March 30, 2007
The biggest non-story of the
campaign so far is unfolding across the country as the candidates race
to impress the pundits with how much money they raised in the first
quarter. But, as this story in the Politico
indicates, the result is likely to be something of a stand-off:
Virtually all the major candidates are going to do well -- or at least
well enough to keep their campaigns viable, not only for now but until
the first vote is cast.
Sure, Hillary will
probably out raise everyone on the Democratic side and Mitt Romney will
likely ride his head start to the head of the GOP money parade. And
yes, money talks. But votes and depth of support talk more and those
will be determined by how candidates campaign, perform in debates, and
where they promise to lead the country. The Politico article makes a
good point that all anyone could talk about four years ago was Howard
Dean’s surprise fundraising over the Internet. A lot of good it did him.
The press likes to cover fundraising because it's an easy story to
report (you don't even have to leave the office!); you get to talk to
rich people, and it involves numbers -- which allow reporters to
compare candidates easily. There's only one problem: The numbers that
ultimately count in a campaign are votes, not dollars.
If a candidate can out raise anyone else in the field by 2-1,
that’s a story and an advantage. But that’s unlikely to happen.
Remember our first rule from the first Tote Board column: Ideas win campaigns
March 29, 2007
No sooner had this week’s column been filed saying that Rudy Giuliani’s lead in the polls was holding that USA Today/Gallup came in with a new poll
showing that his lead over John McCain had slipped compared to its previous poll a month ago from 24% to 9%. Should Giuliani be worried?
Not yet. The 24-point lead of a month ago was clearly a polling aberration that had to correct itself – 9 points seems about right and is still a healthy lead. And this month’s poll was different because Gallup added a new candidate – Fred Thompson – who pulled in 12%, to John McCain’s 22% and/ Giuliani’s 31%. (Mitt Romney fell all the way to 3%.)
One poll in March of 2007 doesn’t forecast an election. But if it’s true, it does show for now that:
- If Thompson gets into the race and starts campaigning, he is likely to rise quickly and challenge McCain for second place, in part because of his celebrity status as a star of “Law and Order."
- That will put the McCain campaign in real early trouble, both in terms of fundraising and his standing in the polls. McCain clearly has the allegiance of about 20% of the GOP electorate now but that isn’t enough to give him a victory in any state. With Thompson in the race, would McCain have a second act? (Next week’s Tote Board column will discuss the state of the McCain campaign.)
- The Romney campaign will be in even worse trouble. It’s true that Thompson’s entry theoretically improves Romney’s prospects in New Hampshire by splitting the vote further. But if Romney can’t get into double digits in the polls – and Thompson’s entry makes that likely – it means he will have trouble getting traction in Iowa. And, if he can’t do respectably in Iowa, New Hampshire voters a week later will conclude he’s a wasted vote and his campaign will be finished.
- The question for Giuliani is how much of this latest drop was just the natural consequence of bouncing polls early in the process (especially ones that offer voters different choices) and how much of it was due to the beginning of the negative stories which are sure to dog his campaign, courtesy of his conservative enemies. Polls over the next two months should tell that story.
- What it all reveals is that if Fred Thompson does enter the race, the field could ultimately be reduced to two viable candidates – Giuliani and Thompson. The GOP base would probably favor Thompson. But the hunch here is that Giuliani would be a much better campaigner if he perceived himself as the underdog. And many of the states that vote on Super-Super Tuesday (February 5) are favorable ones for him.
March 29, 2007
This week's Tote Board column
looks at the Edwards announcement last week, as well as other developments, and assesses their impact on the campaign.
March 28, 2007
The Politico is reporting
that Jesse Jackson is saying that he will support Barack Obama. As we discussed in an earlier column
, this is only the beginning of a series of endorsements and moves that will ultimately give Obama huge institutional support in the black community. Black voters constitute approximately 20% of the Democratic primary vote and Obama should receive the lion's share of that vote.
March 23, 2007
to hear a Tote Board review of the latest campaign developments, broadcast from WUNC in Chapel Hill -- John Edwards' hometown NPR station.
March 22, 2007
In this week's Phoenix column
, the Tote Board predicted that another GOP candidate would enter the race. In between the time we filed and the time the paper was published, our prediction came true. Admittedly, we didn't think it would be Tommy Thompson, but Thompson has indicated he plans to enter the race
and go for broke by trying to win Iowa.
Thompson is from a neighboring state (Wisconsin) -- though he's not the conservative savior that party activists are seeking. His candidacy is not good news for Romney in Iowa, since the two have somewhat similar profiles as governors.
Since GOP conservatives are likely to remain unhappy, expect another entry into that field in the next few months.
March 22, 2007
This week's Tote Board column
discusses briefly the fact that the two GOP front-runners this year are well-known for having used the patented "comb-over' earlier in their careers to hide their baldness.
There is, in fact, a semi-serious point here: Since the real dawn of the television age in the mid-60's, the voters have never opted for a bald president.
George McGovern was bald and carried one state in 1972.
Gerald Ford was bald and lost in 1976.
How many bald actors are there in the movies? How many bald anchormen have you seen? The truth is that in the television age, it's a distinct disadvantage for a man to be bald. This is not as shocking as it may seem. Each innovation in the media creates its own set of favored candidates. In the "radio age," a candidate with a high voice suddenly found himself with less of a constituency (just as some silent movie actors were never able to make the transition to talkies). In the age of film and photography, being phenomenally attractive or unattractive suddenly counted for more -- which is one reason why Abraham Lincoln, at the dawn of the age of photography, radically changed his appearance in 1861, growing the now-famous beard.
This isn't to say that McCain and Giuliani can't get elected -- though if McCain had a full head of hair, it's likely that the charges that he's too old and tired to be president would appear less frequently. But it is a factor -- which is why Joe Biden tried so hard to remedy his hairlessness and the comb-over lives on.
March 22, 2007
This week's Tote Board column in the Phoenix
looks at the potential candidates still sitting on the sidelines and concludes that the Republicans likely still have another candidate in their future.
March 19, 2007
There is terrific new ad, running only on the Internet here,
that attacks Hillary Clinton and boosts the candidacy of Barack Obama. It is a take-off on the celebrated Apple ad from the 1980's which showed a runner with a sledgehammer demolishing a screen (in the current ad featuring a talking Hillary), while a group of zombie-like supporters listen.
According to this dispatch here
, Obama's campaign had nothing to do with the ad and its creator remains unknown for now. If nothing else, however, it shows that there's some creative talent out there backing the Obama candidacy. ADDITION ON 3/23:
Subsequent to this posting, the creator of the ad was revealed
March 19, 2007
When Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Rudy Giuliani finally announce officially, we plan to do a Tote Board column on the importance of announcement speeches. Suffice it to say for now that an announcement provides important clues as to how a candidate approaches the campaign and the office of the presidency – more even that a set of PowerPoint slides prepared by your friendly consultant and leaked to the local newspaper.
Mitt Romney’s last month was no exception. In his speech in Dearborn, Michigan (in itself a revealing choice in that Romney hasn’t lived in Michigan for years), he spoke often and, at times, eloquently about how “innovation and transformation have been at the heart of America's success.” His premise and promise was that a Romney Administration would revive America economically and spiritually. In other words, if the U.S. were a company, he’d turn it around.
All candidates and leaders return to their roots often, so it’s important to know what those roots are and why those particular roots are emphasized. Ronald Reagan, for example, was governor of the nation’s largest state but he was affected far more by his work for years for GE as a spokesman. Through this experience, Reagan, the former Democrat, became a staunch convert to the ideals and grievances of corporate America. Add that to his intimate knowledge of Hollywood – Reagan’s personal experiences were like having the best collection of old flicks that exist – and you can see why he was able to use the presidency so well to appeal to the country’s mythic sense of itself.
Similarly, Jimmy Carter often grounded himself in his naval experience on a submarine under Hyman Rickover, even titling his autobiography from a question Rickover had once asked him, “Why not the best?” Having that as his defining experience explains a lot why Carter ran his presidency in much the same way a nuclear engineer would, for better or worse.
For Romney, it’s clear that his defining experience is not his faith – though the press will make a huge deal of it – nor his experience as governor of Massachusetts – a job in which he seemed to lose interest almost daily. Instead, it’s his extensive experience at Bain, a management consulting and later a private equity firm. According to Bain’s website
: “We work with top management to beat their competitors and generate substantial, lasting financial impact.
We look at a business as an integrated, cohesive whole. Bain helps companies find where to make their money, make more of it faster, and sustain its growth longer . . ..
Where appropriate, we work with clients to make it happen - which may mean fundamentally changing the company.
Our work is most successful when we work closely with clients who are dissatisfied with the status quo.”
Taking Bain at its word – and it has a lengthy track record – this is not a bad experience for a potential president to have. There are a number of American industries that could do a lot worse than have Mitt Romney as their president.
But it’s also easy to see where Romney may run into trouble as a candidate. Management consultants work behind the scenes; press scrutiny is not a regular part of the job, as it is for a politician. If they work collaboratively, they tend to work with upper management – not the masses. They tend to have a fairly simple measure of success – money – that may not translate into the more complicated political world. Changing your opinion often is a given; it’s praised as “flexibility.” In politics, in contrast, you can’t pick a position one day and then another the next and expect voters to believe or follow you.
In other words, while it’s easy to see why the candidate from Bain might appeal to some Republicans (though interestingly, Romney would appear to be far better-suited to the more moderate GOP that welcomed his father and Nelson Rockefeller, not the present, more hard-line sunbelt version), it’s also easy to see why his set of skills might fail to prepare him adequately for a race for the presidency, much less the office itself.
Mitt Romney for Secretary of Commerce. Maybe things will change, but at this point anything else looks like a stretch.
March 16, 2007
to a radio discussion this morning on WFNX of this week's column.
March 15, 2007
GOP FIELD VILLAGE PEOPLE IN ACTION!
March 15, 2007
This week's edition of the Tote Board
sets the Democratic odds for the first time with Barack Obama in the lead at 6-5, followed by Hillary Clinton at 7-4, John Edwards at 7-1, and the other candidates trailing badly.
March 13, 2007
At the beginning of World War II, in late 1939 and early 1940 before the U.S. entered the conflict, there was a period known as “The Phony War,” when there was little direct fighting between the combatants. The 2008 campaign is in a similar period.
That isn’t to say that nothing of importance is going on. But much of what preoccupies the blogosphere and the political press on a daily basis now is of little consequence. Who hires whom in South Carolina or who reacts to whose charge more quickly is fodder for political junkies and bloggers who need to spin out copy four or five times a day. But that doesn’t make these events terribly significant. Most voters are paying very little attention to a campaign that has started earlier than any in recent history and just because there is now an entire Internet industry devoted to political philosophizing and speculating doesn't make this less true.
When something happens of consequence in the campaign, the Tote Board will blog about it. Thus when Tom Vilsack withdrew or Mitt Romney ran the first ads of the campaign, we filed brief items to analyze their importance. When we have something noteworthy to add to the column – as we will in the next few days in a dispatch about Mitt Romney – we will do so too.
Certainly when the campaign heats up and there are debates, constant ads, and the electorate is paying attention, we’ll blog often. But right now, to do so would almost be misleading. Through the weekly column, we’ll be able to keep up with most of the principal events in the campaign over the next six months. At this point, think of the blog as footnotes of a sort to what appears there.
March 08, 2007
This week's Tote Board column
sets out the Republican odds for the first time, listing Rudy Giuliani as the favorite for the nomination at even odds, closely followed by John McCain at 3-2 and way back, Mitt Romney at 13-1.