The N&O poll on the D.A.’s race offers three points of interest. The poll shows Mike Nifong with 46% of the vote, to 28% for Lewis Cheek, 24% undecided, and 2% for write-in spoiler Steve Monks.
The items of note:
1.) While Nifong remains the favorite, he is beatable—especially if the N&O editorial board finally gives a sign of reading its own newspaper and endorses Cheek.
Nifong’s 46% is likely overstated by 2-3%: the actual tally is probably closer to 43-31. Cell-phone users and college students tend to be undercounted in polls; in a poll like this, where the group is one and the same—the 1000+ newly registered Duke students, among support for Nifong is minimal if non-existent—the undercounting probably had some marginal effect on the poll.
Undecideds at this stage of the race usually break against the incumbent, even more so in a contest such as this one, with an extraordinarily polarizing figure as the candidate.
Nifong isn’t even bothering to reach out to
2.) Nifong’s base is solid—even if by supporting him, it has compromised its principles.
The N&O poll found Nifong’s support from black voters at 62%, to 9% for Cheek, with the rest undecided. Nifong might have, as James Coleman told 60 Minutes, pandered to the black community—but the N&O numbers suggest his pandering found a receptive audience.
The district attorney has the support of two Durham-area PACs. Last week, he got the nod from the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People—marking the first time I can recall in any high-profile race where a minority PAC had endorsed a candidate best known for prosecutorial misconduct and eroding civil liberties. These two issues are normally of considerable concern to the black community.
Meanwhile, among the white left, Nifong retained the support of the People’s
Obviously, for Nifong’s backers, some issues are more important than civil liberties, prosecutorial misconduct, and gay rights.
3.) Steve Monks is the Ralph Nader of this race.
The Monks case was laid out recently by advisor Cliff Brandt in a passionately argued Chronicle essay. The appeal most reminds me of the Ralph Nader 2000 campaign. Nader reached out to voters on the left wing of the political spectrum, contending that no difference existed between Al Gore and George Bush, so they should search for the perfect candidate for their ideological principles and vote for him. Enough did, siphoning votes away from Gore, for Bush to become president.
I don’t know too many Nader voters who still maintain there’s no difference between George Bush and Al Gore.
In this campaign, Monks argues he would be a better DA than anyone appointed by Mike Easley. That’s probably true. But as his 2% showing in the N&O poll suggests, he has no chance of becoming DA, at least in 2006. Since Nifong’s base is rock-solid at just under 50%, if Monks secures even 5% of the vote, his total would be enough to ensure a Nifong win.
Monks’ effect is most evident among Republicans. Cheek leads among Republicans with 44% to 4% for Nifong (and 3% for Monks). But half of Durham County Republicans (or 10% of the electorate overall) are undecided. Nifong has almost no GOP support; with Monks out of the race, that bloc of undecided Republican voters would shift almost entirely to Cheek. Such a move would shrink a roughly 43-31 Nifong lead into a 43-41 barnburner.
So, there would seem to be three options:
- a “petty-tyrant” prosecutor who should “be under criminal investigation” by Stuart Taylor in National Journal;
- “despicable . . . a disgrace” who “deserves to be pilloried every day the rest of his life” by San Diego Union editorialist Chris Reed;
- the modern-day equivalent of the unethical prosecutors who oversaw the Scottsboro Boys trial by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times.
- Duke Basketball Report, which noted as "we've become deeply skeptical about . . . the fairness of the D.A.'s office. If you live in Durham, one of your choices is to get shed of Mike Nifong, and if you think that's the right course of action, then you should visit www.recallnifong.com. And a special note to Duke students . . . not only do you have to take a serious look at Nifong's management of the case (and his ethics as well), but if the article about Sgt. Gottlieb is to be believed (and why not ask the students quoted? They'll surely tell you what you need to know), then Duke students are not being treated the same as everyone else is. You are, in fact, being accorded a harsher brand of 'justice.'"
- Liestoppers, which contended that the Recall Nifong-Vote Cheek campaign "deserves support, not only from those whose votes will make a difference in this referendum, but also from those beyond, whose voices and actions might help to stop this menace to justice everywhere."
- Ruth Sheehan and Michael Gaynor, on the left and right two of the most passionate critics of Nifong, both of whom have endorsed RN-VC and called on Monks to withdraw.
We’ve learned over the past seven months that the county has a healthy constituency in favor of prosecutorial misconduct and the politics of revenge. But the N&O poll proves that anyone who is serious about ousting Nifong has only one choice.