A leaked poll, commissioned by allies of 184th House District candidate Jonathan “JR” Rowan, shows rival Democrat Elizabeth Fiedler with a strong lead ahead of next Tuesday’s Democratic primary contest for the South Philadelphia-based seat.
Both candidates are vying to succeed longtime state Rep. Bill Keller, who announced his retirement earlier this year. Keller and his allies in Philadelphia labor unions have thrown their weight behind Rowan, but polling shows Fiedler, a former WHYY correspondent, with stronger support and better name recognition in the district.
Conducted by Keystone Polling at the request of the Philadelphia Realtors Political Action Committee, which has endorsed Rowan, in early April. The survey sampled 300 likely 2018 Democratic primary voters, most self-identified as moderates or progressives, and were evenly split amongst all age groups.
A full quarter of those sampled said they actively supported Fiedler, while just 7 percent backed Rowan, a onetime office staffer for state Sen. Larry Farnese. The poll lists a 5.7 percent margain of error.
Rowan's campaign said that the polling, from the first week of April, was too old to be useful in the fast changing race.
"This poll is out of date and woefully inaccurate. State representative districts are notoriously hard to poll due to their small size, and this poll is a classic example of that challenge," spokesperson Dave Mellet said. "Rowan launched this campaign with over 3,000 petition signatures - roughly one third of the total projected turnout for the primary. The campaign has knocked on doors across South Philadelphia and identified thousands of likely Rowan voters that we will be working hard to turn out on election day."
Meanwhile, Nick DiDonato, a former police officer who has run with little institutional support or outside funding, polled at 10 percent. Another 7 percent said they backed former Philadelphia City Council candidate Tom Wyatt. Name recognition largely broke along similar lines.
"I am proud that my campaign is putting people ahead of politics and big money, and I will continue to work hard in order to surge ahead to first place come election night," DiDonato said.
However, some 48 percent of those polled were still undecided – a point emphasized by pollsters in a confidential executive summary included with the poll.
“Fiedler is not the prohibitive front-runner,” the summary explains. “We have too many undecideds left before we can use that adjective. But she’s clearly got a jump on her Democratic adversaries.”
But the poll also found that Fiedler also had the strongest base of core supporters. Sixteen percent of respondents said they were “definitely” supporting the former reporter, while none of her rivals cracked the 4 percent mark.
"These numbers are a reflection of the strength of our message and the broad coalition of support we have built from longtime and newer community members, and from many unions that represent the needs of working people," said Fiedler, in a prepared statement.
She reiterated her support for strong labor unions, more affordable health care and increased educational funding.
According to his campaign finance reports, Rowan has received upwards of $114,000 in large donations, mainly from labor groups, like the powerful Philadelphia electricians union, Local 98, and Keller’s campaign. Rowan's campaign said they were planning to double down on an unusual, last-minute TV ad buy to turn the tide in the race – pushing some $100,000 total into televised ads in the last two weeks of the race.
The victor in Tuesday Primary will likely the seat, situated in a highly urban and heavily Democratic area. There are currently no declared Republican candidates.