I would like to meet the genius who decided to hold the first Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina. First and foremost, and as I continue to point out, Florida is determined to leapfrog to seven days after the New Hampshire primary. So if the first Democratic debate is geared to win over South Carolinians, it could be a misguided waste for the candidates.
Our InsiderAdvantage survey for South Carolina shows exactly what we expected. The South Carolina Democratic primary will likely go to Barack Obama. South Carolina has, in its Democratic voting base, one of the highest percentages of African-Americans in the nation. As a result, candidates need to aim their messages for America's launching pad, which will inevitably be the Florida primary, followed immediately by "Super Tuesday."
I can't for the life of me understand why the TV networks continue to poll the race for Democratic and Republican nominations on a national level. That isn't the way it works. That approach had all of us believing Howard Dean was on his way to the White House in the 2004 race.
So what do the Democrats and Republicans need to do in order to help themselves with a primary season that will be frontloaded in early '08?
First the Democrats.
If you wondered why Bill Clinton was predicting that Al Gore would get into the presidential race, here is your answer -- Hillary and Bill Clinton want Gore to run. In every survey we have taken in the states with early primaries, with the exception of South Carolina, Senator Clinton is leading, but sometimes by precarious margins. When we add Al Gore to the mix, she still leads, and the distance between her and the other candidates widens. Clinton needs as many well-known men as possible in the race.
Of course, there is another issue for Clinton that is critical. She is pulling less than 50 percent of the female vote in virtually every state. Like Elizabeth Dole when she ventured into presidential waters in 2000, Clinton seems to be afraid to play to her natural card, her gender. She needs to say, "I will be the first woman president." Elizabeth Dole waited too late to do that, and it cost her a genuine chance in the race. Our surveys show that when Clinton is above 40 percent with female Democrats, she leads the field significantly.
For Obama, he must more vigorously reach out to black voters. In too many states, Obama is splitting the black vote; carrying it, but by a slim margin over second-place Clinton. If Clinton continues to hold on to women and a fair share of blacks, this nomination will be decided quickly and decisively in her favor.
It's also important to note that New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson isn't really running for president. Take my word. He is running for vice president. He will score huge points once the public gets to know him -- and after the huge Puerto Rican voting bloc in Florida makes him appear highly competitive.
On the Republican side, I watched with horror as MSNBC covered John McCain's announcement that he is seeking the presidency. The MSNBC reporter made the statement that McCain is the establishment candidate for the GOP. How incredibly naive.
Anyone who knows the GOP knows that McCain is the ultimate outsider. He is having trouble getting significant numbers of volunteers in major states, and as I have mentioned before, he is completely despised by most of his party's U.S. senators. That does not mean McCain cannot win; only that he has to dig himself out of a huge hole of erratic policy views. Harping about bombing Iran just doesn't look very presidential.
I will say it one more time and then quit. Mitt Romney is the establishment candidate. He has the entire Bush organization behind him, and while he may not win, he will have more money and more support than virtually any other candidate. What is amazing is that both former Senator Fred Thompson and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich continue to poll very competitively in virtually every state we have looked at.
There are two ways that a Thompson or Gingrich entry into the race could go. It could create a Ronald Reagan effect. (Reagan officially entered the presidential race comparatively late, just months before the Iowa caucuses.) Or they could become targets of attack and no longer appear attractive. That is something we will have to wait and see should one of the two enter the race. If only one of them does, it's likely he would be near the top for support in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.
For both the Republicans and Democrats, winning the presidency is state-by-state surgery, not a national bloodletting.