GOP pollster with ties to Ga. under fire after Cantor loss

Staff Writer Daniel Malloy contributed to this story.

The pollster who had House Majority Leader Eric Cantor with a 34-point lead days before his stunning upset defeat by a tea party challenger is the same firm that’s long been a favorite of Georgia Republicans.

Gov. Nathan Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Attorney General Sam Olens have all employed John McLaughlin of McLaughlin & Associates, whose work came under fire after Cantor’s loss to little-known professor David Brat.

State operatives wouldn’t comment on a vendor, but several pointed to a recent poll by McLaughlin ahead of the May 20 primary that accurately showed Rep. Jack Kingston edging out Karen Handel for the second spot in the GOP Senate runoff. Kingston’s spokesman said he remained “confident” in the firm.

“Our internal numbers were spot on,” Spokesman Chris Crawford said in an email, “in the face of public polls even up to the day before the primary, which showed us in third.”

Kingston’s opponent, former Dollar General CEO David Perdue, took the occasion to point out a McLaughlin poll which was conducted three weeks before the primary. That poll predicted Kingston would lead the pack with 20 percent of the vote, instead of finishing second to Perdue.

McLaughlin, for his part, told reporters that Democrats were partly to blame for the higher turnout that led to Cantor’s surprising defeat. He said an open letter from former Georgia Rep. Ben “Cooter” Jones, a Democrat who now lives in Virginia, helped drive crossover voters to the polls.

Jones – who served a suburban Atlanta district in the U.S. House for two terms ending in 1993 – ran against Cantor and lost a decade ago. He took a small amount of credit for Brat’s win, but the 12 percentage point triumph could not be entirely blamed on crossover votes.

“People were just sick and tired of Cantor and … they brought the boy home,” Jones said Wednesday. “I had a little part in it, that’s what his pollster says anyway. They would rather blame it on a Democrat than blame it on a Republican.”

Jones said he was getting all sorts of kudos from Democrats and tea party types alike, and was enjoying it well.

“There ain’t no freude like schadenfreude,” he said, referring to the German word meaning “joy in others’ pain.”

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