Dick Morris’ Sunday ’08 Election Play-by-Play Analysis
Welcome to a new feature from us: a weekly analysis that will be published every Sunday: a play-by-play of the key moves in the presidential race during the preceding week.
Unlike the insider gossip and back patting that you see each week on the Sunday morning network TV shows, we’ll tell you what’s really going on and explain why it’s happening.
We’ll be sending you several complementary issues. But, eventually, since these Sunday wrap-ups are not for publication in any newspaper, we’ll have to charge $25 per year for a subscription. In the next few weeks, we’ll invite you to subscribe – after you’ve had a chance to see if you like it.
Of course, we’ll continue to send you all of our columns for free, but you might want to subscribe to the Sunday Play-by-Play to get the full scoop each week about the 2008 Presidential race.
So here goes:
Dick Morris’ Sunday ’08 Election
VOL. 1, No. 1
March 4, 2007
By Dick Morris and Eileen Mc Gann
1. THE DEMOCRATS
Can Hillary Take a Punch? Can She Throw One?
You never know how good a fighter is until he’s in the ring facing an opponent, throwing and taking punches. You can train in a gym all you want, but that won’t always predict how you’ll perform in the ring. It’s only when the bell rings that a fighter’s abilities can truly be evaluated.
For all of her combat training, Hillary has never really been alone in the ring, ducking punches and dishing it out. But now she has to do both. For a woman candidate, attacking opponents is potentially more damaging than taking the hits that come back at her. Voters often apply a double standard. When male candidates are aggressive, they’re perceived as strong. When women candidates are hard-hitting, they’re perceived as shrews. The history of tough women candidates – from Bella Abzug to New York’s Carol Bellamy and Houston’s mayor Kathy Whitmire – has been that they often sound unduly shrill and hectoring when attacking their adversaries and, in the process, turn off voters. So, its an issue for Hillary, and the key question is: How will she weather campaign combat?
So far, the results are not encouraging for her candidacy. Hillary’s spokesman Howard Wolfson forcefully attacked Barack Obama and his supporter David Geffen for criticizing the Bill presidency and the Hillary candidacy. It didn’t work. Granted that Wolfson, with his Darth Vadar looks and offensive demeanor, is a uniquely menacing spokesman, but he’s Hillary’s voice. And she did not fare will in her opening foray.
In fact, it backfired massively.
Obama had been wrestling with a serious problem – how to win the black vote without alienating white voters. Should he come on to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton? Did he have to speak about affirmative action? What did he need to do to prove to African Americans that he was “black enough” to earn 85% of their votes? The polls showed that he was sagging badly among blacks, losing to Hillary in the Washington Post/ABC poll by 60-20!
But then Hillary blundered big time and solved the problem for him when she foolishly attacked Obama over Geffen’s speech.
Seeing Hillary lashing out at a black candidate was more than African-American voters could or would stomach and they moved in droves away from her and toward Obama. Suddenly the Washington Post/ABC poll showed Obama racing ahead of Hillary among blacks by 44-33! This switch animated Obama’s surge to the mid-20s and Hillary’s slip to the low-30s. The Zogby Poll and Time Magazine’s survey confirm the findings.
In a heartbeat, Hillary went from a pro-black candidate to one who sought to bring down America’s leading African-American political star. That move cost her dearly.
At the same time, Hillary’s attack unleashed a furious response from all those with latent gripes about the Clinton scandals. The gloves came off.
Newt Gingrich called Hillary “a nasty woman” who “runs an endlessly ruthless campaign machine.”
The New York Times‘ Bob Herbert lashed out at the Clintons, referring to them as the “connivers” and describing Hillary as the “powerful front-runner at the controls of a ruthless political machine”.
Even the Boston Globe ran an article saying that Bill’s pardons were back in play as a political issue. Suddenly, it was okay to resurrect all of the old Clinton negatives and throw them out for renewed discussion.
It was as if everybody suddenly remembered why they disliked the Clintons.
Just what Hillary needed!
All of this has relevance well beyond the poll numbers. It may mean that Hillary does a lot better in the gym than in the ring. Perhaps she is so handicapped by her firm image that she can’t attack and she can’t return fire without being tarred with charges of ruthlessness. Bobby Kennedy and Dick Nixon both suffered from that malaise. Their reputation for ruthlessness ended up defanging the one and destroying the other. This may be the fate in store for Hillary.
Following Obama Around Like a Puppy
He announces his candidacy months before it was traditional to do so…she follows and announces hers. He stars at a Hollywood fund raiser…she runs out there to plan one of her own. He visits Selma, Alabama to celebrate the 42nd anniversary of the famous March…she trudges along after him and brings Bill too.
Clearly, Obama has the initiative in the battle for first place in the Democratic field. Hillary looks reactive, almost panicky. Obama, for his part, looks serene, composed, and assured. Its hard to tell who is the rookie and who is the supposed veteran.
Selma: Battleground for the Afro-American Vote
Today’s appearances by Hillary and Obama in Selma, Alabama mark the beginning of a public battle for the Afro-American vote. As mentioned above, Obama resoundingly grabbed the lead from Hillary last week. But she’s not giving up – not by any means!
Hillary lobbed one back at him by arranging to speak at another Baptist Church in Selma at the exact same time that Obama was scheduled to give his own speech. And, just so the folks in Selma don’t forget who she is, Bill Clinton accompanied his wife – his first campaign appearance with her since she announced.
Remember when author Toni Morrison called Bill Clinton “the first Black President?” Well, the Clinton campaign wants to remind black voters that Bill will be right next to Hillary in the next Clinton Administration. His message: This white woman is better than that black man – she’s got me, she’s got experience, and we’ve both been there for you.
But if audience reaction to their respective speeches means anything, Obama is still ahead. He spoke confidently and called Selma ” the ‘ground zero’ for a movement that spread hope and inspiration to oppressed people throughout the world.”
Repeatedly interrupted by standing ovations, Obama laid claim to the heritage of Selma and the civil rights movement: “If it hasn’t been for Selma, I wouldn’t be here,” Mr. Obama said. “This is the site of my conception. I am the fruits of your labor. I am the offspring of the movement. When people ask me if I’ve been to Selma before, I tell them I’m coming home.”
Hillary tried to do the same, claiming that it was the Voting Rights Act that permitted women to enter politics. (apparently overlooking the 19th Amendment and confusing Susan B. Anthony with Martin Luther King Jr.) But, she didn’t rouse the crowd – even when she screeched a series of ‘what matters.’ (health care, Iraq, U.S. reputation in the world) Her text was compelling, but she’s never been an emotional speaker, so her delivery was flat.
One wonders if Selma will be the defining ‘ground zero’ for Obama, much as another ‘ground zero’ further north was for Rudy Guiliani.
Hillary Shows Weakness Among Party Insiders
The Clinton campaign acts as if Hillary’s coronation as the Democratic Party nominee is a done deal, but it turns out that even her own party insiders are not strongly supporting Hillary.
More than ten percent of the delegates to the Democratic Convention have already been selected – Democratic Senators, Governors, Congresspeople, and National Committeepeople. Hillary has long been assumed to have a commanding lead among them. But a poll this week by the Los Angeles Times shows that its not so.
Hillary got the backing of only 20% of the Democratic national committeemen and women. Twenty percent?
It was more than anyone else, but far from the kind of overwhelming support she would have expected. Edwards got 15%, Obama 11%, Gore 10%, and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson 9%. This weakness at the top could be a problem for Hillary.
Don’t order the crown for that coronation just yet.
Restless on the Left
Meanwhile, Hillary has been taking fire from the left for her dance around her position on the war in Iraq. Very recent polls show that the percentage of Democratic Primary voters who want a total cutoff of all funding for the war has risen from 58% in January to 77% in February (Fox News poll). As the Party moves left on the war, Hillary’s evasions seem less and less credible.
Waiting in the Wings: Ralph Nader
Meanwhile, waiting as patiently as the crocodile in Peter Pan, is Ralph Nader. Having run in 2000 and in 2004, he can be taken at his word that he’ll run in 2008.
But this time, his candidacy may be powered the frustrations of the left over the war. If troops are still in Iraq in 2008 – and we bet that they will be -antiwar Democrats may feel that the only way they can vote for a pure antiwar candidate is to support Nader. Ralph got 3% in 2000 and only 1% in 2004. But animated by the anger of the new left, he could soar into double digits in 2008.
Anybody Ever Heard from John Edwards?
Where’s John Edwards?
Left behind in this blizzard of barbs between Hillary and Obama is poor John Edwards, still mired at 12% in the polls. He’s not the first black or the first woman or the first anything. (Being the first trial lawyer to run just doesn’t cut it).
Now he’s not even the most antiwar candidate as Obama has moved to the left to preempt his position.
Front Runner Status = Money = Victory,
It used to be nice to be the early front runner in the race for the White House. But now it is essential. Only the front runners will survive. Now that half of the country has moved their primaries up to February 5, 2008, you have to be on top of the field by Labor Day, 2006 to raise the money to compete in the new national primary that will be held simultaneously in at least half of America and maybe more.
That’s why the desperate sparring among the candidates now takes on added meaning. They are playing a game of musical chairs and the music stops in the fall of 2007. Anyone without a seat, goes home.
2. The Republicans
McCain Fading; Rudy Soaring
John McCain looked like yesterday’s man as he announced his candidacy on the liberal Letterman show. Mousey, tiny, subdued and tentative, he was not the John McCain of 2000 who would take on all comers.
In fact, McCain is no longer the maverick who excited independents and scared orthodox Republicans seven years ago. Instead, he’s a pale imitation of his former self and a good imitation of his opponent in 2000– George W. Bush- as he toes the party line on abortion, gay rights, and the war.
Where is the guy who lashed out at greedy corporate governance, demanded campaign finance reform and attacked big tobacco? It’s begun to look like McCain left his originality on the playing field in South Carolina seven years ago.
The Fox News poll charts the fall. McCain has slipped from 27% in early December to 25% to 23% to 19% while Rudy Giuliani dominates the race at 39%.
With George Allen out and Bill Frist out, Mitt Romney never catching on, John McCain fading fast, and Newt Gingrich not getting in, Rudy Giuliani looks like he has the GOP field to himself.
Will Newt Run?
Will Gingrich get in? He just might be the only serious right wing challenger to Rudy. But last week he fell all over himself to praise the former New York mayor. He says he’ll decide whether or not to run in September. But by then this race will be over. Newt seems to know, but not to care. He’s just as happy to watch somebody else get sliced up for a change.
Can Rudy Win the Right?
Not all of it. Not all the time. Not against Newt. But against McCain, who the conservatives intensely dislike? That’s a no brainer. Against Romney who has flip, flop, flipped on abortion, stem cells, and gay rights? No question he can.
This weekend, NCPAC (the National Conservative Political Action Committee) held a straw poll after its convention. Romney topped the charts with 21% but Rudy was second with a respectable 17%. McCain got only 12%. That Rudy placed so well among the political base of the other side of the spectrum speaks well for his efforts.
So Rudy will stay ahead until the Christian right comes up with a candidate, who will have to come from the second tier of declared candidates if Newt stays out of the race.
Who Will Win the Right Wing?
So it’s a choice among former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, former Virginia Governor James Gilmore, Congressmen Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo, or former HHS Secretary and Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson.
Our bet is that our former client – Mike Huckabee – may make the grade. He’s articulate, charismatic, original, a former Baptist Minister, and a genuine free spirit. Brownback is terminally dull (and has a bad attendance record in Congress) and the others have yet to make their mark.
Does Rudy Have It Locked Up?
Not yet, but he’s getting there. For a genuine conservative to rise up, he’s got to climb over the fading McCain, the dead Romney, and the absent Gingrich to make his case. Right now, Newt’s indecision is freezing the action on the right.
Meanwhile, Rudy has to transform his support from enthusiasm over his past to anticipation about the future. Rudy needs some issues. Iran would be a good one, especially with Hillary advocating “engagement.” But this race, right now, is Rudy’s to lose.
Copyright Dick Morris and Eileen Mc Gann 2007.
Reprints with permission only.