Though the general attitude of those interviewed seemed to be that the two men deserved each other, those who had grudges against Secrest gleefully used the letter to their advantage. Rumors began to circulate of other air-mailed misfires. Tom King was said to have been a target; Pamela Harriman too.
King, a former DCCC executive director now with Fenn & King, says, contrary to popular belief, Secrest never wrote him and Emanuel-like letter. And the Harriman rumor- that Secrest wrote her a nasty note after her Democrats for the Nineties, a.k.a. PAMPAC, did not choose CSA as one of the eight firms plucked from a field of 26 to be involved in the National Polling Project- can’t be confirmed either.
Says Janet Howard, PAMPAC’s deputy director, “People are jealous of each other In this town and spread rumors. If you want to write an honest report, you’ll have to say the rumor isn’t true. He never sent a nasty letter. Trust me, I’d know if it were true. I hear all the bad news.”
“I think his biggest weakness is some of the perceptions created by The Letter,” says David Heller, who worked for Cooper & Secrest as a senior analyst when it was written, and who currently works for CSA client AMPAC, the political arm of the American Medical Association.
“Did he shoe bad judgment on that letter? Shit, of course he did. I told him so,” says King. “Alan can be a pain in the ass, but so can I. Alan is Alan: a bright, articulate, energetic guy who doesn’t sugarcoat it. He’s refreshing in that sense. He tells it like it is. Some people say I’m aggressive, but frankly, I haven’t seen too many shrinking violets in this business.”
Secrest, while many thing to many people, is no shrinking violet. He claims that his firm, which he bought from David Cooper in 1984, has never lost an incumbents race; helped 84 percent of its clients win their contested Democratic primaries; serves more Democratic clients in offices ranging from county executive to U.S. senator than any other firm in the nation. A CSA proposal boasts, “No firm in either party has undefeated more Republican incumbents than Cooper & Secrest since 1984, the year I took over as president.”
“The firms specialty, says Secrest, is converting seats vacated by Republicans to Democratic hands. Since’84, Secrest claims 45 percent of open House seats vacated by Republicans and ultimately won by Democrats have been won by CSA clients. Secrest loves longshot races, and nobody denies that he knows his business, and his methodology is solid.
“He has an expertise in congressional and statewide polls, and analytically he’s pretty good,” says Mark Gersh, director of the National Committee for an Effective Congress. At one time NCES endorsed candidates represented almost half of CSA’s clientele, and NCES subsidized their polls.
“I think his numbers are reasonably accurate. He can write rather well. He can give advice rather unequivocally, and that’s what he should do,” Gersh says.
“Secrest provides quality work at a fair price,” says Sosnik. “He brings a lot of experience from congressional races run in different regions of the country- incumbents in marginal seats, challengers, and open seats- different flavors of races. That speaks a lot.”
“He is an extremely competent and insightful political analyst in the sense that he can look at polling numbers and come up with actionable ideas for candidates and campaigns,” says Steve Craig, an associate professor at the University of Florida in charge of Gainesville campus’ masters degree programs awarding certificates in political campaigns. Craig worked at CSA for two months earlier this year as a senior analyst.
“Within the limits any political pollster faces-the short time schedule and limited funds- I think Alan’s methodology is pretty good. He’s much less successful in managing people,” Craig adds, noting that his person relationship with Secrest was less satisfying. “If he can learn every step of the way, then he could be very successful in the long run, and I would think, much happier.”