The AFL-CIO and AFSCME ran Facebook and online ads against Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., hoping to prod him into signing onto Democratic legislation. Americans United for Change, a group that promotes Democratic causes, recently ran a small television ad against Kirk as well.
"I've always been worried that this was largely a political exercise led by Harry [Reid]," Kirk said, noting the ad and polling that have run against him, even as he's joined other Republicans in negotiating with Democrats to find a solution.
Americans United for Change also sent about two dozen activists to Portman's office to deliver a petition urging him to support the bill. The group commissioned a Public Policy Polling survey on Kirk and Portman in their home states, reminding their constituents that they voted against "against reinstating unemployment benefits to 1.8 million Americans who are out of work."
Portman called the Americans United for Change survey a push poll, noting that it said nothing about his work with Democrats to find a solution. The survey was conducted before the Republican bill was announced to the public.
Paul J. Lavraka, a former president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, argued that the survey couldn't technically be called a push poll because of its small sample size. "The idea of persuading 500 people is ludicrous," he said, arguing that 500 individuals are unlikely to sway an election.
But Portman is more concerned about the message that the survey is sending to his constituents, even just 525 of them. "I think that was just an unfair question," Portman said Tuesday. "So, of course you're going to get a reaction that's different than what would be an honest way to describe it, which is that I'm for extending [the benefits] short-term as long as it's paid for, as long as we are committed to reforming the program so that it works better for people to get skills. If that had been explained, I would have felt different about it."
Americans United for Change spokeswoman Lauren Weiner disputed Portman's characterization of the survey, defending PPP as "one of the most accurate" polling outfits in the country. "I think that it's interesting that they're actually questioning the poll and not the results ... if they don't feel that a majority of Ohioans or Buckeyes support extending unemployment," Weiner said.
As for why the group has singled out Portman and Kirk among their colleagues — the majority of whom have shown no interest in passing an unemployment insurance extension of any kind — Weiner called them the two "most persuadable" Republicans in the Senate. The group is hopeful, she said, that a little pressure could get them to sign on to the next extension that makes it to the floor.
Unruh agreed, though he said he was unaware of any activities by outside Democratic groups to influence Republicans on the issue. "Senator Reed has tried to work in good faith; I think some of his colleagues are feeling the heat from back home and for good reason. A broad swath of people want to see this done," Unruh said.