Internal poll: Chris Abele leads Chris Larson in Milwaukee County executive race

MILWAUKEE – A poll conducted for Milwaukee County Executive candidate Chris Larson shows he’s trailing incumbent Chris Abele by double-digits in the race, although Larson’s team pointed to potential opportunities in the results.

Abele holds a 36-23 percent lead in the poll, with 40 percent of the voters still undecided three weeks before the primary election. The survey of 420 Milwaukee County voters was conducted Jan. 13-17 by Dan Cohen, a Boston-based pollster.

The results, which the Larson campaign provided to FOX6 News, point to potential weaknesses for both candidates: Larson lacks name recognition among Milwaukee County voters, while many respondents said the county was on the wrong track under Abele’s leadership.

“This poll demonstrates that Abele remains unpopular,” said Josh Kilroy, Larson’s campaign manager. “Voters think Milwaukee County is moving in the wrong direction and they are looking for an alternative.”

When looking only at voters who have formed an opinion of both candidates, the poll shows Larson and Abele in a statistical dead-heat, according to a memo from Cohen to the Larson campaign.

Tia Torhorst, Abele’s campaign manager, didn’t argue the results of Larson’s polling.

“Our polling also shows a significant lead for the county executive, particularly as people learn about just how much he’s gotten done at the county,” Torhorst said. “Regardless, we don’t take anything for granted.”

Abele is largely self-funding his campaign and contributed $1.75 million in 2015, according to a campaign finance report filed with Milwaukee County. Larson, who is not independently wealthy, reported raising a total of $69,000 last year.

Abele in late 2015 aired several TV advertisements, while Larson hasn’t raised enough money to go on TV.

In contrast to the better-known Abele, only 48 percent of the poll’s respondents knew enough about Larson to form an opinion of him, Cohen said in a phone interview.

“The Larson campaign needs to have the resources to introduce himself, tell his story, and make the case for election,” Cohen said in his memo. “He does not need to outspend (or even match) Abele to win this race.”

Cohen said in the memo that 35 percent of respondents had a negative view of Abele. He said twice as many people believed the county was headed in the wrong direction as those who believed Milwaukee County was on the right track.

Steve Hogan of Franklin and Joe Klein of Milwaukee also filed enough valid signatures to be on the Feb. 16 primary ballot. Voters that day will pare the field to two candidates, who will face off in the April 5 general election.