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Ryan challenger releases poll, sees opportunity for a win

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
December 15, 2011

Even as Rep. Paul Ryan's fame grows nationally, he may be facing his toughest re-election challenge.


That's what Rob Zerban would like people to believe. Zerban on Wednesday announced results of a poll that seem to back him up.


Zerban, a Kenosha Democrat, is the only candidate to declare he's running against Republican Ryan in the November 2012 elections.


The poll by Democratic pollsters Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates is a survey of 405 likely voters in next November's elections, selected at random in the 1st Congressional District.


The poll was taken Oct. 27-Nov. 2. It shows "challenger Rob Zerban is well-positioned to give incumbent Paul Ryan the toughest fight of his career, with a very good chance to upset him," according to a memo from the poll-taking firm.


The ability of a poll to predict election results a year before the election is limited, said longtime political observer and UW-Whitewater professor emeritus John Kozlowicz.


That's especially true because most voters have no idea what to think of a Ryan challenger.


Once they get to know the challenger, results could easily shift, Kozlowicz said.


"I just would have a hard time thinking Ryan was in trouble. He gets good publicity. He has a strong staff that regularly is out and about in the 1st District" and does a good job of constituent services, Kozlowicz said.


"All those things add up when you head toward an election," Kozlowicz said.


Democrats may think they have a chance this time because Congress' approval rating is so low, Kozlowicz said, but time and again, polls show disapproval of Congress while the popularity of the local congressman remains high.


About 90 percent of House incumbents are re-elected, Kozlowicz said.


Zerban's campaign would not release the entire poll, so it was impossible to check the memo's conclusions.


The memo notes that Paul Ryan is used to winning more than 60 percent of the vote.


The poll, however, found Ryan's approval rating was at 54 percent positive, "all this before the beginning of an active campaign against Ryan."


The Zerban campaign may not be in full swing, but he has been campaigning, notably on Twitter, Facebook and in fundraising emails, and he has made appearances across the district.


Ryan's ratings drop to 52 percent when voters were told positive things about both Zerban and about Ryan, the memo states. What information respondents were exposed to is unknown.


Ryan's rating drops to 46 percent after respondents hear "one additional paragraph linking Ryan to the Republican leadership in Congress and describing his authorship of the House budget plan," according to the memo.


The pollster concludes that a Ryan-Zerban match-up would "undoubtedly be a very close race."


The poll's margin of error was put at plus or minus 4.9 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.



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