Wednesday, November 26, 2003

South Carolina Shocker

A new poll of likely voters in the South Carolina Democratic primary has North Carolinian John Edwards in the lead and Al Sharpton in second place. This is a big reversal from last month's American Research Group poll of SC voters that had Wes Clark in the lead at 17% and Edwards trailing with 10%.

The new poll finds Edwards with 17% and Sharpton at 12%. Wes Clark was knocked down to fourth place at 10% behind Howard Dean's 11%. In order, the rest of the pack was Lieberman, Gephardt, Moseley Braun, Kerry, and Kucinich.

Interestingly, the poll seems to indicate that Howard Dean's Confederate flag comments did not hurt him in the Southern state. Edwards and Sharpton, however, were the two candidates who criticized Dean the most actively on the issue. So while the issue didn't seem to hurt Dean, their handling of it may have helped the Edwards and Sharpton.

But is this poll for real? After all, there are such drastic differences between it and the ARG poll. While I can't speak to either pollsters' methodology or past accuracy, I can point to some numbers that say people's minds aren't changing so much as these polls were conducted totally differently.

The favorable ratings for Carol Moseley Braun and Wesley Clark were 17% and 23% respectively, according to the ARG poll. The new poll has each of them at 30%. Similarly, Sharpton's unfavorable number of 43% apparently dropped to 26%.

Basically, until some other polls come out in support of one or the other result, we can't really say what the real story is. You can bet the Edwards and Sharpton campaigns are going to make a big deal out of these numbers one way or another.

posted by Scott | 11/26/2003 | |

Lieberman Ad To Feature NH McCain Backers

The Lieberman campaign is set to start running new television ads in New Hampshire featuring backers of John McCain's 2000 GOP primary run. The ad shows seven different McCain supporters pointing out the things Lieberman and McCain have in common.

Clearly the hope is that independent voters come out in support of Lieberman in the state's open primary. However, while all of the candidates are jockeying for McCain's supporters, no one has yet based the entire reasoning of his or her campaign on their support.

The ad is likely to be seen by many as a move of desperation. A recent NH poll found Lieberman struggling in fourth place with 5%.

posted by Scott | 11/26/2003 | |

Monday, November 24, 2003

Debate Wrap-Up

(Note: Apologies for the late posting on this. I've been having some troubles posting and as such, have experienced quite a backlog. I'm not going to bore you with everything you've missed here and read elsewhere already. This piece, however, seemed important enough to get posted. Thanks for your patience!)

John Kerry

We really didn't need another Democratic debate to confirm the fact that John Kerry is struggling as a candidate. However, the debate at least served to tell us that not only is Kerry struggling, he's desperate. Early in the debate, Kerry attempted to bludgeon Howard Dean on his stated desire to slow the growth of rate of Medicare.

As Kerry defined such a slowing of growth as a cut, which Dean attempted to argue against. Dean refused (wisely) to answer the question as it had been phrased, trying instead to explain some specific Medicare proposals he supports as a candidate. Kerry kept interrupting, however, demanding that Dean answer the original question. It was awkward at best and bullying at worst.

Couple Kerry's attempted strong-arming of Dean with Dean's new first place showing in polls of Massachusetts primary voters and two things become clear. One, Kerry is now officially scared out of his mind and believes that he is in a political life or death conflict with Dean. Two, John Kerry is on his last legs as a Presidential candidate.

No candidate should base his or her political future on the collective opinion of one state's voters. However, the Massachusetts poll numbers send an important message to early primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, et al. Karl Rove spread a similar message about Al Gore during the 2000 election. Gore was not polling well in his home state of Tennessee and Team W wouldn't let the nation forget it.

Al Gore was a former Senator from Tennessee, though. He was not -- as John Kerry is -- a sitting Senator who just last year ran virtually unopposed for his seat, winning by a landslide. By 2000, Gore had been eight years removed from Tennessee politics and Tennessee had become increasingly Republican, as had much of the South. Even then, Gore was running just as much against the scandals that had plagued Bill Clinton as he was running against the campaign of George W. Bush.

In Kerry's case, he is still popular in Massachusetts as a U.S. Senator. But the Democratic voters of Massachusetts do not prefer him as their candidate for President. In fact, they prefer Kerry's arch-rival Howard Dean. This is damning evidence that Kerry's ship is sinking and it will be used as such by the Dean campaign, which certainly controls the bully pulpit among Democratic campaigns.

Howard Dean

I'm convinced that Dean now officially has a bullseye painted on his forehead, only we can't see it because of a professional makeup job. The evidence? Just listen to Kerry, Dean's "good friend" Dick Gephardt, Al Sharpton, and Dennis Kucinich. They were definitely gunning for Dean on Monday, though I can't say much for their aim.

Gephardt kept attacking Dean from the left, pointing to supposed cuts to social services Dean made to balance Vermont's budget while he was Governor. Dean denied the charge and Gephardt never produced any solid, convincing numbers. Kerry, well, see the above. Sharpton played nice during this debate, though he did take a crack at Dean for the Confederate flag flap, claiming that if Dean wasn't wrong, he shouldn't have apologized at all.

Dean handled it all fairly well, not blowing his top, trying to answer the barbs graciously, and making a few cute jokes along the way. However, in playing defense, he was pretty much blocked out of saying anything of any great import offensively. If this continues, it's going to hurt him.

The other thing that will start hurting Dean as his national media profile increases is his face. I hate to be bitchy here, but has anyone else noticed that when he's not answering a question and they put him on camera anyway, Dean's face is always contorted? It's a weird thinking-too-hard/bad-stomach-cramps face that Trippi & Co. really has to get under control. It's not attractive.

Wesley Clark

Wes Clark came on strong in the debate, proving that not only does he have a great foreign policy resume, but that he's also got a great yell. Some candidates sound catty or silly when they yell. Owing probably to his status as a retired military man, Clark proved he has no such problems.

Clark abstained from attacking the other candidates, instead focusing his fire on Bush. He adopted a fiery tone on the issue of Team W misleading the American people into war. At the same time, he also tried to defuse the question of whether or not he would have supported the Iraq war resolution. It's "a great mistake," he said, to make turn the war resolution into "a litmus test" for the nomination. The real issue, as he sees it, is that Bush lied to the Congress, the American people, and the world. Clark again got loud in questioning why Bush is willing to visit families of British soldiers killed in Iraq, while stalling on visits with the families of American soldiers who've lost their lives. Here, Clark's military credentials worked exceptionally well.

Oddly, in not attacking his fellow candidates, Clark turned himself into the strongest voice for party unity on the stage. The fact remains that he didn't actually vote for the war. So the 'who did, who didn't' over the Iraq war resolution is just as damaging, if not more so, to the candidacies of John Edwards and John Kerry, who strongly supported the resolution -- and actually voted for it -- but now decry the war as a mistake. Clark's problem is that the pundits and journalists won't accept once and for all his nuanced position on the resolution -- that he would have supported a resolution but not the resolution. Nor is Howard Dean ready to accept the explanation. Again he brought up Clark's advice to Katrina Swett to vote for the resolution prior to the war. The ugly truth here is that Clark was probably giving Swett political advice. It would have been damaging to her reelection chances to vote against the resolution. But of course Dean is not going to let Clark off the hook and Clark doesn't want to cop to giving political advice when his whole appeal as an outsider lies in the fact that he's not a political creature.

John Edwards

What a nice guy. What a nice looking guy. What is he doing here, again?

He said little and played nice, attempting to make the case for party unity at a few points during the debate. Can you say "Vice Presidential nominee," boys and girls?

Dick Gephardt

Still in the race. Still attacking Dean. Still has a ton of union endorsements. Still has no eyebrows.

I love historical speculation. I have a feeling that if Gephardt had taken a Bob Graham-like stand against the Iraq war rather than being one of its major backers, the nomination would be his even at this early point. Dean would be in the race, but people would just figure he was lobbying for secretary of HHS. Edwards would be either staying in NC or looking for the VP nomination. Kerry would be sticking with his Senate seat. Clark would still be on CNN, maybe quietly jockeying for a cabinet appointment. Sharpton, Kucinich, and Braun would basically be serving the same functions they are now. Lieberman would be Lieberman, sounding like a moderate Republican, running at Gephardt from the right. But make no mistake, this nomination would be Dick Gephardt's for the taking.

Al Sharpton

Sharpton -- not surprisingly -- had two of the great lines of the night. He declared that any of the nine Democrats in the running would make a better President in their worst night's sleep than Bush awake. He also said, in reference to the GOP ads question the Democrats' patriotism, that "real patriots don't lie to American soldiers."

Also not surprisingly, Sharpton gave moderator Tom Brokaw the runaround when Tawana Brawley was brought up. Why should he apologize, he asked, for believing a girl who said she was raped? He then made a correlation to Jessica Lynch, saying that Bush has not apologized for believing the things the Pentagon said about her rescue that even Lynch later exposed as hype. If you're scratching your head right now, don't feel bad. I don't get it either.

Carol Moseley Braun

Another big "what the?!?!" comment of the night came when Braun bragged that she used to be known as "The Ethanol Queen of the Senate." We know ethanol subsidies play well in the debate's setting of Iowa, but that debate was also televised to a national audience who, by and large, see ethanol subsidies as pure pork.

Dennis Kucinich

I guess being a candidate with no meaningful shot at the nomination means you can just say whatever nonsense comes to your head. Kucinich claims that if the Iraq war was wrong, then so is the reconstruction. If you break something, his reasoning goes, you failed, and therefore should get out so someone else can fix it. America broke Iraq, he's saying, and the UN should fix it. This is stupid beyond words.

To preempt the Kucinich backers out there who are going to shoot me some nasty e-mails, let me remind you that the UN is not going to just jump in the minute the US pulls out, as Dennis claims. And America now has a special responsibility to help repair Iraq precisely because we broke it! You may not agree with the way the occupation and reconstruction are being handled by Team W -- I certainly don't -- but that doesn't mean that the U.S. isn't up to the task at all.

posted by Scott | 11/24/2003 | |
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