story by Ryan Saylor
New internal polling obtained by The City Wire in the race for the District 9 Senate seat shows one candidate with a distinct lead, while his GOP primary opponent is questioning its accuracy and flatly denying that he has any ground to make up in the race.
The poll, conducted by Rep. Terry Rice's consulting firm — Little Rock-based Impact Management Group — shows Rice, R-Waldron, leading incumbent Sen. Bruce Holland, R-Greenwood, among likely Republican voters. The poll also had Rice ahead in favorability versus Holland.
On the question of how favorable 362 likely Republican voters across Crawford, Franklin, Scott and Sebastian Counties found Holland, 34% had a favorable view of him, while 22% had an unfavorable view and the remaining 44% "don't know" their view of him.
The same question of Rice showed him with a 40% favorable, 9% unfavorable and 51% "don't know." On the question of which candidate the respondents would vote for if the May 20 primary were held today, 42% said Rice while only 30% said Holland. Twenty-eight percent are still undecided.
The poll, with a margin of error of +/- 5.15%, sampled individuals who have voted in at least one of the last five Republican primaries, according to a memo from Impact Management Partner Clint Reed to Rice dated Wednesday (April 9). In explaining the key findings of the poll to Rice, Reed pointed to the poll showing Rice's strong showing despite Holland's first mailer being received by residents in the last week.
The memo also noted that the firm running Rice's campaign feels confident he is positioned to defeat Holland next month, though Reed warned Rice to expect a shift in the campaign.
"It is very important that we prepare our campaign and supporters for an onslaught of negative advertising from the opposition and 3rd party groups in the final days of this campaign," he wrote. "I assure you they will leave no stone unturned in an attempt to win this race."
As a result, Reed said the campaign "must not hesitate to set the record straight and draw sharp contrast on the numerous conservative issues that resonate with Republican Primary voters."
Reached by telephone Wednesday, Holland dismissed the poll.
"It's really not surprising that they would present the poll like this after what has happened in the race this week," he said. "I got endorsed by one of the largest, most organized Tea Party groups in the state (Conservative Arkansas). This is just trying to generate interest in the race for them."
Though declining to go into specifics, Holland said his own internal polling showed different results in the race and attacked Impact Management's past polling.
"Well, we have our own polling methodology that we've used. My polls have consistently been good in the past. I know the group that did this poll has had some problems in the past in Northwest Arkansas, the primary season two years ago that had bad numbers for Rep. (Tim) Summers running against Bart Hester. … (That race) turned out to be different from (its) polling."
Hester won the election by nearly seven points.
Reached for comment, Reed declined to respond to Holland's jabs. For his part, Rice said he was excited about the results of his poll numbers and would continue pushing issues that he feels are important to voters.
“We are pleased with the progress we have made in a short period of time, but there is a lot of work to do,” Rice stated. “I know that the only poll that matters is Election Day. We’ve got great support across the district, and I’m getting a great reception from voters as we talk about my small business experience and my conservative values.”
In declining to discuss his own internal polling, Holland said he wanted to catch Rice and his consulting team by surprise on May 20.
"Again, I'm not going to discuss my poll numbers. I think I know exactly where we are in this race. I don't want them to have any idea. If they are confident with their numbers and go with them, then I am happy with that."