Renacci? Sutton? Who?
Only one in three voters knows who’s running for the 16th Congressional District, according to a poll released Monday by Jefferson Action, a nonpartisan Minnesota group that is focusing on the race.
Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci has better name recognition than U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, his Democratic opponent. More voters thought U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is actually defending his Senate seat, was the Democratic candidate in the 16th District rather than Sutton, the poll found.
More voters — 24 percent — said they were undecided than those who said they’d vote for Renacci (22 percent) or Sutton (21 percent). A third of voters said they’d choose to vote for someone else or sit out the election if it were held the day they were questioned.
Jim Meffert, who heads Jefferson Action, was somewhat surprised by the dismal name recognition for the two congressional incumbents, who were thrown into the same race by redistricting and must duke it out in the Nov. 6 election. He said the results support his group’s decision to focus on the race, which is expected to be one of the most closely watched and expensive in the country. Jefferson Action is hoping to guide the race away from mudslinging and into a discussion of the most important economic issues.
“Neither candidate made an impression,” Meffert said. “They have a lot of work to do to get their name identification out. … It really reaffirmed that we’re at a place where the project can help people understand what the candidates think about economic stuff.”
The poll, conducted by the Center for Marketing & Opinion Research in Akron, surveyed 600 registered voters in the new 16th District from June 13 to 27. It had a margin of error of 4 percent.
Jefferson Action is using a citizen jury process to identify the most important economic issues for voters in the 16th District and then evaluate how well the candidates address those topics. A representative group of 22 voters that convened July 27 to 29 identified the economy, unemployment and the federal budget deficit as the key issues.
The poll also reflected those priorities, showing:
• 91 percent chose economic and budget issues as most important.
• 8 percent picked social or national security issues as the key topics.
• Unemployment, cost of health care, federal budget and debt, and weak economic growth ranked highest, identified by those surveyed as either “very important” or “extremely important.”
Jefferson Action will take its next steps in September and October, when jurors will convene to grade the candidates on how well they’ve addressed the issues identified by the group. The jurors will report their recommendations on whether either, both or neither of the candidates has sufficiently tackled the topics on Oct. 7.
Sutton, of Copley Township, has agreed to participate in an event the group will have Oct. 6. Renacci, of Wadsworth, has not yet signed on, though Meffert said his group has been in contact with the campaign. He thinks Renacci also will agree to take part.
“Hopefully, we have created a context for the campaigns to quit barking at each other and start talking about things that matter to people,” Meffert said. “We will be watching and providing information to people in the fall.”
Complete poll results, including the wording of the questions, are available at www.jeffersonaction.org.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter (@swarsmith).