Dick Morris’ ’08 Play-By-Play Analysis
Volume 1, #13
June 13, 2007
EDWARDS AND, ROMNEY SHOW STRENGTH IN IOWA POLLS —
BUT WILL IT LAST?
RUDY SHOWS ALARMING WEAKNESS IN EARLY STATES
An average of the last five national polls shows a familiar pattern. In the Democratic Party, Hillary is in the lead with 34% to Obama’s 24% and Edwards’ 11%. Only one recent Gallup Poll showing Hillary and Obama tied contradicts the trend showed in all of the other surveys.
On the Republican side, the polling is similarly stable with Rudy in the lead at 26%, McCain trailing badly at 16%, Fred Thompson at 13%, Romney mired at 10%, and Newt Gingrich drawing 8%.
But the polls in Iowa and the other early states tell a very different story.
As the first state to vote, twenty-one days before the National Primary in which the nomination will be decided, Iowa deserves special scrutiny.
On the Democratic side, the polls show a close race between Hillary and John Edwards with Obama a distant third:
IOWA DEMOCRATIC POLLS
Poll End Date Hillary Obama Edwards Result
Amer Res Grp 5-26 31 11 25 C +6
Strategic Vis 5-20 16 24 29 E +5
Research 2000 5-16 28 22 26 C +2
Des Moines Reg 5-16 21 23 29 E +6
Zogby 5-15 24 22 26 E +2
AVERAGE 24 20 27 E +3
And, on the Republican side, while the national polls all show Giuliani well ahead, he is not leading in Iowa. Instead, the surveys show a tight three way race among Giuliani, Romney and McCain:
IOWA REPBULICAN POLLS
Poll Giuliani McCain Romney Gingrich F Thomp
Amer Res Grp 23 25 16 8 6
Strategic Vis 18 16 20 5 10
Research 2000 17 18 16 6 9
Des Moines Reg 17 18 30 not incl n/incl
Zogby 18 18 19 not incl 9
AVERAGE 19 19 20 6 9
So what’s the story? Are the national polls decisive or are the Iowa surveys the ones to follow?
On the Democratic side, Iowa has shown remarkable stability in its data since the first of the year. Edwards averaged 27% between January and April and stayed at 27% during the past five surveys. Hillary’s numbers were also steady. She had been getting 24% of the vote and she still is. Obama rose slightly from an average of 18% from January to April and he now is at 20%.
The fact that Edwards has been consistently in the lead – he has led in 13 of 19 polls in Iowa since the summer and four of the last six – indicates that his state base may be less vulnerable than one would think. Even though the national polls show Edwards trailing and basically out of the race, he has shown amazing staying power in Iowa.
Normally, one would be inclined to feel that the national polls will eventually influence and dominate the Iowa surveys. With the cable stations covering the presidential race with breathless intensity, voters throughout the country are very well informed – as knowledgeable as their Iowa peers. If a candidate is constantly trailing in the national surveys, it would seem likely that his failings nationally would catch up with him in Iowa, but so far, that is not the case.
Remember that Edwards’ vote share is not based on any recent advertising that could fade in its impact over the coming months. It is residual support from 2004 and reflective of his efforts since then. As such, his lead in Iowa is not something to be dismissed lightly – it is a factor that could play a large role down the road.
On the Republican side, Giuliani and McCain have both lost support to Mitt Romney, largely due to Romney’s massive advertising in Iowa. Flush with money and stuck at 10% in the national surveys, Romney has embarked on an Iowa-centric strategy by dominating the airwaves in the first caucus state.
Rudy has fallen from an average of 24% over the Jan-April period to 19% of the vote in the past five surveys. McCain has dropped from 22% to 19% while Romney has doubled his vote share from 10% to 20% over the same period.
Will Romney’s lead hold up once the other candidates start advertising in Iowa? Likely not unless he also moves up in the national polls. Republican voters in Iowa are a savvy bunch and if they see that their candidate is a lost cause nationally, they will likely switch from him as the race matures. While Edwards is winning hardened support from people who have stuck with him for years, Romney’s recent surge is just due to his media campaign and the impression is more likely to fade as time goes on and other candidates begin to advertise in Iowa.
Nevertheless, Romney’s lead in Iowa does send a message to Giuliani – stop hoarding your money and start spending it in Iowa. You can’t afford to stay back and let Mitt seize the lead. If you wait too long, Romney’s lead may be impossible to dislodge.
AND THE OTHER EARLY STATES???
Hillary has a huge lead in New Hampshire getting 35% of the vote, on average, in the five polls since May 1 while Obama draws only 20% and Edwards lags at 17%.
On the Republican side, Romney has the home field advantage, coming from neighboring Massachusetts, and has 29% of the vote in the past five surveys compared to McCain’s 22% and Giuliani’s 20%. McCain’s strong showing in New Hampshire, like Edwards’ in Iowa, reflects his diligent campaigning and the impact he made in the state in his previous race, in his case dating back to his 2000 victory in New Hampshire over Bush.
Again, the message for Rudy is: You better get busy here too.
Hillary leads comfortably in South Carolina by an average of 30% to 23% for Obama and 19% for Edwards over the past five surveys. That Edwards runs so poorly in the next door state to his native North Carolina could be a knockout blow if he cannot reverse the trend.
On the Republican side, Rudy Giuliani also shows weakness in South Carolina. McCain, buoyed by his 2000 campaigning here, has 21% while Rudy averages only 20% in the five most recent polls. Romney trails with 10%.
Again, its Hillary with a decisive lead in Florida, which votes one week before the national primaries. She averages 34% in the past five polls compared with Obama’s 21% and Edwards’ 16%.
But in Florida, unlike the other early states, Rudy Giuliani reflects his national strength, leading with an average of 31% in the past five polls compared to McCain’s 13% and Romney’s 12%.
* * * * *
McCain and Edwards are benefiting from their previous campaigns in the early primary states. Their past efforts left them with a good organization, high name recognition, and a solid base of supporters. Despite their lagging in the national polls, Edwards has remained strong in Iowa while McCain has stayed at or near the top in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
Except in Iowa, Hillary is showing great strength, but she better get busy running ads in Iowa if she is to use her financial edge to dismantle the Edwards’ lead there.
But on the Republican side, Rudy Giuliani faces an intense offensive in Iowa from Romney and strong latent support in South Carolina and New Hampshire for McCain based on his previous efforts. Rudy would be wrong to be caught napping in these early states. His national lead will wither if he fails in the early states. He better get busy and get on the air with ads to drive down McCain and head off Romney.
POST DEMOCRATIC DEBATE:
John Edwards is paying a steep price for his direct criticism of Hillary Clinton in the last Democratic primary debate conducted in New Hampshire. CNN and New Hampshire TV station WMUR polled the state right after the debate and found that Edwards had lost almost half of his support, dropping from 21% in April to 12% in the most recent poll. Hillary moved up in the same period from 20% to 27% while Obama moved from 20% to just 22%.
The poll finding underscores a key strategic insight in the primary processes on both sides of the partisan fence: Politics has become so polarized that any candidate who criticizes a member of his or her own political party loses support in the primary. If a Democrat lashes out at a fellow Democrat – as Edwards did at Hillary in the New Hampshire debate – he is seen as aiding and abetting the Republicans. Similarly, any Republican who criticizes a fellow Republican, breaking Ronald Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment, pays for it in the polls because he is thought to be helping the Democrats.
This strategic conundrum leaves challenges in both party primaries in tough shape. They need to differentiate themselves from their opponents to gain ground but cannot be seen as being critical for fear of a backlash.
Edwards had hoped to avoid this problem by just restating his opposition to the war in Iraq and waiting for Hillary and Obama to fall into his trap by voting for funding for the war. But his two opponents crossed him up by voting to cut off funding and joining a small liberal band of fourteen Senators in doing so.
Never mind that the vote was an act of rank hypocrisy for Hillary who had specifically stated a few weeks before that she would not cut off funding while troops were “in harm’s way.” Now she can remain in the lead and deny Edwards any easy way to bring her down over his signature issue – the war.
So Edwards reached for a comparison and charged that Hillary had not “led” in the battle against the Iraq War, contrasting her record with his own aggressive stance on the issue. But in doing so, voters felt he was attacking Hillary unfairly and dividing the Democratic Party in the face of the Bush presidency.
Hillary counterpunched by saying that all the Democratic candidates more or less take the same position on the war – a key point in her favor – and reminding voters that it was “Bush’s war.” By standing for party unity, a normal place for a front runner to nest, she hurt Edwards for daring to shatter the harmony of Democrats and hurt him badly.
IMMIGRATION BILL DEFEAT HURTS MCCAIN
John McCain, the only Republican candidate for president to support the immigration bill compromise that was rejected in the Senate, will be badly hurt by the action of his colleagues in letting the bill die. With only eleven Republican Senators voting to shut off debate (joining 39 Democrats, thus falling far short of the 60 votes required for closure), McCain showed how isolated he is in the Republican Party in backing the bill.
Right now, McCain is holding onto a bunch of votes that are really using him to protest Rudy Giuliani’s pro-choice position on abortion. These voters won’t support Romney because of his pro-choice record as governor in Massachusetts, so the polls show they are holding their noses and voting for McCain. But once Fred Thompson comes into the race, they’ll probably flip to his candidacy since he is both a true believer on abortion, with no suspect history of support for choice, and a right wing conservative on all the other issues, unlike McCain.
RUDY, ROMNEY GAINED IN GOP DEBATE
As Hillary was gaining in the Democratic debate (by capitalizing on Edwards’ negative attacks to discredit him), polls show that Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney did the best in the Republican debate.
Rudy was his usual feisty self, battling the war on terror and contrasting his aggressiveness with the Democratic Party’s lack of focus on the issue. He made the point convincingly that the Democrats would back off the war and would not take the war to the enemy.
Romney looked good, spoke well, and sounded presidential. He used his height to good advantage, dwarfing Rudy who looked faintly schoolmarmish in his granny eyeglasses. He was able to skate by the soft CNN questioning without having to account for his flip flops on abortion and other issues and came across as the most presentable of the candidates.
In a race where the Republicans are desperate for a victory, having a candidate who looks and sounds as good as Mitt Romney could be a decisive advantage.
But anti-Mormon prejudice and a justifiable skepticism as to which Mitt Romney is running, the pro-choice Governor or the pro-life candidate, are both holding him down. Despite a cover on Time Magazine, a 60 Minute segment on Sunday night, ads on cable TV, and a good debate performance, he remains the ten percent man, mired in fourth place.
When Fred Thompson comes into the race, look for Mitt to fall further behind as anti-Giuliani Republicans fall in line behind the Tennessee actor/Senator.
And….Mike Huckabee continued his string of very strong debate performances, enlivening the contest with his humor and perspective. His moral and religious statements in the debate will ring true among conservatives. He is now consistently higher in the poll, albeit by one point, than any of his also-ran conservative second tier colleagues. Look for him to gain if Fred Thompson begins to fade.
And fade Fred will because he will never equal the performance, the looks, the quips, the wisdom, and the camera angles of Arthur Branch, the District Attorney Thompson plays in Law and Order!
But, in the meantime, Thompson is gaining on Giuliani. According to a national LA Times/Bloomberg poll this week, Thompson is now at 21% – only slightly behind Rudy’s 27%. Thompson is also shoring up his advisers and now counts Liz Cheney, daughter of Vice-President Dick Cheney, as one of his team. Ms. Cheney is a former State Department employee.
***Copyright Eileen McGann and Dick Morris 2007. Reprints with permission only***