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Brad Coker, pollster: The wizard sells his wand No more political clients at Mason-Dixon


In Saturday's Maryland section, the name of the Mason-Dixo Campaign Polling and Strategy Inc. in Annapolis was reported incorrectly.

+ The Sun regrets the errors.

Columbia-based pollster Brad Coker no longer wants to be the political wizard behind area candidates.

He has decided to sell the political side of his successful polling organization, Mason-Dixon Opinion Research, but will continue to do nationwide polling for media clients and conduct market research and public policy polling. He will do so, however, under a slightly new name -- Mason-Dixon Political Media Research Inc.

In a deal completed late last month, Mr. Coker sold the "Mason-Dixon" portion of the company name and a list of clients to Patrick E. Gonzales, a former employee, and Howard County political consultants Carol Arscott and Guy Guzzone.

Spinning off political clients "is essentially something we were going to have to do eventually," Mr. Coker said. Serving political clients was difficult, he said. "It's good [for business] when your people win, famine when your people lose."

Also, four years is a long time to wait for a client. "Media is my bread and butter," he said. "I don't have to worry about who wins and loses."

Mr. Coker's firm will stay in Columbia, but it will have branch offices in other states, beginning with a branch office in Arlington, Texas, that will be opening soon, Mr. Coker said.

For most of the 10-year existence of his company, Mr. Coker had concentrated on media clients, developing a reputation for pinpoint accuracy. His predictions were correct for all 50 states in 1992.

In 1990, Mr. Coker did more than call local, state and national races correctly. He dabbled in strategy. Howard County Republicans, tired of being shut out by local Democrats, pooled their resources and came seeking advice.

Armed with Mr. Coker's advice, Republicans toppled seven Democratic incumbents, some of whom were believed to have been prohibitive favorites: County Executive M. Elizabeth Bobo, 2nd District council member Angela Beltram, state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer and state Dels. William Bevan and Robert J. DiPietro.

Two days before that election, Mr. Coker predicted that Republican Charles I. Ecker would upset Ms. Bobo by 300 votes. The returns on election night showed Mr. Ecker winning by 244.

Last fall, Mr. Coker asked Mr. Gonzales to come in part-time to help out with the national races. It was then that he broached the question of whether Mr. Gonzales would like to buy Mr. Coker's political interests. Mr. Gonzales did, and the partnership with Ms. Arscott and Mr. Guzzone was formed shortly afterward.

"I was always more interested in the political side of the campaigns," said Mr. Gonzales, who worked for Mr. Coker full-time from 1983 to 1989. "I'm a person first and foremost who loves politics."

The spin-off company is called Mason-Dixon Political Strategy Inc. and is located in Annapolis.

It will do polling for candidates, help candidates devise campaign strategy and act as media consultant for candidates.

Mr. Gonzales will do the polling and run the operations of the new company. Ms. Arscott, a former member of the local Republican Central Committee, and Mr. Guzzone, aide to County Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, will recruit and advise clients.

"Brad brought us together," Ms. Arscott said. "He does me great honor by allowing me to use the good name he has built up over the past 10 years. He placed an awful lot of trust in us."

Ms. Arscott will deal only with Republicans and Mr. Guzzone will deal only with Democrats.

"We will really be like two firms," Ms. Arscott said. "We will not share information" and the company will not accept more than one candidate per race, regardless of party affiliation. Former clients will be given priority over new ones, she said.

The new company does not have stationery yet, but has already received "a couple of inquiries and a prospect in Louisiana," Mr. Gonzales said. Although the new company will target Maryland and Northern Virginia first because that where most of the clients on its list are, it plans to become a national operation, Mr. Gonzales said.

"It's up to us now," Ms. Arscott said. "Maybe we'll crash and burn and maybe we'll soar. It's up to us."

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