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May 31, 2007

Tote Board Column -- 5/31 -- Best In Show

    This week's Tote Board column assesses the impact of Fred Thompson's entry into the GOP race and previews this week's debates on CNN (Sunday for the Dems;Tuesday for the GOP). The Tote Board blog will feature assessments of those debates after their conclusions.
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May 30, 2007

Fred Thompson to Formally Enter Race in July

    The Politico is reporting this morning that Fred Thompson will officially become a presidential candidate over the July 4th holiday. His entry will obviously have a profound effect on the GOP race -- an effect that, ironically, is the subject of this week's Tote Board column, written before today but out tomorrow.

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May 29, 2007

The Baltimore Sun Reports On A Revealing Focus Group

    Focus group polls can be extremely revealing, especially at this point in the campaign. When pollsters can talk with a group of voters for more than a few minutes, they often get them to reveal their preferences and leanings in a way that's impossible in an up-or-down poll.
    This article last week in the Baltimore Sun on a recent focus group conducted by the estimable Peter Hart in the Baltimore suburbs didn't receive a lot of attention. But it confirms some initial Tote Board impressions as to where voters are currently leaning at this point in the campaign. For the record, the voters were interested in hearing more about Obama, but they questioned his inexperience. They were worried enough about homeland security that Hart later called it "a hidden underlying issue;" these concerns led them to look favorably at Rudy Giuliani and John McCain.
     Interestingly, none of the 12 present seemed to have much nice to say about Hillary Clinton. "As for Clinton, voters couldn't seem to get beyond concerns about her personality, her husband and her single-minded drive for power," the article said. "Most said they wouldn't vote for her under any circumstance."

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May 25, 2007

Clinton, Dodd, and Obama Among the "Senate 14" Who Vote To Cut Off War Funding

    Two weeks ago, we wrote about how the next Congressional vote on the Iraq War might become a key dividing line in the Democratic race for the presidency. Thanks to yesterday's vote on legislation to continue funding the war, that dividing line has virtually disappeared.
    The Senate voted 80-14 to continue funding the war. But among the 14 dissenters were Chris Dodd, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama. This is a significant "evolution" for Clinton and it means that Obama and John Edwards will be much more hard-pressed to make the war a distinguishing difference between their candidacies and hers.
    Bill Richardson had also argued that the Senate should vote against the provision. So, among the Democratic contenders, only Joe Biden voted for it.
    In the Democratic debate in ten days, we can be sure that Biden's lone dissenting voice will become an issue. And, the Republicans will use anything he says as to why he differed from his colleagues when they have to run against the Democratic nominee in the fall of 2008.
    Will the vote ultimately hurt Obama, Clinton, or Edwards in a general election? There's no way to tell now. But virtually the whole Democratic field realizes that you can't run in the fall of 2008 unless you've won the nomination first. And, all the energy on the Democratic side belongs to the antiwar activists.

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May 24, 2007

Leaked Clinton Memo Advising Candidate to Skip Iowa Is Bad Advice and Bad News

    Over the last 18 hours or so, the media has been abuzz with news of a leaked memo from inside the Clinton camp, advising the candidate to skip Iowa to concentrate on New Hampshire and the later states. In response, the aide who wrote the memo is unavailable for comment (and is probably now manning the Clinton headquarters in Fairbanks, Alaska) and the campaign has announced that the candidate has no intention of skipping the first caucus test.
    That's the right decision. The truth is that it's impossible to win the nomination without a 50-state strategy, with the occasional exception of those candidates who have skipped a state out of deference to a favorite son. Thus, Bill Clinton did skip the Iowa caucus in 1992 but only because Tom Harkin was on the ballot. That's not the case here. Voters don't like candidates who think they can "game" the process.
    Moreover, losing in Iowa is bad but not necessarily fatal. Both Ronald Reagan in 1980 and George Bush in 1988 lost in Iowa and came back a week later to win in New Hampshire. The two states often don't vote in tandem.
    Still, one has to wonder what's going on in the Clinton camp. As we wrote in a column last week, on paper at least, Iowa should be friendly territory for Clinton, no matter what the polls show now (and some show her running in third). So, either some parts of the campaign are panicking way too early, or their internal polls are confirming a trend that others have picked up: When voters get to know her better, Hillary Clinton isn't as popular as she had hoped she would be.
    In any event, even the intimation that the campaign was thinking of skipping the caucus will hurt Hillary slightly in Iowa. These people take their role in the process very seriously.
    As we keep saying, there's a long way to go. But something is mildly rotten in the state of Clinton.

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May 24, 2007

Tote Board Column -- 5/24 -- The Long-Winded, Winding Road

    This week's Tote Board column looks back at the last few months and, amidst all the trivia being reported about Campaign 2008, attempts to pick out the three or four unexpected or significant trends that have emerged so far that are likely to remain important. Briefly they are:
  1. The continuing unpopularity of the Iraq War and President Bush;
  2. The rise of Mitt Romney;
  3. The rise and gaffe of John Edwards;
  4. The "waiting in the wings" candidacies of Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich.
    For more, read the column here.

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May 23, 2007

Ads Classified: The Romney Saturation Campaign Continues

    Saturating the airwaves of New Hampshire and Iowa almost eight months before a vote is cast. Mitt Romney now trumpets his record in Massachusetts. For those who lived under his "stewardship," they will perhaps be surprised to learn that Romney has done the "toughest things" in the "toughest place."
    Bashing Massachusetts is a pretty dumb tactic, even in New Hampshire. For example, the ad features a picture of Mike Dukakis, who, last we checked, hasn't been governor of the Bay State in almost two decades. (He also was ten times the governor that Mitt was but we'll leave the fact checking to others.)
    To put it in terms that "outdoorsman" Mitt might understand: This dog won't hunt.
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May 23, 2007

Ads Classified: New Dodd Ad Up in NH and Edwards Runs Ad, Oddly, in Eugene, Oregon

    The ads are beginning to multiply very early in the campaign. Chris Dodd, looking for a breakthrough, touts his Iraq and global warming credentials in a NH foray, available here. Claiming that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have followed his lead in ending the Iraq War, he says that his global warming plan has the blessing of Al Gore and Bill Bradley and challenges the other candidates to follow his leadership on this issue too.
    It's a decent ad. But the problem for Dodd is that no one is really going to buy his claim that the other candidates are following his lead, especially since John Edwards is the candidate most identified with trying to end the Iraq conflict.
    As to Edwards, his new ad opposing the war is less notable for what it says (which is pretty much what he's said before) than for where he's saying it. Oregon doesn't vote until May and the Democratic voters are centered in Portland, not Eugene, where the ad is running. The guess here is that Edwards simply wants to keep his name out there among the political junkies and antiwar activists and Eugene, an antiwar hotbed, is a very cheap buy.
    It looks like he was successful: After all, we just wrote about it.

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May 22, 2007

Ads Classified: With His Finger In the Wind, Romney Tackles Immigration

    On the air yet again, seen here, Mitt Romney has dived into the immigration debate, with a "firm" stance against amnesty for illegals. "Secure Our Borders," the ad is apparently titled, which is the kind of Romney platitude that will find few opponents. Still, the ad will keep his name out there and will ally the Romney campaign with the energy being generated by opponents of the Congressional immigration compromise.
    One can see why Romney's stance infuriates John McCain, one of the architects of the congressional plan. While he's out there taking heat for this bill and his stance on Iraq -- two positions that confirm, if nothing else, McCain's willingness to take unpopular positions -- Romney is out there being all things to all people and benefiting from it. Not only that, but McCain's old supporter and probable future opponent, Fred "Do Nothing" Thompson, has come out against the bill too.
    By the way, the Romney ad features the candidate taking a question at a rally, with the tag line, "Ask Mitt Anything." So we have a question: Can you name three stands you have taken that a majority of the members of your party would disagree with?" Actually, we'll settle for one.

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May 21, 2007

New Des Moines Register Poll: Great News for Romney; Good News for Edwards and Obama; Bad News for Giuliani and Hillary

    It's only one poll and it's still very early. But the latest Des Moines Register poll of likely caucus goers reveals that voters in the first state may be thinking of turning the race upside down.
    On the GOP side, Mitt Romney has jumped to a double-digit lead in Iowa. If that were to hold, Romney would be the odds-on favorite to win the New Hampshire primary the following week. (He already leads in NH according to several polls.) If that happens, he's the new front-runner. It's true that the likely entry of Fred Thompson, and then Newt Gingrich, will shake up the Iowa race; almost half the GOP likely caucus participants said they'd like to see those two candidates enter the contest. But who on the sidelines beat them both as the new candidate Iowans would most like to see on the ballot? Condi Rice.
    On the Democratic side, John Edwards maintains his lead. The real news is that Barack Obama has passed Hillary Clinton and is now narrowly in second place. (It would be interesting to know exactly where Obama's votes are coming from; it could be that voters in eastern Iowa have heard enough about their Illinois neighbor to be more than intrigued.) Simply put, Hillary cannot afford a third place finish in Iowa because the likely spillover effect into New Hampshire the following week could lead to another defeat that would cripple her candidacy.
    Again, there's a long way to go. But both national front-runners have some work to do in Iowa.

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May 18, 2007

Ads Classified: Now Dodd Joins the Fray

    Yet another second-tier Democratic candidate is on the air in Iowa. This time, it's Chris Dodd, with an approach similar to John Edwards, as he speaks out against the Iraq War.
    The problem for Dodd is that the ad, which just features himself talking, isn't all that memorable. And, this is ground already staked out more effectively by the Edwards campaign in its earlier ad.
    It's easy to be sympathetic with the plight of Dodd and the others in the second tier as they struggle for recognition. This time around, there are just too many candidates and too many heavyweights for anyone already not established to make a move.

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May 17, 2007

Tote Board Column -- 5/17 -- Size Doesn't Matter

    This week's Tote Board column looks at the first four contests of the 2008 calendar for the Democrats in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, and concludes that the early tests favor Hillary Clinton and disadvantage Barack Obama.

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May 16, 2007

SC GOP Debate Analysis: A Good Night for the Front-Runners, Especially Giuliani

    After only two debates, the GOP contests may be forming a pattern. No one in the second tier is doing well enough to break out of the pack. Mitt Romney makes a great first impression but at second glance, there's less there than meets the eye. This is a huge disadvantage in a long campaign where a candidate doesn't only need a second act, but a third, fourth, and fifth.
    The consensus winners last night were the leaders -- John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. The cream is rising to the top, which should be no surprise. Of the two, Giuliani was, by media consensus, the huge beneficiary -- dominating the debate's sound bite in his exchange with Ron Paul over 9/11 -- and handling the abortion issue much more deftly than previously. This debate will solidify his position at the top and will likely arrest his current slide in the polls.
    The GOP race now will likely remain more or less frozen until Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich clarify their plans.

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May 15, 2007

Preview of Tonight's GOP Presidential Debate in South Carolina

    The next round in what is already becoming an interminable series of debates occurs tonight on Fox news when the ten GOP contenders gather less than two weeks after their last gathering. Already, the campaigns of the major candidates are complaining that the format favors the lesser-known candidates -- which hurts the party -- and, of course, they're right. Large debates diminish the whole field -- which means, of course, that no matter what happens tonight, Newt Gingrich and Fred Thompson will loom even larger tomorrow morning.
    Tonight's debate will probably draw a larger audience than the last contest because it is on Fox News rather than MSNBC but the press will pay far less attention. Thus, unless there is a major highlight or gaffe, this debate won't have the impact of the earlier contest.
    The rule in these second contests is that candidates usually spend their time trying to correct what went wrong the first time. For Rudy Giuliani, that means he'll try to appear more specific and spend less time talking about New York and more about his vision for the country. For John McCain, it means trying to appear younger (easier said than done) and more natural: Last time, to paraphrase one pundit, he seemed to come across like a neighbor, yelling at you to get off his lawn.
    According to most press observers, Mitt Romney came off the winner in the last debate, so he'll try to do more of the same, capitalizing on the puff piece that 60 Minutes did on him Sunday.
    As to the others, watch Mike Huckabee, who put in a "better than credited" performance last time.
    Expect most of the field to try to put Giuliani on the defensive -- as they try to exploit his inconsistency on abortion.

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May 14, 2007

Newt Gingrich Now Indicates It's Likely He'll Enter the Presidential Race

    Give my colleague David Bernstein credit for predicting this all along: Newt Gingrich indicated in an appearance on Good Morning America this morning that he's likely to seek the presidency.
    Of course, he'll deny that's what he meant in the hours and days ahead. But Gingrich can see the chaos on the GOP side and figures that there's a huge gap -- waiting to be filled by him, naturally.
    If and when Gingrich does get in -- probably around Labor Day -- it will have a huge impact on the GOP race. What his announcement this morning does for now is three things: It helps freeze the race on the GOP side until his plans are clarified; it hurts Fred Thompson, who is planning to enter the race himself soon, and it should fire up Democrats.  Gingrich is probably the most unelectable major Republican contender around -- even though the GOP grassroots loves him.

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