Garber, Leger in dead heat heading into October

by Christiaan Mader

Leger and Garber are, statistically and financially, the clear frontrunners, with Garber picking up steam in latest polls.

A late September poll conducted by Tallahassee-based Cherry Communications for the Mark Garber campaign shows Garber and his "chief" rival, Scott Police Chief Chad Leger, in a statistical dead heat. Along with Rick Chargois and John Rogers, both are vying to replace retiring Sheriff Mike Neustrom.

Of 500 people polled, 33 percent leaned or supported Garber, while 35 percent leaned or supported Leger.

The September poll, conducted Sept. 24-26, reflects significant gains by the Garber campaign since an August poll showed the Broussard attorney catching up but still 13 points behind Leger. With Garber packing the much-sought-after Neustrom endorsement (which was announced two days before the poll commenced and likely has not fully impacted Garber's run) and loaning his campaign roughly $338,000, he’s poised to keep the race tight moving toward the primary on Oct. 24. The two top candidates will be heavily courting the roughly 25 percent of the voting public still undecided.

The Garber campaign cites a lack of name recognition as the culprit behind the candidate’s sluggish performance in early polls. A comparison of favorability data between September and August polls, when Garber began to ramp up advertising expenditures and visibility, supports the campaign’s assessment.

As late as August, Garber lagged behind Leger in recognizability with 40 percent of respondents indicating that they never heard of him, a demonstrable gain from a near 70 percent “never heard of” rating in a poll run in late spring. In that same August poll, Leger’s visibility as an elected public official contributed to a front-running position in terms of familiarity, with only 25 percent indicating they hadn’t heard of the chief.

The most recent poll shows Garber’s recognition and favorability way up, with 50 percent of respondents reporting a favorable view of Garber (up from 30 percent in August) and only 20 percent still in the dark as to who he is. Leger has made modest gains in those categories himself, holding firm at 50 percent favorability and reducing unfamiliarity to 17 percent.

Moving into October, Garber’s campaign has much more money on hand and appears primed for a media blitz and a spending spree. Those armored trucks rocking Garber For Sheriff signs can’t be cheap. Garber’s $338,000 loan to his campaign gives him a significant media advantage over Leger (he has $361,000 to spend as of the most recent reporting period), whose coffers appear strapped by comparison at just under $160,000.

While the summer temperatures are finally cooling away into fall, it looks like the sheriff’s race is gonna keep October balmy.