordinance after merger. He said this to Heiner at a debate in July.
“I’m concerned whether you represent that center, Hal,” he said. “You appeared a Tea Party rally alongside Rand Paul.”
“Sometimes I think those guilt by associations don’t necessarily work. Sometimes those can actually backfire. Sometimes voters can see through that,” says Dr. Dewey Clayton, a Professor of American Politics at the University of Louisville.
Clayton says such tactics may not work with voters who are more focused on local issues than state or national concerns. But he says Heiner’s attempts to make Fischer seem like a rubber stamp of longtime Mayor Jerry Abramson may not be a winning strategy, either. Clayton doesn’t attribute either candidates’ poll numbers to any particular strategy. Rather, he says Heiner’s Democratic support could come from incumbent fatigue among voters and the fact that he’s run a more active campaign than Fischer up to this point. Clayton expects the poll numbers to continue to change as both candidates distinguish themselves on certain issues. To make those distinctions clear, Clayton says they may turn to their mutual opponent…independent Jackie Green.
“Often, independents, that’s soft support, so they will try to woo supporters so on election day, they break one way or the other,” he says.
Green only garnered three percent of support in both polls, but he’s been a constant presence at forums and debates, often skewing the discussion toward his signature issues, such as transportation and the environment. Green says one his goals in the race is to influence the discourse between candidates. In that regard, Clayton says Green may be successful.
“Often times when there is a third party candidate, one of the other candidates or often both candidates will co-opt their message to pull voters.”
So while victory for Green or the other independents in the race may be a long shot, it’s possible they’ll have a key role in deciding the race come November.