Can only Hillary
"One never really knows who one's enemy is"
In March of this
year I wrote an analysis of the 2008 presidential
campaign (2008: Over Before it Begins?). I started by saying:
“One of the toughest things to figure out in politics is when
it's over. The 2008 nominees for president in both major parties may
not be decided in Iowa, New Hampshire or anywhere else next year. They
may be decided by the end of this year. Indeed, perhaps they are
concluded: “But if you must make a bet today on who will win,
would be hard pressed to make a better bet with better odds than
Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. To have history on your side in
November 2008, bet on Hillary.”
has changed since March? Everything yet nothing
course, when a person makes such bold predictions so early, skeptics
are going to point to all sorts of reasons why the predictions are
wrong. Many skeptics cited national public opinion polls to bolster
their opinions. Polls depend on how the questions are phrased and the
composition of the sample. They are most useful as a snapshot of
opinion at the time the poll was conducted. They are also useful in
understanding broad trends over time. Polls are of less use in
predicting an ultimate winner of an election 20 months off.
Decision-Maker Research leaves a less clouded outlook. Radnor
interviews American leaders in business, academia, the news media,
government and public affairs. Then we compare their responses with
those of the general public. In forecasting the presidential
nominations, we target party activists - likely primary voters and
caucus-goers in key states. Narrowing the sample further - to potential
Democratic and Republican National Convention delegates and party
leaders - makes the results clearer still.
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conclude that Clinton has solidified her position and is the
prohibitive favorite of the Democrats who matter most. Giuliani has
been battered a bit but remains the narrow favorite among the
Republican activists who will select the GOP nominee. This frustrates
supporters of other candidates and those in the media who want a more
competitive situation. They want us to believe that each race is still
fluid. Among the population in general, that is true. Among the party
activists – the people who will actually decide –
Democratic race is Clinton's to lose and the Republican race is
Giuliani’s to grab hold of and win.
Clinton make errors and let another Democrat back in the race? Will
Giuliani be able to consolidate his support or will he sit on a narrow
lead - possibly allowing John McCain or another Republican to catch and
from Decision-Maker Research:
Republican leaders fear Clinton. GOP activists spent almost as much
time discussing Clinton as they did discussing their own candidates.
They had more to say about why Senator Clinton would or would not get
the nomination than did Democratic activists. This focus on Clinton is
an indication that Republican activists fear Clinton even as some of
them say they think she will be the easiest Democrat to beat.
Democrats are coming around to Clinton. Democratic activists initially
expressed doubts that Clinton could win next November and seemed for a
time to hope that another Democrat would catch on. A few activists were
clearly agonizing over their decision, believing that Clinton could not
win but fearful of going against the vengeful Clinton team. Slowly at
first but with an increasing pace, they are reconciling themselves to
Clinton. Many more are now lining up publicly behind her.
Clinton is seen as best for today. When Radnor asked Democratic
activists and the general public to select the candidate who would best
represented the Democratic Party in the future, Obama was the choice.
Edwards was the choice when people were asked which candidate best
embodied the traditional values of the party. Clinton was perceived as
best able to solve today’s problems. Voters are assigning
to a future role. They like him but believe that 2008 is not his time.
Voters appreciate Edwards for his fidelity to long standing party
positions but his time may have passed. Clinton is the
“now” candidate. Voters can tell you that they like
three leading Democratic choices because they do like them. But Hillary
Clinton is the choice for 2008.
Women may vote for Clinton in larger numbers than expected. Just over
16 percent of Republican women in our focus groups who have gone to
previous state or national GOP nominating conventions say they will
consider voting for Clinton if she gets the Democratic nomination. That
is an extraordinary figure because the Republicans will have no chance
if even one-quarter of that number deserts the Republican nominee.
These GOP women are among the most loyal workers and voters in the GOP.
Clinton already has a wide lead among Democratic and independent women
and some polls show that over 20% of rank-and-file Republican women say
they will consider voting for Clinton. She leads among Democratic women
by over 35 percentage points. Obama was expected do to well among
women. As we pointed out in March, “Millions of single women
have not been voting in the numbers normally found among women
Single voters are much more likely to vote Democratic. Expect that
single women will be a major demographic group turning out and voting
Republicans remain hesitant about Rudy Giuliani. He is still viewed as
too liberal, too much a New Yorker, too much a single issue candidate.
The McCain meltdown left Republicans unsure whether anyone could stop
Giuliani for the nomination. Mitt Romney is seen as a flip-flopper and
other candidates or possible candidates have not caught on. The GOP
leadership is concluding that perhaps there is no place to go but to
the Giuliani camp.
Many key Republicans oppose Giuliani. A party official in Virginia
summed up the mood of many when he told our researchers that
“Virginia will not vote for a guy with a vowel at the end of
his name.” Anti-Giuliani rhetoric is found in some
Republicans but is expressed by a significantly higher percentage of
GOP leaders in the South and West. Exclusionary thinking can doom the
party. As GOP activist Wayne Boan of Oklahoma puts it: "Politics is
about making more and more new friends. We need everybody."
The Republicans may swallow a poison pill. The anti-Giuliani sentiment
within the Republican leadership could still stop Giuliani from getting
nominated. That sentiment, which will probably exist even if Giuliani
gets nominated, could cost more than just the White House. GOP
candidates up and down the ballot could suffer and the Democrats could
pick up seats at every level of government, from the House and Senate
to state and local offices. The religious right is talking of bolting
the party and running a social conservative as a third-party candidate.
This could be a bloodbath.
Rudy’s issue is slipping in importance. National security
dropping down the list of issues raised in Decision-Maker focus groups.
That makes Giuliani a less likely winner a year from now. As the other
Republican candidates try to echo Giuliani’s positions on
terrorism and national security, Giuliani has to defend his turf. That
turf is the only real hold he has on the party activists who will
select the GOP nominee.
McCain benefits from Giuliani's inability to consolidate support.
Giuliani seems to have adopted a strategy that anticipates losing Iowa
and New Hampshire, then smashing the opposition in the other early
primaries. The problem with that strategy is McCain, who is getting a
second look by Republicans who think that Giuliani might not make it.
If Giuliani fails to get the nomination, his decision to bank on his
broad national support instead of trying to be competitive in Iowa and
New Hampshire will be the reason.
Mike Huckabee is becoming the second choice of GOP leaders. His
refreshing campaign style has moved him ahead of Thompson in mentions
by Republican activists at the same time that he is being talked about
by rank-and-file Republicans. This is bad news for Thompson and further
confirmation that the Republican race is still open.
are links to a compilation of polls collected by a popular website. The
lines going across the page for the Democratic candidates look somewhat
like stripes of a flag, waving but not changing position.
Republican lines are more confused and show recent weakening for Rudy
is the what of 2008. What about the why?
hurt herself in the debate earlier this week. She did not give crisp
and clear answers. Yes, she was attacked by a gang of male candidates.
Overnight polls show that the voters did not appreciate the tactics of
the attackers. Clinton was warned that the attacks were coming but she
seemed unready. Clinton lost her smile and her sense of humor. It was
her worst night of the campaign. She will survive unless she repeats
this poor showing. She is her own worst enemy - perhaps she is her only
lethal enemy among the Democratic candidates.
and Edwards have
to push Clinton to the right so that they could claim the Democratic
activists on the left. Slowly but adroitly, Clinton has moved left
(consider her changing position on Iraq) and voters are finding it
difficult to tell the philosophical differences among the three leading
Democratic candidates. Edwards believed her failure with healthcare
reform in the early months of her husband’s first term would
her a pariah on healthcare. Instead, Clinton came up with a plan that
echoes much in the Edwards and Obama plans, and much in
Massachusetts plan as well. She introduced her plan and said that the
scars from her previous defeat at healthcare reform
make her the
ideal person to enact reform now. Thus, she turned defeat into the
virtue of experience.
believed that former President Bill Clinton would be a liability.
Instead, candidate Clinton introduced her husband on the campaign
trail. She made a knock-off TV commercial in which she smiled that she
was “always looking out” for her husband, the
president. She looked more presidential than the former president did.
Eventually, the former president said his job in a Hillary Clinton
administration might be to improve America's image in the rest of the
world. That job needs doing and activist Democrats think that Bill
Clinton can do it better than anyone else.
debates until this week, Clinton did not allow the other candidates or
the media to pin her down. “I will not negotiate against
myself,” she responded to one question from Tim Russert about
Social Security. With that answer, so frustrating for her opponents,
she behaved as if she were already president. Clinton is running an
efficient, mostly error-free campaign. But she would probably still
have the lead even if she were not as effective as a candidate.
has not closed the sale
faces a tougher road because he has not been able to garner support
from two of the three basic branches of the Republican Party: Social
conservatives and the economic wing of the party. This leaves him with
nation security hawks while national security is diminishing as a
cutting-edge issue. Giuliani needs to break into at least one of the
other two GOP constituencies. He has been unable to do so.
inability to break through is caused in part by Republican officials
who have shown signs of support but have then held back. This becomes a
self-fulfilling prophecy: As those GOP leaders see Giuliani's inability
to consolidate his lead, they have a further reason to hold back. This
is partly Giuliani’s own fault, a first-time presidential
candidate's mistake. He has not closed the deal with one party leader
before moving on to try to make the next sale. Also, he has allowed
Romney to run thousands of television commercials in key states without
responding. Naturally, Romney has gained in name recognition and in
favorable poll ratings. Has Giuliani given Romney too long a head start
or can he still catch up? The answer may depend on the quality of
should have understood that the party leaders were waiting to see
whether he was going to pull away from Romney. Giuliani now must battle
for support than would have come his way had he confronted Romney
months ago. A show of success would have motivated the party leaders to
jump on the bandwagon, as they have with Hillary Clinton.
early caucus and primary states promise to be furious battlegrounds for
the Republicans as Giuliani finally confronts Romney against the
background of the other candidates trying to break through. Our
Decision-Maker Research suggests that Giuliani will consolidate his
support and Romney will fade. Thompson has not been impressive and only
folksy Mike Huckabee or a revitalized McCain seem to have any chance.
Huckabee may be campaigning for the second spot on the Republican
may not wear well
Hillary Clinton is cruising along. Perhaps only if she makes a series
of mistakes can Clinton be stopped, short of one other possibility.
Clinton can get too much exposure. When we remind the general public
that they will be seeing the next president on TV day in and day out
for at least four years, and then ask if there are any candidates that
they might tire of seeing every day, Clinton and Rep. Dennis Kucinich
lead among Democrats who may not wear well. By a wide margin,
non-candidate Newt Gingrich leads this dubious poll among Republicans.
conclude with very long-shot projections, Bill Richardson is the choice
among Democratic activists for vice president. Republican activists,
perhaps anticipating Clinton at the head of the Democratic ticket, pick
a woman for their VP - Secretary of State Rice. But Huckabee is moving
Published with the kind permission of Inside Washington's
Headlines, by Ken Feltman, Radnor Inc.