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DICK MORRIS’ ’08 PLAY-BY-PLAY ANALYSIS
Vol. 1, #8
April 30, 2007
HILLARY CAN’T GET AWAY WITH BEING “TALKING DOG” ANY LONGER
All the analysts of the first Democratic Presidential debate are missing the key point – it is not who won or lost on the playing field, it is that the blush of novelty in seeing a woman speak articulately and well about serious political issues is wearing off with each exposure to Mrs. Clinton. Hillary can no longer count on the voters’ joy of discovering an intelligent woman candidate to win her votes.
In her memoir, Living History, Hillary explains this phenomenon as the “talking dog syndrome.” She writes:
“Some people are still amazed that any woman (this includes Governors’ wives, corporate CEOs, sports stars and rock singers) can hold her own under pressure and be articulate and knowledgeable. The dog can talk! In fact, it’s often an advantage if people you hope to persuade underestimate you at first.”
Later in her book, recounting her testimony for health care reform before a Congressional Committee, she attributes many of the accolades that greeted her performance as “just the latest example of ‘the talking dog syndrome’ which I had learned about as First Lady of Arkansas.” She goes on to quote Dr. Samuel Johnson’s biographer, Boswell, saying “Sir, a woman preaching is like a dog’s walking on its hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”
Hillary has always used the talking dog syndrome to her advantage as she makes the progression from soft morning interviews on television chat shows to hard questioning and campaign debating. A great deal of her early good impression on people, as she sagely notes in her memoirs, is based on this syndrome.
But now it’s beginning to wear off. People are used to seeing her perform well on a platform and are beginning to listen more to what she says than to the fact that she is saying it. And, even worse for her, they are comparing her style with that of her husband and finding her wanting. More than any other factors, these account for her drop in the polls from a 58% favorability rating in February of this year to only 45% now.
The same subliminal trend -in the opposite direction – is at work with Barack Obama. His problem is inexperience. But with each hour of the Democratic debate, he showed that he could hold his own with the top candidates in his party. Not only was the manifestly as well prepared and informed as Edwards or Clinton, but he matched up well with former UN Ambassador Bill Richardson, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden, distinguished company, indeed.
So the key point in analyzing the first debate is that the more it progressed, the more Hillary and Obama became like any other candidate -to Clinton’s detriment and to her opponent’s advantage. Her novelty and his inexperience loomed as far smaller factors at the debate’s end than they did at its commencement. And that is the key impact of this first debate.
We can expect Obama to advance and Hillary to continue to slip as a result of what happened in the debate last week.
DEMS ARE POPULAR PARTY; GOP HAS POPULAR CANDIDATES
In understanding what’s happening as the 2008 election takes shape, it’s helpful to realize that the Democrats are, by far, the more popular political party while the best liked candidate is a Republican.
In an April Gallup Poll, voters indicated that they either identified with or leaned toward the Democratic as opposed to the Republican Party by 52-40 – the second largest partisan differential since Gallup began using this measurement of party support in 1991. Asked which party they want to see win the 2008 presidential election, voters preferred a Democratic victory by 50-35.
So why does Rudy Giuliani, the front running Republican candidate defeat Hillary Clinton, the Democratic favorite, by 52-48 in that same Gallup poll? And why does he defeat Barack Obama by 52-43?
Some would attribute this yawning crevice between support for the party and enthusiasm for its putative nominee to the rising unpopularity of Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton has just seen her favorability drop from 58% in Gallup’s February poll to a mere 45% eight weeks later! Negative opinions of the former first lady have soared in tandem and now reach 52%.
But Obama is well liked (52% favorable vs. 27% unfavorable), and Rudy still defeats him by a wide margin so it can’t just be Hillary’s unpopularity.
Despite her unpopularity, when Hillary is matched up against McCain (whose favorable/unfavorable ratio is 51-32) she defeats him by 50-47. So it is not Hillary’s negatives but Rudy’s positives that is overcoming party identification and defeating the Democratic presidential candidates in the early trial matchups.
The real answer lies in the unique popularity of the Republican front runner, Rudy Giuliani. Still a hero for his courage and calm during and after 9-11, the former New York Mayor is, quite simply, America’s most popular politician with a 61% favorable rating among the general electorate (82% among Republicans) and only a 27% negative rating.
Basically, there are three trends at work:
a) The Democratic Party is moving up and the GOP down as the war in Iraq loses what support it still has.
b) Hillary’s popularity is dropping.
c) Rudy Giuliani is keeping his high level of favorability.
It is the irony of this election so far that the Democratic Party enjoys a 12 point lead over the GOP while the Republican front runner has a 16% higher favorability rating than the leader of the Democratic pack.
But Rudy needs to beware. He is running up a down escalator. As support for the war drops, month by month, and drags GOP support with it, he has to run harder and harder just to stay in the same place. Inevitably, as the campaign wears on, his approval will dip and the race tighten.
Many conservative Republicans are inclined to tend away from Giuliani for his social views but those who do flirt with disaster. Fred Thompson, relatively unknown, has only a 24% favorability while Newt Gingrich, the other true conservative, has a 2:1 negative rating in most polls.
Newt clearly cannot amass the level of popularity necessary to resist the Democratic trend at work nationally, and Thompson has yet to show that he can do so either. It may take a national hero, a later day Eisenhower, to bail out the Republican Party and Rudy Giuliani is as close as it gets these days!
EDWARDS MAY GET BACK INTO THE RACE – ENTERING STAGE LEFT
John Edwards may soon crash the two-way race shaping up between Clinton and Obama, riding the crest of anti-war sentiment into the front tier of candidates. Last week’s Democratic Party debate highlighted the gap between the former Vice Presidential candidate and his two main rivals over the war.
Now that Bush is vetoing the cutoff of funding, neither Obama nor Clinton will commit to the hard-line left only to support war funding if a troop withdrawal deadline is in the bill. It seems that both are preparing to support the Pelosi-Reid-Bush compromise that appears to be shaping up – funding for the war, no troop withdrawal deadline, and a statement of conditions Iraq must meet to keep US troops there. Since the president will likely be the one to decide if these conditions are being met, the left will see this language as meaningless.
But John Edwards recently e mailed his supporters to make clear that he wants to go all the way and keep sending Bush war appropriations bills with rigid withdrawal schedules attached. He is prepared to let the vetoes pile up until the funding runs out.
This hard left position, which neither Obama nor Clinton is likely to follow, will polarize the Democratic field of candidates over the war and will probably boost Edwards back into contention, powered by the frustrations of the Democratic left. Antiwar voters will wonder why they elected a Democratic majority only to have it be palliated by meek language without any teeth to back it up.
Of course, Obama could frustrate Edwards’move to the left by backing the strict left position and opposing the compromise likely to emerge from the talks between Bush and the Democratic Congressional leaders. It would be the correct move for the Illinois Senator.
If Obama votes with the left, he will destroy any possibility of an Edwards revival and will effectively make it a two way race between him and Hillary. He would stand to benefit not only from her drop in favorability but from state laws that let Independents in 56% of the country and Republicans in 40% cross over to vote in the Democratic Primary.
And with the war’s decreasing popularity, Obama is not likely to have to pay heavily for such a position by the time November, 2008 rolls around.
Obama’s hope is that he will not have to vote with the left over funding but that his credential of having opposed the war in 2002 when both Hillary and Edwards backed it, will be enough to prevent the former VP candidate from rolling up his left flank. But he’s wrong. It won’t. 2002 is history. What the left will care about is how you vote in 2007 and if Obama flunks the test, he will buy himself a three-way race where the anti-Clinton vote is divided and his chances of victory are substantially reduced.
For her part, Hillary is so committed to continued funding for the troops that she is unlikely to change her vote and will almost undoubtedly embrace the mealy-mouthed compromise Reid and Pelosi bring back from the Oval Office negotiations. Such a posture will antagonize the party’s left and may even undermine some of Hillary’s support among women.
Edwards has always been the odd man out in this race without a “first”of his own, facing the first woman and the first black to run for president with a serious chance of winning. Now he will have his own unique selling proposition: The only real antiwar candidate.
RUDY’S RIGHT TO DRAW FIRST BLOOD
Rudy Giuliani shattered the tacit no-negatives rule that is forcing all the presidential candidates to mind their manners when he said that, on Sean Hannity’s radio show, that a Democratic victory would “raise a white flag” in the war on terror and that it would force the nation onto the “defensive.”
Substantively, he’s right, of course. The Democrats do not buy the idea that if we are forcing the terrorists to dodge from doorway to doorway in Baghdad and cave to cave in Afghanistan that they cannot get it together to knock down our buildings. He’s also correct that the intrusive homeland security measures included in the Patriot Act would not likely survive the combination of a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president.
But politically, it was also the right move for Rudy to make, witness the howls of outrage he drew from both Hillary and Obama. By attacking the Democrats, Rudy makes himself the de facto spokesperson for his Party and consolidates his front runner status. With Bush impaired by favorability ratings that echo the title of Elton John’s album”Too Low for Zero”, Rudy can and should step up and use his popularity to become the party’s vocal leader.
By attacking Democrats, particularly on his signature issue of terrorism, Rudy emphasizes to Republican Primary voters the two basic reasons for supporting him – his position on combating America’s attackers and his ability to defeat the Republicans. The more Giuliani ignores McCain, Thompson, Romney, Gingrich, and avoids discussing the social issues that hurt him on the right and the more he concentrates his fire on the Democrats over terrorism, the better he will do.
Rudy continued to move in the correct direction when he called the Democrats’ health care reforms “socialized medicine.” By engaging the Democrats, Rudy becomes Sir Galahad to Republicans, their knight in shining armor.
Rudy should embrace the drive to disinvest in companies that do business with Iran. He should make the crusade to get state officials to steer their pension funds away from the 485 companies that are publicly traded and help to subsidize Iran, North Korea, Syria, or Sudan. He ought to include in his campaign regular meetings with governors and state treasurers to urge them to disinvest and should hold press conferences with them as he succeeds in winning converts to the cause.
(For more information on this effort, go to www.disinvestterror.com.)
John McCain has steadied himself in the polls by his strong support for the war in Iraq – still popular among Republican Primary voters. Giuliani can one-up him by using his campaign travels to battle terrorism up front and publicly. No Republican looks good to the general electorate, where the war is a big negative, defending the Bush policy in Iraq. But Giuliani would appeal to both the general and the primary electorate by a strong stand against doing business with Iran.
AMERICANS OF BOTH PARTIES WANT TOUCHBACK SOLUTION TO ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS
The left wants illegal immigrants to get an earned path to citizenship while they stay in the United States. The right wants them thrown out and barred from returning. But Americans of both parties favor a third, more moderate, approach: They want illegal immigrants to be required to leave the US and then to be allowed to re-enter the country legally and embark on an earned path to citizenship that would require them to achieve literacy in English, avoid arrest for criminal behavior, and be employed for a certain period of time.
The Gallup Poll of April, 2007 found a remarkable similarity in the opinions of Democrats and Republicans on this issue, wrongly perceived by strategists of both parties, as “wedge issue” on which partisan opinions contrast sharply.
Asked how they would want illegal immigration to be handled, supporters of both parties roughly agreed:
Favored Approach To Illegal Immigrants Already in the US
All Voters Democrats Republicans
Require them to leave & not return 14% 11% 14%
Leave but return to work 6% 5% 9%
Leave but return to become citizens 42% 36% 49%
Remain in US and become citizens 36% 45% 27%
So, even among Democrats, a majority — 52% — want illegal immigrants to be required to leave the country. And, even among Republicans, a majority — 76% — wants them to be able to earn their way toward citizenship. (The Gallup Poll specified, in the body of the question, that “certain requirements” would have to be met to become citizens).
Given the bipartisan consensus, why is Washington so polarized on this issue? Answer: Not enough politicians are reading the polls, an uncommon defect in that particular city.
So maybe these data will help.
The future of the Republican Party hangs in the balance. The Latino vote need not become a mainstay of the Democratic Party as the African American vote has already become. One out of three Hispanic-Americans has become Evangelical, indicating a sharp tendency to move to the right. While Gore beat Bush among Hispanics by 30 points, Kerry won them by only 10 points. Indeed, half of Bush’s 3.5% margin of victory in the ’08 popular vote came from the switch among Hispanic voters. But, in 2006, most exit polls indicate an overwhelming Latino support for Democratic candidates, some by as much as a 46 point margin reflecting their alienation against anti-immigration nativism among Republican conservatives.
But if the GOP would get behind a “touchback” solution, where illegal immigrants would have to return home and could then enter the country legally and earn their way toward citizenship, and George W. Bush could be the one to sign this legislation and deliver it to the Latinos, the fast growing Hispanic population could become an asset to the Republican Party, not its biggest nightmare.
***Copyright Dick Morris and Eileen McGann 2007. Reprints with permission only***