PORTLAND, Ore. – With just over a week until ballots for Portland's mayor are counted, the race has tightened to a three-way tie among the leading candidates, according to a KATU News/SurveyUSA poll released Monday.
State Rep. Jefferson Smith made the most significant gains on his rivals, businesswoman Eileen Brady and former City Commissioner Charlie Hales.
In a previous SurveyUSA poll released late in February, Brady led with 28 percent while Hales had 16 percent. Smith had 10 percent.
In Monday’s poll, however, Smith was just 1 percentage point behind Brady, garnering 27 percent of the vote. Hales was in third, capturing 25 percent. But all candidates were within the poll’s margin of error, making it a statistical tie.
Pollsters found that among voters who had already turned in their ballots, Brady was leading 36 percent while Smith received 29 percent and Hales 26 percent.
Hales also has narrowed the gap while Brady's support has stalled, especially among women. In April, she led by 28 percent with women voters. Now that lead is 8 percent.
Smith is dominating with younger voters. He gets more support with the 18- to 34-year-old crowd than Brady and Hales combined. Hales is also winning the over 50 vote but not by a lot.
As for Brady's stalled numbers, Reed College political science professor Paul Gronke said, "it's typical for a candidate like that who's a newcomer to do very well initially and then trail back as reality sets in."
He said while there are enthusiastic supporters for each candidate, there's no "groundswell of excitement" for any of them.
Gronke said Smith is in the best position now, coming on strong late in the primary campaign.
Some observers suggest the candidates stop focusing on policy differences and instead spotlight their personalities.
"I think that all three of these candidates are just looking for the last few percentages," Gronke said. "That's a good strategy if one of them was five points behind. I think right now they're going to be very risk averse."
There are still a relatively large number of undecided voters in the race but that group dropped significantly from previous polls in the high 20s to 15 percent in Monday’s poll.
To win outright on May 15, a candidate will need 50 percent or more of the votes. Such an outcome is unlikely, however, and the top-two finishers will face off in November’s General Election.
The same might be true for the race for Position 1 in the City Commissioner’s race. Incumbent Amanda Fritz is in a tight battle with her challenger, state Rep. Mary Nolan.
The race is essentially tied, but the poll found Nolan leading Fritz by three points, 34 percent to 31 percent; however, 21 percent of voters are still undecided in the race and 15 percent said they’d vote for another candidate.
The mayor’s race has largely been civil and candidates have faced difficulties separating themselves from each other in the minds of voters.
Gronke said none of the candidates has been able to obtain a clear lead because they haven't "been able to grab the mantle of change and leadership."
There are more than 20 candidates running in the race to replace Mayor Sam Adams who decided against running for a second term.
In the City Commissioner’s race, Nolan has fired a few shots at her opponent – notably Fritz’ handling of a new 911 system that was launched under her supervision. Fritz defends the system, saying it was implemented on time and on budget. Additionally, she says it works despite some initial hiccups.
Without naming her opponent, Fritz has launched a television ad that takes aim at candidates who raise big money during campaigns for City Commissioner. Fritz is proud that she was first elected to the City Council with public money, and in her bid for re-election has limited contributions to $50 per person. But as a result, Fritz has largely had to fund her campaign with her own money.
Nolan said in Sunday’s “Your Voice, Your Vote” that is an indication that Fritz doesn’t have broad support from voters. On the other hand, she says the money she has raised comes from disparate groups, indicating broad support.
SurveyUSA also found that in Position 4 for City Commissioner, former U.S. Senate candidate Steve Novick was one point shy of 50 percent of the vote over his rivals. He may avoid a November runoff.
Both polls had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percent. SurveyUSA polled 798 people in Portland and found 724 of those were registered to vote. Of those, 563 were determined to have already voted or were likely to vote.
The polls were conducted over the weekend.