There was good news this week for both soon-to-be candidate Fred Thompson and growing-by-the-hour candidate Barack Obama. The Los Angeles Times survey of April 5-9 found that former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson had moved into second place – ahead of the seriously damaged McCain – in the GOP presidential primary. This is an amazing showing for an undeclared candidate.
And on the Democratic side, an online vote conducted by liberal anti-war group, Moveon.org showed Obama in first place, with Edwards close behind, as the best candidate to lead the U.S. out of Iraq. Hillary came in fifth, after Kunich and Richardsen. This does not auger well for Hillary, who has been trying to move further to the left on the war and cultivate the anti-war vote.
THOMPSON OVERTAKES MCCAIN
The surprisingly positive results for Thompson in the L.A. Times survey may be the final impetus that convinces him to jump into the race. There have been several recent indications that Thompson is abut to declare.
First, his public disclosure that he was diagnosed with lymphoma several years ago and is now in remission could only have been made to pave the way for his entry in the Republican primary. A potential candidate would have to get that information out before someone leaked it. And, on the other hand, if Thompson was not a candidate, he would have no reason to divulge that personal information.
Thompson has also scheduled a number of high profile appearances in Washington, including the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, a meeting with 40-50 Republican Congressman, and a speech at the influential Lincoln Club in Orange County, California. A Thompson adviser, Mark Corallo, said that the schedule of events are "indications that Fred is taking this very seriously."
The vibes in Washington certainly suggest that Thompson is about to jump into the race, probably declaring his candidacy in May.
The L.A. Times poll showed Guiliani leading the field, as usual, at 29% but with Thompson in second place at 15%. McCain fell to third place at 12%. Poor Mitt Romney still can't get no respect and trailed at 8%. The results were as follows:
MC CAIN 12%
Source: LA Times
The Thompson numbers are important in two respects: They show that McCain is continuing to slip and slide as his campaign seems to lose momentum every day. But they also matter because Newt Gingrich, the other looming presence over the race, is badly trailing behind the undeclared Thompson, who seems to be picking up Newt's voters. So if Newt stays out until September, as he has vowed he would, the survey indicates that Fred would obliterate him in the meantime and make it all but impossible for him to run. It looks like Republicans are still looking for an ideal candidate and take Thompson quite seriously.
If Thompson were to run, he would fight an all-out battle with Giuliani for conservative Republicans. A recent Gallup Poll found that 22% of self-described pro-life Republicans – who constitute 2/3 of the GOP primary turnout – still vote for Rudy despite his widely known pro-choice position. Gallup has Rudy in first place among those pro-life voters, although by less than the 33% he gets from those who are pro-choice.
But Fred Thompson would give Rudy a real run for his money among these social conservatives. Significantly, in the LA Times poll, Thompson received more support from Christian conservatives – 21%- than any of the other candidates. Giuliani followed with 17% and McCain trailed with 10%.
My bet is that Rudy will still prevail because terrorism trumps abortion as an issue for the GOP right, but it could get close.
MCCAIN CONTINUES TO FALTER
In general, things are not looking good for McCain. He continues to fall in the polls, raised only $12.5 million in the first quarter, and has started laying off some of his campaign staff. The campaign finance reports that must be filed this week-end will show whether he has any money on hand.
McCain's hawkish pro-Bush position on Iraq may well doom him. He delivered a speech at VMI this week in which he claimed that the Iraq war was "necessary and just," a sentiment that the majority of Americans disagree with. Still, he might be able to appeal to the conservative base and pick up points for his honesty and his strength in espousing an unpopular position that he believes in.
He's got a lot of obstacles to overcome before he can improve his standing. And, he didn't help himself last week when he claimed that Baghdad was now safe enough to shop in one of the city's open markets. Of course, McCain was no ordinary shopper. After it was revealed that he was surrounded by a 100-member armed delegation, three Blackhawk helicopters, two Apache gunships, and wore a flak jacket, Mc Cain looked ridiculous and lost credibility.
Mc Cain hasn't formerly announced yet. If he can't raise money and can't improve his poll numbers, he might just have to forget about it.
ANNE ROMNEY SAYS MITT'S MORMON RELIGION IS NOT A PROBLEM
Mitt Romney's wife, Anne, told an Alabama audience that her husband's Mormon religion would not be a problem once people got to know him. The Romneys have good reason to address the issue: More than 29% of American voters in a recent Washington Post/ABC Poll indicated that they would not vote for a Mormon for President. And, in a recent Gallup poll, 46% of the respondents had a negative view of Mormons, while only 46% had a positive view.
Those who attend church weekly had the strongest negative views about Mormons, with Protestants weighing in as significantly more negative than their Catholic counterparts.
The disapproval of the Mormon religion may be the single biggest obstacle for a Romney candidacy. He is attractive and charismatic, a proven fund raiser, and was a successful governor of Massachusetts. Still, he has not been able to move his support into double digits and concerns about his religion may well prevent him from moving into the top teir of the Republican candidates.
It's possible that he'll be able to do what John Kennedy did in 1960 to combat anti-Catholic criticism. He needs to speak openly and honestly about his religion, so that voters understand what role his religion would play – if any – in the White House.
TROUBLE FOR HILLARY ON THE LEFT
Hillary's poor showing in the Moveon.org online vote on 'which candidate would best lead us out of Iraq' is important because it is the first real indication of how the anti-war left feels about the Democratic contenders on the Iraq War issue.
They don't like Hillary.
While the sampling is not at all scientific, it is still interesting because of the heft of Moveon.org among the activist left. While only about 42,000 people voted, the results certainly indicate that the left is getting sick of Hillary's evasiveness on the war.
The Moveon.org numbers were:
Again, caution, this is not a scientific poll of anything, but it does serve as a warning indicator that Hillary may be alienating the left in her bid to stay close enough to the center to win in the general election.
To finish in fifth place among leftist activists - behind Richardson and Kucinich certainly isn’t a good showing for the Democratic front runner.
Obama and Edwards were the top choices, and one of them will likely get the support and endorsement of the group. That will be worth a lot because of their organizing and fund raising abilities.
Good News for Edwards
While other candidates have been getting more media attention, Edwards has been quietly building a lead in Iowa. Virtually every poll shows him in first place. And, in New Hampshire, he and Obama are tied for second place behind Clinton.
He's still in the top tier and can't be ignored.
Edwards' second place showing in the Moveon.org vote, a few points behind Obama is also interesting. Obama’s indication on the Letterman show that he would likely be satisfied to vote for a war funding bill without a withdrawal schedule but with fuzzy language about the need for a political and diplomatic solution to the war may alienate the Movon.org crowd. That language won’t appease the left by a long shot. The Moveon.org vote indicates that Edwards might be ideally positioned to move to the left of Hillary and Obama over the war funding issue and pick up even more support.
Obama and Hillary both face a crucial decision when the war funding resolution comes to a vote. If they vote for the fuzzy language compromise that Obama appeared to endorse on Letterman, they open the way for Edwards. With his domestic message of protectionism and anti-globalism not selling, Edwards could become the anti-war candidate and get back into this race if the two front runners oblige him by shooting themselves in the foot over the war funding resolution.
What Makes Obama Gain?
Obama's fund raising success and his growing standing in the polls begs the question: Why is he moving up?
The key reason is that he is the opposite of Hillary Clinton. He not only gets the votes of anyone who doesn't like Hillary, he benefits by the contrast with her.
In fact, Obama's personality and characteristics might be dull and boring in another time in another contest. He might, without Hillary, be a reincarnation of Al Gore, notable for his failure to keep his audience awake.
But now he excites the voters not just as the first black candidate but also as the opposite of the characteristics we find negative in the former first lady.
He is cool to her hot. He is mellow to her stridency. He ponders problems and issues intellectually while all we get from Hillary is straight ahead advocacy and rhetoric. She is scripted. He appears natural and spontaneous. She comes across and calculating and opportunistic. He seems to be sincere and open.
While she voted for the war, backed it, and now twists herself into a pretzel explaining her past and current positions. But Obama was always anti-war and still is, plain and simple. Most voters think Hillary read the polls before she speaks. Obama seems to shoot from the hip and read his conscience.
Hillary is part of a very old story while Obama is brand new. Hillary's marriage has been the stuff of national news and controversy for more than a decade. Obama’s private life is still private. Hillary left Washington one step ahead of the sheriff carting the White House china with her. Obama has never had a serious brush with ethics (apart from an ill considered land deal in Illinois for which he apologized).
Hillary flaunts her firstness, constantly citing the fact that she may become the first woman to serve as president. But Obama, just as dramatic a first, rarely alludes to it and lets voters draw their own conclusions. Hillary's campaign strategy appears to be rooted in demographics while Obama's is more conventional and is not based on his black support.
It is everything about Obama that seems to contrast with everything about Hillary. And that is his strength.
The Three Dimensional Primary
If, as we suspect, Rudy faces off with Fred Thompson in the Republican Primary and Hillary takes on Obama in the Democratic contest, it's important to see the primaries not as separate and distinct, but as one combined primary.
At least half the states, including California, allow independents to vote in either party primary. With more people identifying as Independents than as either Democrats or Republicans, their presence in the primaries is crucial.
So the fact is that each of these four final candidates is running, not just against his or her party opponent, but against all three other potential nominees. In 2000, for example, Bill Bradley, running for the Democratic nomination, and John McCain, fighting for the Republican nod, both out polled Gore and Bush among Independents. In fact, the only reason McCain was able to win in New Hampshire was his overwhelming support among Independents. Bush beat him handily among Republicans.
In 2000, in a sense, McCain beat Bradley in their unspoken and informal Independent Primary and attracted more Independents into the Republican primary to vote for him than Bradley could attract into the Democratic contest where he was a candidate.
But next year, it may not be a question of which candidate Independents like the most but who they like the least. The primaries may break down into a pro-Hillary and an anti-Hillary contest in which Independents are more concerned to stop the former first lady in the Democratic primary than they are with whether Guiliani or Fred Thompson are the Republican nominee. Since neither of the Republicans incites much antipathy, but Hillary does, it is very likely that lots of Independents will choose to vote in the Democratic primary for Obama so as to stop their bete noire from getting elected.
In some states, even Republicans can vote in the Democratic primaries (and vice-versa). Even dedicated GOP voters might switch into the Democratic primary to stop Hillary.
So each candidate in the semi-finals has to pay attention to the entire field, not just to their specific primary. That will make strategizing this race very, very interesting.