Thursday, March 1, 2018

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

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


  1. As far as Buffy Wicks's chances, be aware of correlating fund raising prowness with electability. If such a correlation existed; Oakland would now have a Mayor Bryan Parker instead of Mayor Libby Schaaf. As in Parker's case, he had plenty of money; but a fuzzy undefined message

  2. If money mattered, RPA corporate-free candidates for city council in Richmond would lose to Chevron's big bucks. Instead, as dramatized in the documentary, "Nat Bates Runs for Mayor," any candidate for office in Richmond who takes Chevron money now is guaranteed to be viewed askance.

  3. It's not just that Wicks has more money, it's that a majority of the funds she has received have come from outside AD-15, with more than half coming from outside the state. She has more donors from D.C. than from Oakland or Richmond. While her poll questions try to portray her opponents as inexperienced and ineffective, she's the one who has never held elected office or worked on issues in the District. Jovanka Beckles is a better choice; she has helped get things done in Richmond, like increasing the minimum wage.

  4. Other than the NRA, who isn't a "children's advocate?" Ms. Wicks' lack of any experience in elected office, her parachuting into AD 15 to run for state assembly, her $.5 million war chest: all are red flags showing she is a business-as-usual Democratic candidate.

    In this bluest of blue districts, the benefits of living in a progressive area don’t touch low-income communities of color. As far as social equity is concerned, let alone social and environmental justice, we’re still at square one. Will she change that? What has she actually done for our community? She might consider paying her dues like every other candidate in the race—get involved in a local advocacy group, sit on a city commission, run for school board or city council—before she jumps in at the highest level.