Progressives blame polling for Ilya Sheyman loss

at 12:44 PM ET, 03/21/2012

Progressive groups banded together for the first time this cycle to support a primary candidate on Tuesday night in Illinois. But, they — and he — lost.

Ilya Sheyman, a community organizer, was defeated in the Democratic primary for Illinois’ 10th district 47 percent to 39 percent by management consultant Brad Schneider.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for American and MoveOn.org all backed Sheyman, helping him better Schneider in fundraising.

Those groups also attacked Schneider, who has donated to Republicans and is more centrist on economic issues, as far too moderate for the new district, which went for President Obama with 62 percent in 2008.

And, the national progressive groups repeatedly touted this race, pointing to Public Policy Polling surveys showing Sheyman with a steadily expanding lead.

So what happened?

“The polling was wrong. It was completely wrong,” said MoveOn’s Daniel Mintz. “Any time you're basing strategic decisions on bad polling, that’s likely not going to lead to the outcome you want.” PPP released a memo calling the polling “one of our worst misses ever.”

Some said the Sheyman hype and subsequent loss are indicative of a matter exhibited by the PCCC.

“For the PCCC, this is just another example that they can’t win elections,” said one Democratic strategist. “In this town, in this business, that’s what its about. A lot of other organizations on both sides of the aisle have come up short, but they yet to prove that they can win one of their major races.”

The PCCC was heavily involved in the 2010 Arkansas Senate primary, backing Lt. Gov. Bill Halter against then-Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D). Halter lost. The group also predicted last summer that Democrats would retake the Wisconsin state senate, only to fall short by a single seat.

"Many 'strategists' have a vested interest in criticizing the PCCC because we are trying to put them out of business — for ripping candidates off and teaching Democrats how to be weak and lose,” PCCC founder Adam Green responded, pointing to the primary victory of New Hampshire’s Ann Kuster in the survival of Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) in 2010.

Aside from bad polling, there were other reasons why predictions of Sheyman’s victory were off by so much. For one, turnout was low — about 33,000 people voted, compared to about 53,000 in a competitive 2010 Democratic primary in this seat that takes in much of the affluent northern suburbs of Chicago.

In an email to PCCC supporters Wednesday afternoon, Green pointed to turnout and polling, saying “The best answer came this morning from someone close to the campaign: ‘Nobody voted.’”

A strategist for the Schneider campaign said that they expected low turnout and were targeting the right voters — while Sheyman wasn’t.

“We were in mailboxes in early January to the people we thought would be voting, and we had the space to ourselves” the source said. “I think it shows that doing paid communication has an impact.”

The Schneider campaign did a poll in mid-February showing him ahead of Sheyman, and the strategist said they did not see any change on the ground despite PPP’s numbers: “It didn’t really ring true to us.”

Progressives argued that they forced Schneider to the left in the primary, a victory in itself. Schneider protested.

“I’m not going to move to the left in the primary and the right in the general,” Schneider told reporters Wednesday. He will face freshman Republican Rep. Bob Dold, a major Democratic Party target. “I am who I am. The positions I took in the primary were no surprise to people who’ve known me for years.”

 
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