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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Peter Brown

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Peter Brown

Last Build Date: Thu, 27 Mar 2008 00:00:37 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2008

How Much Will Bush Hurt McCain?

Thu, 27 Mar 2008 00:00:37 -0600

He's got a problem but not a monstrous one.

First of all, McCain is running competitively in trial heats against either Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York or Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, who are fighting for the Democratic nomination.

McCain's closeness in these national and key state polls is an early indication that there aren't that many people who might be taking out their Bush anger on the GOP candidate.

Moreover, detailed polling in the three most important states in the Electoral College shows the vast majority of those who say their frustration with Bush has turned them off to McCain are voters unlikely to vote Republican in the first place.

Nevertheless, the Quinnipiac University polls last month of Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania voters did find that roughly one-fifth of independents say they won't vote for a Republican nominee because of the current GOP president. And by a 3-1 ratio, voters say Bush's tenure makes them less likely, rather than more likely, to vote Republican this November.

That's bad news for McCain, given the importance that independent voters play in close national elections. No doubt having one-fifth of them predisposed against him is a problem. The good news is that the figure isn't higher, and he has time to convince those voters to cast their vote based on the names that are on the ballot.

It is Bush's widespread unpopularity that has led most analysts to conclude that the playing field is tilted toward the eventual Democratic nominee this November.

To be sure, the public unhappiness with the war in Iraq (in some ways just another way of measuring Bush's unpopularity) and the faltering economy are also good reasons why many see the election as the Democrats' to lose.

Yet the bottom line is Bush and how much of a headwind he is creating for McCain.

No one has been elected president since John F. Kennedy in 1960 who did not carry two of Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio. The Quinnipiac polls last month found that McCain is very narrowly ahead of Democrats in both Ohio and Florida.

But more germane to the question of Bush's ability to hurt McCain and boost the eventual Democratic nominee were the answers voters in those three states gave when asked if they agreed with the following statement:

"I am so angry at President Bush that I will not vote for Republican John McCain for president this November." In general, about 5 percent of Republicans and more than 40 percent of Democrats agreed, but those figures should be neither surprising nor terribly worrisome to McCain.

The numbers for independents - the swing voters in most elections - were larger. In Florida, 22 percent of independents agreed with that statement; in Ohio, 19 percent agreed; and in Pennsylvania, 16 percent agreed.

But further analysis found that most of the independents who agreed were Democratic leaners, and relatively few of them had actually voted for Bush in 2004.

In Ohio, 72 percent of independents who agreed with the statement identified as Democratic leaners, and 9 percent said they did not lean toward either party. The comparable figures were 70 percent and 19 percent, respectively, in Florida and 75 percent and 12 percent, respectively, in Pennsylvania.

Looking at it another way, only about 5 percent of those who said they had voted for Bush in 2004 said they would not vote for McCain.

Another question asked found that across the three key states, an average of 27 percent (heavily made up of Democrats) said Bush's performance in office had made them less likely to vote for McCain, while 9 percent (mostly Republicans) said it had made them more likely.

At this point Bush is a weight on McCain's shoulders, but it's perhaps not as heavy as some had thought. In any event, McCain has seven months to make the case he is his own man.

Rethinking Primary Assumptions

Thu, 20 Mar 2008 00:41:00 -0600

There has been a general agreement that a national presidential primary with all states voting at one time is a flawed approach because it would greatly favor well-known, better funded candidates with little chance for others to emerge.

The consensus has been that allowing a couple of states to go first is a good idea because it gives lesser-known candidates a chance they would not have otherwise.

New Hampshire and Iowa have long argued that because smaller states are best suited for such duty they should get the job, even though neither is anything close to a demographic duplicate of the nation as a whole.

It used to be that presidential candidates campaigned in Iowa and New Hampshire living rooms and by meeting voters, if not one-on-one, in small groups that allowed for serious examination of the potential presidents.

Although some of that remains, those times are largely gone.

This cycle, the presidential candidates spent more than $40 million in Iowa on television ads alone - clearly a boost for the state's economy, but by no means the kind of retail campaigning that made Iowa's judgment important and unique.

It's not Iowa's fault. It's just a reflection of the way people run for president these days, the huge amount of money spent and the intense media interest.

But if the kind of retail campaigning that has occurred in Iowa and New Hampshire until now is disappearing, is there any reason why those states should get preferential treatment in the future?

That's why the next five weeks in Pennsylvania will be instructive.

The Keystone State, because of the closeness of the Obama-Clinton race and the reality that there are no other primaries or caucuses until its April 22 primary, will get the kind of focus from the candidates that normally only occurs in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Yes, a state like Pennsylvania has two major media markets (Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) where TV ads are very expensive, which has long been the argument against letting a big state go first in the delegate-selection process.

But the huge amount spent on Iowa negates that argument and raises the question of why the states that get the privileged position in the pecking order have to be physically smaller, less populous and rural.

As Obama and Clinton campaign with the same intensity they had when courting Iowa and New Hampshire voters, hopefully Pennsylvania voters there will give them the same kind of intense grilling that has benefited those of us who don't have that opportunity.

Pennsylvania's news media certainly are experiencing the same royal treatment from the candidates as their New Hampshire brethren often receive.

One Harrisburg radio news reporter said he had been asked for his cell number by the Clinton campaign so that if the candidate or former President Bill Clinton wanted to chat, they could give him a call.

The continuing controversy over Florida and Michigan being penalized because they bucked national party dictates on scheduling is likely to force a thorough reconsideration of the entire presidential nominating process in 2012.

That being the case, the Pennsylvania experience during the coming weeks could go a long way toward challenging the assumption that the presidential nominating process has to begin in small states.

Clinton Scenario Meets Liberal Guilt

Thu, 13 Mar 2008 00:44:27 -0600

If the superdelegates go along with the votes of their constituents and ratify the verdict for the candidate with the most delegates in the primaries and caucuses, then simple math says Obama will win the nomination.

Even Clinton's own supporters agree that, given the party's rule that allocates delegates based on a candidate's percentage of the popular vote, it is virtually impossible for Clinton to have more elected delegates when the process ends in June.

At that point, those superdelegates who have not yet picked a candidate will either do so or wait until the actual balloting at the Democratic convention Aug. 25-28 to disclose their preference.

A Democratic nomination fight that goes to the convention would be a major boost for Republican Sen. John McCain, because it would force Clinton and Obama to spend their time and money for the next five months running against each other rather than against him.

In the old days, party bosses picked the presidential candidate largely based on who they thought could win in November. And it would be wrong to believe that is not a big priority for the superdelegates today.

But those superdelegates are demographically and ideologically a far cry from the balding, cigar-chomping men who used to run the party from smoke-filled rooms.

Among the current leaders of the party are many more women, African-Americans and Hispanics -- but they're less diverse ideologically. The once moderate-conservative wing of the party has virtually disappeared, with millions following Ronald Reagan to the Republican Party or, these days, given the disillusionment with President Bush, calling themselves independents.

Today's Democratic leaders are the reformers who seized control of the party decades ago -- and their ideological children. They operate differently than the folks who used to inhabit those smoke-filled rooms.

After all, they have presided over a party that has -- with the exception of Bill Clinton -- generally nominated presidential candidates from the North, with views and values that are in sync with those who vote in the primaries but apparently, if election results are to be believed, not with the rest of the American people.

Today's Democratic leaders, if too young to have been part of the civil rights movement, embrace it as one of the Democratic Party's crowning achievements. They see enhancing the rights and opportunities of minority Americans as an integral part of their role in government, even though only Lyndon Johnson in 1964, among Democratic presidential candidates since Franklin Roosevelt, has carried the majority of white voters.

Being part of an effort to deny Obama, who has a white mother and an African father, the nomination makes them very uneasy, especially when to do so they will have to overrule the verdict of the primaries and caucuses.

Remember, these superdelegates are elected officials and members of the Democratic National Committee -- people invested in their own political future and that of the Democratic Party.

The threat of a revolt among African-Americans, not to mention among young voters of all races, if Obama is denied the nomination by the superdelegates might be enough to discourage even those who see Clinton as the better general election candidate.

Without the 80 percent or more of the black vote and large black turnouts that Democrats generally receive, party candidates would be hard-pressed to win in most states.

That's why it is difficult to see, even if Clinton wins Pennsylvania and some of the other remaining states, how she would become the Democratic presidential nominee.

Dean Certainly Has Chutzpah

Fri, 07 Mar 2008 00:34:25 -0600

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's Texas and Ohio victories made clear that the Democrats must deal with the Florida and Michigan problem sooner rather than later.

Dean now wants each of them to have "do over" votes to pick the convention delegates he stripped from them.

But he insists that because the state parties created the problem to begin with, they must pay the many millions of dollars such primaries or caucuses would cost.

Dean, who has been known to let out a scream or two, might have been doing just that when her victories forced him to reconsider his position that Florida and Michigan didn't deserve representation.

If Dean can't orchestrate a solution, then he could preside over the kind of divisive convention fight that has not been seen in almost a century, and make GOP nominee-in-waiting John McCain very happy.

But this time there would be television cameras to capture every moment.

That would generate wonderful TV ratings but probably split the party badly - and turn off independent voters - heading into the November election.

For those of you who have been visiting Venus, Dean and his DNC decided to teach Florida and Michigan a lesson.

Those states held their primaries before he said they could, so he and the DNC ruled their votes would not pick any delegates.

It was an easy decision at the time last year.

The DNC made an example of Florida and Michigan so that other states would not in the future challenge its authority.

Editorialists applauded the DNC for bringing order to the chaotic process.

Everyone expected Clinton would sew up the nomination early. It was assumed that she would then, as the leader of the party, magnanimously seat those states' delegations and the whole problem would go away.

But a funny thing (well, not to Dean and the DNC) happened on the way to the convention. Obama became a serious rival for the nomination, and the primaries took on a whole different look.

This nomination fight could well go for months and perhaps all the way to the Aug. 25-28 convention in Denver. It is impossible to imagine the Democratic Party - the folks whose mantra is "count every vote" - will allow just 48 states to pick the nominee.

Clinton won the Florida and Michigan primaries easily, but no candidates campaigned in either state, per the DNC rules. In Michigan, Obama's name wasn't even on the ballot. But Clinton got no delegates for her trouble.

Her supporters now say the results from those primaries should count, even though that would mean Obama would be penalized for following party rules and staying out.

The easy way out would be to get all sides to agree to split the Michigan and Florida delegates. But why would Clinton or Obama sign a deal that gave the other an edge?

What's left is a "do over."

It seems highly unlikely that either state legislature would hold another primary, because that would cost taxpayers millions.

The likely alternative is some sort of primary or caucus run by the Democratic Party. Those, too, would be expensive, and the Democrats would have to pay for them.

But Dean wants the state parties to pay and they say they don't have the money. Dean says the DNC needs its pennies to fight those big, bad Republicans.

Of course, given the prolific fundraising the Democrats have demonstrated this year, some fat cat might write a check to finance the whole thing.

But that could have its own downside in media coverage, not to mention whether such a donation would be legal.

After all, we've never been here before.

But one thing is certain.

If the Democrats don't get the problem behind them, they will have to pay the piper at the convention with a credentials-fight Armageddon.

Teaching the states a lesson probably doesn't seem like such a good idea now, does it, Howard?

The Somali Dress is Just the Beginning

Thu, 28 Feb 2008 00:30:00 -0600

Yet, given Obama's momentum and lofty standing with the American people, any candidate trying to defeat him will have to suggest to voters that maybe the Illinois senator is not who they want in the Oval Office.

Obama has run as a new-era politician, one whose mixed-race heritage (African father, white mother from Kansas) is symbolic of his comfort with cultures outside the U.S. He says that background has prepared him to open a new age of relations with many nations upset at President Bush's policies.

But with Obama as the first black candidate with a serious chance of winning the White House if he is nominated, the upcoming campaign will force all concerned to participate in a running conversation about what is fair and what is foul.

The photo of Obama in the traditional African dress surfaced on the Drudge Report, which said it had been supplied by Clinton aides. Obama's campaign called it "fear mongering."

Regardless of how the picture came into the public domain - although if the Clinton people did it and then lied about doing so, that would be a no-no - the more important question is whether making the picture available is out of bounds.

If Obama says his heritage makes him uniquely qualified to work well with leaders of non-Western nations, is it fair game for an opponent to show him in a picture that reminds American voters of his African roots and ties?

At least part of Obama's recent success has been this appeal to core Democrats that he can reach out to those in the world alienated by Bush's presidency. Democrats, especially primary voters, are more accepting of different cultures than the nation as a whole.

But there are surely tens of millions of American voters who are much less comfortable with Obama's background. The photo reminded those who saw it - and it is a reasonable assumption that, by November, most voters will have seen it - that Obama represents a kind of change with which they may not be as comfortable.

And if that is the case, as surely as summer follows spring, someone will label such tactics "racially divisive" and the you-know-what will hit the fan.

But if there are racism charges tossed around, then it is by no means clear whether they will help or hurt Obama's candidacy. And it is not clear that we will even know at the time of a specific incident how it will play.

It is worth remembering that Willie Horton - the convicted murderer who killed again after he was given a furlough under a program enacted by Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis - became a big issue in the 1988 presidential campaign. Democrats claimed the use of the case against Dukakis was unfair and the Republicans had a duty to avoid using a racially inflammatory example precisely because Horton was black.

If the election results are any indication, most voters apparently saw things differently. They saw it as a valid example of a program for which Dukakis was responsible that had not worked, and they did not agree that discussion of the case should be avoided because of Horton's race.

Similarly, in the early 1990s, affirmative action became a major flash point during some campaigns as Republicans attacked government programs that they argued gave minorities an unfair advantage for jobs, contracts and college admission. Democrats also labeled such attacks out of bounds, but the issue seemed to work politically for the GOP, too.

The point is, labeling a political effort as racially divisive can be risky, depending on how the American people see it.

The Republican National Committee has reportedly begun studying how to criticize Obama without causing a backlash against McCain.

No doubt that information will come in handy in the coming months, because the picture of Obama in Somali dress is almost certain to be the first of many incidents that will determine the new rules of the road.

Old Rules Hurt Today's Democrats

Thu, 14 Feb 2008 00:24:29 -0600

President Clinton's more centrist approach left an indelible imprint on Democratic policies by questioning the party orthodoxy, which led even liberals to repackage their rhetoric and proposals. But he did not tinker with the nominating process.

The result today is that the Democrats are playing by rules enacted at a time when the party still dominated American politics. At that point, winning was often taken for granted. Now, Democrats have lived through three decades of GOP White House dominance and have 12 years of Republican control of Congress fresh in their minds.

But the rules enacted back then have the practical effect of lengthening the primary process, thereby slowing the Democrats' ability to settle on a presidential nominee.

The quicker a party can settle its internal battle and focus on the November electorate, the better its chances of winning. That's because once a candidate wins over party activists by catering to their ideological priorities, he or she can focus on the much larger and less ideological group of voters who decide the November election.

Those rules that govern selection of the party's presidential nominee are based on the bedrock principle that a candidate should get the same share of nominating delegates in a state that he or she gets of the popular vote. Reformers who wrote them thought "fairness" was most important.

This concept of "proportional representation" can mean, because of rounding rules, that when one candidate gets 42 percent of the popular vote and the other, 58 percent, both candidates split the available delegates down the middle.

That makes it very difficult for a candidate in a close race to pull far enough ahead to convince the other that it's time to give up.

Moreover, the power given the Democratic National Committee to rule the delegate-selection process -- also a product of the '60s and '70s reforms -- with an iron fist has also backfired.

The DNC's decision to strip Florida and Michigan of delegates for holding their primaries too early threatens to make the Obama-Clinton battle even longer and more bitter. Whether those delegates are ultimately seated -- and who they would back for president in the event of a contested convention -- could become a very divisive issue.

Conversely, the Republican rules provide strong incentives for a quick nomination by allowing states to allocate their delegates on a winner-take-all basis or to follow the winner-take-all principle on a congressional district basis.

For instance, on Feb. 5, Missouri awarded all of its 58 Republican delegates to Sen. John McCain, even though his margin of victory was fewer than 6,000 votes out of almost 600,000 cast. But Obama, who received 10,000 more votes there than did Clinton, split the state's Democratic delegates evenly with her.

The Republican National Committee penalized Florida and Michigan for voting early and gave them half their normal amount of delegates at stake.

So while Clinton and Obama are in the midst of a fight that may well go all the way to the party's nomination convention in late August, McCain has effectively wrapped up the Republican nomination.

That will allow McCain to quickly consolidate the support of his own party's conservatives, who are innately suspicious of everything he does. But even with that assignment, he will be able to begin focusing on the November election months before the eventual Democratic nominee can do so.

Time will tell whether McCain can eventually win in an election year in which all sides agree the playing field tilts toward the Democrats. But the head start toward November produced by the difference between the Democratic and Republican rules can't hurt his chances.

A Bloomberg Run Looks Less Likely

Fri, 08 Feb 2008 00:35:00 -0600

In the last week, there have been two developments that would seem to make his candidacy less likely. Sen. John McCain appears to have virtually wrapped up the Republican presidential nomination, with his solid performance on Super Tuesday. Neither Hillary Rodham Clinton nor Barack Obama has been able to clinch the Democratic nomination, and their fight will go on, perhaps for many months. The selection of McCain means that the GOP nominee will be the least conservative of the potential contenders and, perhaps more important, less polarizing than might be the case if one of the other Republicans had triumphed. Bloomberg's chances would be better, almost everyone agrees, if the Republicans were to nominate a far-right candidate - a description that does not fit McCain - and the Democrats, one from the far left. Although Obama is considered farther to the left than Clinton - he was judged to have the most liberal voting record in the Senate last year by the respected and nonpartisan National Journal - he is considered a less divisive figure than is she. It is also possible that the polls Bloomberg reportedly commissioned to gauge his standing with voters may not have been encouraging for a candidacy. Separate Quinnipiac University polls done last summer in Florida and Ohio, two of the key states in the Electoral College, found that Bloomberg was not that well-known. Even among the minority who said they had an opinion of him, as many viewed him unfavorably as viewed him favorably - not a good omen. All along, the idea behind a Bloomberg independent candidacy was that he could offer a pragmatic, non-ideological option to voters unhappy with the partisan bickering in Washington. With McCain, who is not seen as much of a polarizing figure, in the race, it might make it difficult for Bloomberg to argue that he is the only one able to get things done in Washington. McCain can boast of a long Senate career in which his efforts at bipartisanship have often been criticized by more ideological members of his own party. Moreover, the lack of a clear Democratic nominee at this point creates problems for Bloomberg in two areas. First of all, the clock is ticking. If Bloomberg wants to launch an independent candidacy, he needs to get on with it, and a key factor in his decision will be the Democratic and Republican nominees. There are upcoming deadlines he must meet to be able to get on states' ballots, not to mention the task of organizing a presidential campaign in all 50 states without any party structure to help. Of course, the billions of dollars in his personal fortune would make things a lot easier for him than for most candidates. He presumably would not have to spend the huge amount of time candidates normally devote to fundraising. Bloomberg spent about $160 million of his own money in a landslide reelection as New York mayor in 2005 and reportedly would be willing to toss in $1 billion for a White House run. That would likely be required, since time is running short. Next month, Texas will be the first state to begin gathering petitions to gain ballot access. Yet Bloomberg is apparently confident that the logistical obstacles to an independent White House effort - getting on the ballot, creating campaign operations in all states, hiring staff, etc. - can be surmounted. The unknown for Bloomberg is how well he will play off-Broadway, in much of America where New York City is not necessarily thought of lovingly. The New York Times has reported that Bloomberg's bottom line is that he will run only if he thinks he can win and will decline to do so just to influence the election. No non-major-party candidate has ever come even close to winning the White House. The developments of recent weeks seem to make that possibility even more remote, hence the increasing likelihood Bloomberg will take a pass. [...]

Withdrawals Make Lengthy Primary Less Likely

Fri, 01 Feb 2008 00:10:00 -0600

Giuliani's and Edwards' chances of victory were roughly equal to those of a snowball in Florida. But their decisions to get out of the race could have a major impact on how long the two contests continue. That's because the magic number for a lengthy campaign is three - the number of candidates who are winning significant numbers of delegates for a primary race to remain in play following Tuesday's upcoming vote in 22 states. On the Democratic side, that means Edwards' withdrawal eliminates the possibility that a candidate other than Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama will receive delegates from the upcoming orgy of primaries. Edwards had been getting the more than 15 percent threshold needed for a share of a state's delegates in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. If he had stayed in and crossed that threshold, Edwards might have done well enough to prevent either Clinton or Obama from winning enough delegates on Feb. 5 to effectively end the Democratic nomination fight. In fact, had Edwards continued, it is conceivable he might have been able to deprive Obama or Clinton of the majority needed for the nomination. In the GOP contest, former Arkansas Gov. Huckabee has to break through in enough states to prevent either the front-runner, Sen. John McCain, or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney from wrapping things up. But given McCain's momentum, although that is theoretically possible, it seems unlikely. Actually, even now, a drawn-out nomination fight seems more likely on the Democratic side. That's because of the differences in the rules governing delegate allocation between the two parties. Democrats divide delegates proportionally based on the percentage of the popular vote each candidate gets in a primary, as long as a candidate gets 15 percent. This prevents the winning candidate in a primary from cleaning up, making it more difficult to obtain the delegates needed for the nomination. The Republicans, however, effectively offer bonuses to winners. Most states allocate GOP delegates by some form of winner-take-all system. That means in a contested three-way race (not counting Rep. Ron Paul, who also is staying in the race), a GOP candidate can win all of a state's delegates with, say, 40 percent or so of the popular vote. That's what happened this week in Florida, where McCain won only 36 percent of the popular vote but corralled 100 percent of the state's 57 delegates. If Huckabee, a regional favorite in Dixie, can win significant numbers of delegates in some of the Southern contests - such as Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Missouri, not to mention his home state of Arkansas - that might deprive either McCain or Romney of enough delegates to end the process. But even in many of those states, McCain was competitive, or ahead, before his victory in Florida, which should just add to his momentum and delegate count. The reality is that neither party wants a drawn-out nomination fight. The quicker a nominee is known, the sooner disparate elements of the party can be brought together and the focus can be put on winning the general election. The Democratic convention is Aug. 24-28, and the GOP confab is Sept. 1-4. It has been a half-century since either party's convention has convened with the identity of the nominee seriously in doubt. If it had turned out that was the case this year, or even if one party had to go into the late spring or summer to settle on a nominee while the other had done it on Feb. 5, it would have changed the odds of the November election. Imagine one party united, getting its message out for the fall election and focusing on swing voters, while the other is still catering to party activists. That's the kind of edge that could help decide an election. But with Edwards and Giuliani on the sidelines, that seems a lot less likely. [...]

Be Wary of Late New Hampshire Polls

Sun, 06 Jan 2008 00:31:39 -0600

Iowa voted on Thursday, Jan. 3, and New Hampshire goes to the polls on Tuesday, Jan. 8.

Historically, the Iowa results have had an effect -- sometimes major, sometimes less so -- on the New Hampshire returns. Generally candidates who do well in Iowa see their fortunes improve in New Hampshire and vice versa.

But that was when there was a minimum of eight days between the two contests.

This time, the interval is half that. For practical purposes, the time for polling will be very narrow, at most three nights.

Polls that come out Sunday evening or in the Monday morning newspapers will reflect at most three days of polling. Those that come out Tuesday morning -- the day of the actual voting -- could reflect four full nights.

Pollsters like to have larger periods to poll. Part of the discipline of the field is that once a random sample is drawn, good pollsters make every effort to call back the telephone numbers that did not answer, rather than call extra ones, in order to preserve the randomness and integrity of the original sample.

Fewer nights of calling means fewer opportunities to get the people who were not home the first or second times they were called.

Since it would be worthless to poll before the Iowa results were available, Friday was the first day pollsters could be in the field.

Moreover, historically Friday is the least efficient evening to poll. Overall, fewer people are at home, and certain demographic groups are far less likely to be available to answer their telephones. Sunday, however, is the most efficient night to poll.

All polls are snapshots in time -- glimpses of public opinion during a specific period. The Iowa results will inevitably change New Hampshire voters' perceptions of the race and perhaps some of their votes. How much information the public has when it is polled matters greatly.

For instance, it is clearly true that a New Hampshire voter who is polled on Sunday night will have more current information about what happened in Iowa and its effect on the race than if that same voter is polled on Friday.

Yet, reality dictates that those polled on Friday will be roughly half of a two-day sample and a third of a three-day sample.

That could be especially crucial to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's poll numbers. His loss in Iowa will almost certainly help shape his fate in New Hampshire. Before Iowa voted, Romney had already lost the lead he had held for months in the New Hampshire polls to Sen. John McCain. History suggests that a disappointing Romney showing in Iowa makes his candidacy less attractive to New Hampshire voters.

On the Democratic side, of course, the same is true. History suggests Sen. Barack Obama's victory over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards will likely benefit him in New Hampshire.

In any case, whether New Hampshire voters who have been supporting candidates who fared poorly in Iowa will continue their support is the great unknown. And this might not become clear until the actual voting on Tuesday -- too late to be picked up by the polls.

None of this is to suggest that the poll numbers that begin coming out in New Hampshire in the final day before the primary will necessarily be inaccurate.

But the compressed time period for such surveys should make everyone a bit wary.

Five Still Alive with Days to Go

Wed, 26 Dec 2007 00:36:51 -0600

The short-term goal for each of them is to make it through the early round of primaries and caucuses so that on Feb. 5 - which has been crowned "Super Duper Tuesday," when 22 states pick Republican delegates - they are one of two or three candidates still standing.

Here is what needs to happen for each of the five to get to that point:

Former Massachusetts Gov. Romney, most of all, needs to win the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses. Anything but a win there is a huge impediment to his nomination, given his strategy of building on the early contests to provide momentum to the later, big-delegate states and the nomination.

But if Romney doesn't win Iowa, where he has spent a disproportionate share of his time and money, then his lead in New Hampshire on Jan. 8 becomes vulnerable, and his game plan becomes questionable. If he does, however, he'll have to be stopped or else.

Former Arkansas Gov. Huckabee is the hot candidate, having passed Romney in Iowa polls and with his numbers rising nationally.

An Iowa win will earn him a pass through New Hampshire, where the former Baptist minister is not expected to be competitive, and into South Carolina (Jan. 22) and Florida (Jan. 29), where his regional roots are a plus.

Huckabee's rising poll numbers have increased his donations, but he has a smaller war chest than most of the other contenders. And if he doesn't take Iowa, it's hard to see where he goes then for a win.

Former New York Mayor Giuliani's lead in the national polls has shrunk.

For him to win the nomination, he'll have to defy history. Giuliani has written off Iowa and is reportedly scaling down his New Hampshire operation with an eye toward conserving resources for later states, such as Michigan and Florida.

If Giuliani does win the nomination without a strong showing in Iowa or New Hampshire, that would be precedent-setting, but he does have the greatest name recognition and the deepest pockets (not counting Romney's personal pockets).

Sen. McCain was given up for dead last spring and summer after he lost his front-runner status, much of his campaign apparatus and most of his bank account.

But the improved situation in Iraq, after President Bush adopted the approach he suggested, has showcased his record as a Vietnam War hero as well as his national security credentials.

Former Sen. Thompson faces the most difficult road. He needs to finish third in Iowa - his current spot in the polls - then somehow survive a poor showing that he anticipates in New Hampshire and come back and win South Carolina, defeating Huckabee to become the Southern candidate.

As such, that would then give him the ability to take his case to Florida and then the Super Duper primaries on Feb. 5. For Thompson's strategy to succeed, it would be useful if Huckabee does not win Iowa.

Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan and South Carolina will winnow the field to two or three contenders by the time Feb. 5 rolls around.

If there are three candidates standing at that point, then some kind of reasonably equitable split of the delegates picked that day could lead to a lengthy campaign and possibly even a brokered convention.

If there are only two major contenders after the pre-Feb. 5 primaries, then it is much more likely that those contests will settle the nomination and avoid the kind of convention that TV executives and political reporters dream about.

McCain Rises from the Dead

Fri, 21 Dec 2007 00:40:00 -0600

Remember, McCain entered the 2008 presidential race at the head of the pack. The smart money said even though his maverick ways had alienated lots of conservative activists, in a party that normally nominated the early leader, McCain was the guy in the right spot at the right time. But there was significant resistance to him in the grass roots, his early campaign was poorly managed and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani zoomed past in the polls while political insiders were knowingly declaring McCain's candidacy as good as dead. In addition, he was tarred with being the presidential field's perhaps biggest supporter of an unpopular war in Iraq, and then he signed onto immigration-reform legislation that GOP conservatives considered amnesty - a four-letter word in Republican precincts. By last summer, McCain's campaign was broke, amid predictions of his withdrawal from the race. Reporters were writing canned campaign obituaries to be ready when he actually pulled the plug. But a funny thing happened on the way to the funeral. He was able to raise enough money to keep going, and the tide began to turn his way. Now, that's not to say he has regained his front-runner status - far from it. But his nomination is no longer a pipe dream. Most of all, the Iraq war has been going better. As one of the best-known supporters of President Bush's surge strategy, McCain's constantly blunt rhetoric that he would rather lose a campaign than lose a war is paying dividends, especially among Republicans. And, as the campaign has worn on, none of the other candidates has closed the sale. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson and Giuliani have all had their opportunities, but failed to break away from the pack. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is now the hot candidate, but remains an unknown to most voters. Simply put, none of the other contenders has yet to meet the basic standard that Americans require of a president - that they can feel comfortable with a person in the Oval Office deciding whether to send U.S. troops into harm's way. And, with combating terrorism an overriding issue, McCain's potential strength as a candidate is his public image of independence and experience, especially in national security matters. None of the other GOP contenders share his military background - he was a certified Vietnam hero - much less his years of foreign affairs experience in Congress. To have a shot at the nomination McCain must win New Hampshire, whose primary he won in 2000 against George W. Bush. And it would be a lot easier for McCain to win New Hampshire if Romney loses Iowa, where Huckabee now leads. If Romney were to win Iowa, his current lead in his neighboring state might be too large for McCain to overcome. McCain's advantage in New Hampshire is its primary is open to independents - among whom he did very well in 2000 - and in the Granite State that means political moderates. Most states limit their primary voting to party members only. That's why former Democratic vice presidential nominee and Connecticut independent Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman's endorsement of McCain, and support from both Manchester's Union-Leader and The Boston Globe - publications that rarely agree on anything, could matter. If McCain, who currently runs second in New Hampshire polls, pulls off New Hampshire, he is well-positioned in South Carolina and Michigan, which come next. He does not have the financial resources for TV ads as do some of the other candidates. But should he win New Hampshire, his political resurrection will provide the kind of story line that would almost certainly dominate the news coverage and provide the kind of momentum that could carry him to victory. It would be the kind of story that Hollywood producer[...]

Immigration: Not Just a Border Issue

Thu, 13 Dec 2007 00:35:18 -0600

Data from the nation's three most important swing states clearly show that not only do voters care but politicians who cross them on this issue are taking a serious electoral risk. A Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this month looked at attitudes toward immigration policy in Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, the three big battlegrounds of the Electoral College. No candidate since 1960 has been elected president without carrying two of the three. What stands out is a consensus that cuts across party lines: Voters want immigration reform focused on stricter enforcement rather than reform that would make it easier to integrate illegal immigrants into American life. And almost a quarter of voters see immigration policy as a potential deal-breaker for them in deciding whom to support for president. The issue is likely to be a bigger deal in the November election because, in general, the Democratic candidates are less in favor of strict enforcement than their potential Republican opponents. But it has emerged as a key part of the effort to stop former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's fast-rising campaign for the GOP nomination. Huckabee has zoomed to the top in the Iowa polls, much to the dismay of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who had been leading. Romney's campaign strategy has been built on the idea that he must win Iowa and New Hampshire to create momentum he needs in the larger states that follow. A loss in Iowa would make it very difficult for Romney to win New Hampshire; a loss there would almost certainly doom his candidacy. That's why Romney has come out swinging hard at Huckabee, and he has decided that immigration is the Baptist minister's Achilles heel. Romney has gone on air with commercials that focus on Huckabee's support for college scholarships for illegal immigrants and for making them eligible for the in-state tuition break available to Arkansas residents but not U.S. citizens who come from other states. Those are not positions that Huckabee has staked out as a presidential candidate; they are part of his record as governor at a time when immigration was not the hot-button issue that it is today. Huckabee has responded with his own ads that proclaim his support for border security measures, but the ads do not mention the actions he took as governor -- doing so would give further credence to Romney's charges. Huckabee and Romney understand which way the wind is blowing on the issue, even in states far from the Mexican border and without large illegal immigrant populations. The Quinnipiac survey of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania provides the evidence for their strategies. Asked whether U.S. policy on the issue should focus on integrating illegal immigrants into American society or stricter enforcement of anti-immigration laws, there was little difference in the three states. On average, 70 percent favored stronger enforcement while 21 percent favored integrating illegal immigrants into American society. Voters were then asked about a particular scenario: If they agreed with a presidential candidate "on other issues" but "completely disagreed on the issue of illegal immigration, do you think you could still vote for that candidate or not?" A sizable majority -- an average of 65 percent of voters in those three states -- said they would vote for the candidate they agreed with on other issues but not on immigration. But an average of 22 percent said illegal immigration could be a deal-breaker for them when it comes to voting for a candidate. Of course, the data tells us that three times as many voters don't think it is a deal-breaker than do. Yet the sizable number of voters in that category underscores the issue's potential clout in anything resembling a close election. Most inter[...]

Immigration is New Affirmative Action

Thu, 15 Nov 2007 00:27:02 -0600

But opponents used the term "racial preferences" to describe programs that often gave minorities an edge in competition for college admission and jobs. When pollsters used that language to describe the programs, they found strong public opposition. Affirmative action is an issue similar to immigration today, one on which Democratic activists, but not necessarily the mass of party members, differ from the general electorate. Activists often infer their opponents are racially motivated -- creating strong and often hostile feelings on both sides. How immigration plays out politically in 2008 will likely be determined by which side can convince the mass of Americans that their terminology best describes reality. Efforts to help minorities, which began in the 1960s, became controversial in the 1980s, as whites felt they were victims of reverse discrimination. Democrats, for the most part, supported such programs. Many, but not all, Republicans began calling them "quotas" -- a politically powerful term. In the end, the opponents got the better of the fight. Democrat Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, pledging to "mend" but not end affirmative action, which defused it as an issue, at least in his campaign. As time has passed, there has been less reliance on strict numerical guidelines in such programs, and several court decisions have largely reinforced that trend. Several states banned referendum programs that gave minorities an edge in admission to state colleges and employment by state agencies and contractors. In others, similar changes took place through administrative order. These days, the issue has largely disappeared from political campaigns. A consensus has developed around the idea that colleges and employers should make special recruitment efforts to attract minorities but not have lower standards for minorities' admittance and employment. When it comes to immigration, the fight is also over terminology and priorities. Supporters of President Bush's plan that died in Congress last spring -- mostly because of opposition from his GOP colleagues but with some Democratic help -- deemphasized the need for "comprehensive reform." That's code for legalizing the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in this country and offering them a road to citizenship. Opponents of "comprehensive reform" say anything that legalizes those here without papers, much less creates a process for them to become citizens, is "amnesty." They -- and clearly the American people -- want beefed-up border security and much tougher sanctions against employers who hire illegal aliens. The comparison between affirmative action/racial preferences and immigration shows similar challenges for presidential candidates, especially Democrats. In both cases, key portions of the Democratic base -- blacks on affirmative action and Hispanics on immigration -- feel strongly about the issue and contrary to the general public. In addition, once the political discussion moves from the general concept to specific ways of implementing it, the politics get messy. With affirmative action/racial preferences, when the debate turned to specific programs that gave minorities an edge, the issue began to hurt those -- mostly Democrats -- who supported them. With immigration it could be that the question of allowing those here illegally to get driver's licenses becomes the flash point, although Democrats, seeing the polling data on the issue, have been changing their tune. All the leading Democratic presidential candidates had embraced that idea, until late Wednesday when Sen. Hillary Clinton, quickly following the lead of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer who renounced his support for them earlier in the day, changed her m[...]

One Gaffe Won't Derail Clinton Campaign

Thu, 08 Nov 2007 00:31:19 -0600

After all, there is a huge difference between having a bad outing -- which she had -- and throwing away decades of goodwill built up among the Democratic rank-and-file, the vast majority of whom didn't even watch the debate. It would take a collapse unprecedented in modern American politics for her to lose the nomination. A Washington Post/ABC News poll taken mostly after the gaffe gave her a 23-point lead over the Democratic field. The notion put forward by some that her lead is no larger or more solid -- and therefore just as easily squandered -- as was Howard Dean's four years ago is just plain wrong. Dean, who surged to the forefront of the Democratic race in 2003 only to see it all disappear when the voting began, rode a wave of anti-war fervor among Democratic activists who knew little about him. That's why they deserted him so quickly once they saw his less flattering side. And he wasn't nearly as far ahead of the field as Sen. Clinton is. A December 2003 Pew poll of Democrats had him and former Gen. Wesley Clark tied nationally with 15 percent of the vote. A Gallup Poll that December gave Dean an eight-point lead over Clark. Sen. Clinton is more than 20 points ahead in most states -- Iowa being the major exception -- and pushing close to 50 percent of the vote. For Clinton to lose the nomination, millions of Democratic activists, who have worshipped her for the last 16 years, will have to suddenly reevaluate their view. Of course it's possible, but more likely than not it is a sucker's bet. It is important to understand that not only are all the polls showing her far ahead, but these same surveys show her supporters more firmly committed than those of the other candidates. That's due in no small amount to her being the wife of the most popular Democratic president in most Americans' lifetime. Today Bill Clinton still ranks as the nation's most popular Democrat. It is no exaggeration to say most Democratic primary voters see Bill Clinton as their political god and Hillary Clinton's candidacy, by extension, as a way to bring happy days here again. That's why her lead is not only a mile wide, but just as deep. Now, what her admittedly lousy debate performance has done is prompt her primary opponents to begin the kind of attacks that Sen. Clinton will see from the Republicans if she is nominated. The Republican National Committee couldn't be happier with Democrats raising questions about her candor, truthfulness and positions on the issues. That just makes its eventual job easier. Take former Sen. John Edwards' effective commercial in which he uses film clips to show Sen. Clinton seemingly taking different sides of the same issue. It is the kind of tough attack she can expect the rest of the way. There are many Americans among whom such ads will strike a chord. That's because there are tens of millions of Americans who strongly dislike Sen. Clinton and will certainly find such commercials and attacks convincing. But the problem for Edwards and the rest of the Democratic field is that very few of these anti-Hillary folks are Democrats who can vote in party primaries. Yes, in some states, non-party members can vote in Democratic primaries, but there are hardly enough to make a difference. The vast majority of them are Republicans and independents who are scared silly she could become president. And that's why the debate gaffes could have an impact on her chances of becoming president, but more so when it comes to the general election than in the race for the nomination. Of course, we still have roughly two months before the primaries begin, and in politics anything is possible. But it will probably take a lot more than a lousy debate performance to blow [...]

Should Dems Look West?

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 00:37:23 -0600

But if Democrats - who did quite well in these four states in the 2006 off-year elections - can win them all next year, then they don't need either Florida or Ohio.

In the 2000 and 2004 elections, it was George W. Bush's narrow victories in Ohio and Florida that put him in the White House and left Al Gore and John Kerry wondering what they could have done to become presidents rather than historical afterthoughts.

Presidential campaigns are inherently zero-sum games, because there is never enough candidate time or money to compete full-bore in all 50 states. More than half of the states - such as liberal bastions like Vermont and conservative strongholds like Utah - almost never see presidential candidates or local TV ads since they are predictably Democratic and Republican respectively. The other half are judged competitive to some degree or another based on political history and demographics.

But, in the 2000 and 2004 squeakers the campaign boiled down to best two-out-of-three between Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

President Bush narrowly won Ohio (20 electoral votes) and Florida (27) and the White House both times. In 2000, he had 271 electoral votes. One more than the 270 needed for victory; in 2004 he had 286 electoral votes.

The notion that in 2008 the Democrats might be better of concentrating more of their resources in what has become known as the "Southwestern Strategy" is based on the fact these states all have growing Democratic-leaning Hispanic populations.

But it is also based on the hope that the Hispanic vote can be mobilized and brought out in sufficient numbers to overcome the Republican advantage with white voters.

The African-American population - the most loyal Democratic voting bloc - is smaller in these four states than it is in either Ohio and Florida. Moreover, in Ohio the perception of a declining economy gives the Democrats a stronger case with white voters than in the West, where the economies are doing better.

The four Southwestern states have been solidly Republican at the presidential level over the last four decades. Arizona and Colorado both have 10 electoral votes, and Nevada has five. Each has voted Democratic for president only once since 1968. New Mexico has five electoral votes and it has voted twice for a Democrat in that period, although in 2004, it went for Bush by only 6,000 votes.

Of course, the decision on how to allocate campaign resources will be made by the eventual Democratic nominee next summer. However, the interest in the "Southwestern strategy" was certainly a part of the decision by party leaders to hold their national convention here next August.

One clear indication of what the Democrats will decide in terms of their strategy could well come in whom the eventual nominee picks as his or her vice presidential running mate.

If the Democrats again want to put more of their chips on Ohio or Florida once again (Florida is a more difficult challenge) then their vice presidential candidate might be an Ohioan, most likely Gov. Ted Strickland, who is very popular in the state.

Should they decide to go southwestern, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who is running for president himself in what many believe is an audition for vice president, might well be the choice.

Obviously, the vice presidential decision is many months away, but the eventual Democratic nominee's choice may tell us a great deal about the party's Electoral College strategy.