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Did Politico Lift Washington Post Analysis on Special Election? And Do It Wrong?

Editor’s Note (April 3rd, 2013 2:55PM ET):

In this item published yesterday, ViralRead staff asked whether an article by Politico reporter Alex Isenstadt about the South Carolina congressional runoff campaign had borrowed a projected turnout number — 45,000 — used in a previous Washington Post article by Sean Sullivan. And just how he came to the exact same opposite conclusion…

After e-mail communication with Isenstadt’s editor at Politico, we have been told that Isenstadt’s article was based on independent reporting, and that the similarity of the projected turnout number was a mere coincidence. Further, he had a source he did not cite in the article to present his analysis.


Whether it is an attempt to lift content in a campaign where exclusive information is sparse (and then do it wrong) or whether reporters are victims of stealthy operative spin, the new number of the day is 45,000. In the Lowcountry of South Carolina, where many news outlets couldn’t afford to send anyone to cover a Republican run-off, information can be hard to come by. However, ViralRead and Politico are on the ground for the South Carolina brawl.

ViralRead has been following the special election caused by the appointment of now Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) filing more stories on the race than most outlets.

Screenshot of Sanford 45,000

Accessed on 2013-04-02 at 12:06:28 PM

Sean Sullivan of the Washington Post talked to a GOP operative for his piece entitled, “Mark Sanford well positioned to win South Carolina GOP runoff” published yesterday.

“Anything over 45,000 or so is bad news for Mark Sanford,” said Walter Whetsell, a Republican strategist whose firm worked for GOP candidate John Kuhn in the primary. Kuhn endorsed Bostic in the runoff.

Nearly 16 hours later, Politico‘s South Carolina correspondent, Alex Isenstadt, wrote today’s “5 things to watch in Mark Sanford-Curtis Bostic runoff.”

No one thinks the contest will attract a swarm of voters. It is, after all, a special election runoff that comes two days after Easter. But how many people show up to the polls will say a lot.
A big turnout — say, 45,000 voters or more — is likely to benefit Sanford, who entered the runoff campaign with more than five times the amount of cash on hand as Bostic and who has far larger reach throughout the district.

So what you have is a South Carolina political strategist giving the threshold in which observers can start measuring indicators to then produce a predicted outcome — all speculative mind you — but then Politico goes and writes the exactly opposite conclusion, but using what appears to be that same strategist’s threshold. Hopefully they’re not teaching in J-school.

The case of the mystical 45,000 voter threshold with dual meanings will likely remain a mystery as mainstream outlets hate commenting on this type of stuff. What political observers will tell you is that with 53,000 voters voting in the GOP special election primary, you can expect drop-off. Anything equivalent or greater would mean one of two things (experts agree, both unlikely): 1) one or both of the candidates experienced an on-the-ground overwhelming surge, and/or 2) Democrats organized themselves quickly, choosing not to vote in the special election primary so they could vote in the GOP run-off in accordance with the law.

In most southern states, a candidate must achieve a simple majority before obtaining a nomination or office. Political operatives prepare for run-offs, throttling expenditures and forecasting turnout in precincts, especially those favorable to their given candidate. Data is gold, not so hard to come by, but hard to streamline.

The significance and uniqueness of this 45,000 lies in the fact one strategist has given one number — and only as an indicator of how the outcome could turnout. That very same number then appeared in Politico — asserting the opposite in the article and having no citation or expert.  This is truly an election where anything can happen and there be a logical reason for it (no Alvin Greene scenario happening here). But forecasting that? A fool’s game.

Alvin Greene says 45,000!?!

The outcome will bring all kinds of ‘I told ya so’s,’ but all that analysis will be done in hindsight. the current status of the race probably lays somewhere around HotAir.com’s Ed Morrissey’s analysis today, in which he writes, “no one seems to know what the status of the race actually is.”


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