Hellenthal and Associates, an Anchorage pollster, made about 1,200 calls over the weekend and ended up with 318 of this campaign season's most sought-after group: likely Republican voters.
The opinions of those 318 Alaskans weren't especially surprising. Statewide incumbents like Gov. Sean Parnell, U.S. Rep. Don Young, and U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski all held comfortable leads of 60 or 70 percent, while challengers are having a tough time getting anyone to pay attention to them.
In the senate race, for example, the poll said that if voters pulled levers today, Murkowski would run away with 69 percent of the vote. But delve a little deeper for the pearls. The poll also asked voters whom they were leaning towards and broke that data down by how likely those voters were to actually make it into the booth.
The result? Senate challenger Joe Miller does relatively better with voters who are "absolutely certain" they'll be voting (23 percent compared to Murkowski's 52 percent, with the remaining 24 percent undecided.) Miller's numbers crater, however, with voters who are less likely to actually cast a ballot.
So if only the likeliest voters make it to the polls, and if Miller picks up every one of the undecided voters, he makes it close. Not close enough to win, but close. To actually win, Miller has to win over voters who, right now, are leaning towards Murkowski.
That's where the "dynamite" comes in.
"To move the moderate and strongly committed people, you need dynamite. You need negative ads to move people." said Marc Hellenthal, the owner of the firm that ran the poll. "You can't kiss babies and do it. Miller can't win without running negatives."
So for Miller, the poll's meaning is clear: Run negative ads and pray for low turnout.
If the governor's race was called today, Gov. Sean Parnell would scoop up 60 percent of the vote while Bill Walker and Ralph Samuels would straggle in with 15 and 13 percent of the vote respectively (Parnell's campaign sent out a self-congratulatory press release about the poll Tuesday afternoon.)
Sheldon Fisher, another challenger laying siege to one of the great fortress of incumbency, has a tough fight against U.S. Rep. Don Young. If voters headed to the polls today, 62 percent would yank for Young while 34 percent would favor Fisher.
The race for lieutenant governor is a fun one, complete with pulled endorsements and great art. If that one went today, Hellenthal found Jay Ramras would get 29 percent of the vote, Mead Treadwell would get 23 percent, and Eddie Burke would bring up the rear with 11.5 percent. It's the closest race around.
The poll also asked voters how different candidate characteristics would affect their support for that candidate, sort of a "what are you looking for in an Alaska politician" kind of thing.
When asked, 62 percent of those polled said they were more likely to support a candidate who takes a strong stance against President Barack Obama. But 74 percent of respondents said they were less likely to support a candidate who supports the elimination of federal funding for Alaska. That could prove problematic for Joe "limited Constitutional government" Miller, who is running on the tea party platform of cutting federal spending.
The poll also ran through a list of Alaskans and asked voters what they thought of them. Ted Stevens racked up the biggest positives, 79 percent, while 56 percent of those polled regarded half-term former Gov. Sarah Palin favorably. Voters simply said "Who?" when asked about some of the challengers. Forty-four percent failed to recognize Samuels, 39 percent Walker, and 67 percent for Fisher. Miller, meanwhile, showed he has gained name recognition. Only 25 percent of voters failed to recognize him.
Hellenthal said the poll was paid for by someone with particular interest in the Senate race. He wouldn't say who, but said it was not one of the candidates. The poll cost that client $3,000, said Hellenthal, who then approached candidates in the lieutenant governor and U.S. representative races to say that for $1,000 each, he'd include them in the poll too. At least one candidate from each of those races accepted Hellenthal's offer. Gov. Parnell's campaign approached Hellenthal and asked to buy in, and their $1,000 rounded out the $6,000 the firm made on the poll.
The poll only includes answers from voters eligible and likely to vote in the Republican primary. Neither Democrats nor those who said they probably wouldn't vote were included in the poll. According to Hellenthal, he is 95 percent certain that his poll numbers come within 5.5 percent of the true numbers for statewide Republicans likely to vote in the primary.
Contact Joshua Saul at jsaul(at)alaskadispatch.com.