Saturday, December 22, 2007

"Voters Seek Electable Candidate, But Remember Kerry In 2004?"

Jed Graham (Investor's Business Daily):
In 2004, liberal Democrats saw their chosen candidate crash and burn in Iowa, as caucus-goers spurned Howard Dean for the safe, electable alternative: John Kerry.
With four years to regret their decision, Iowa Democrats now face a similar choice. Sen. Hillary Clinton is painting herself as the sturdy, reliable candidate who can carry the party back to the White House.

Democratic voters seem to agree. A recent New York Times-CBS News poll showed that 63% of Democrats see Clinton as the most electable, vs. 14% for Sen. Barack Obama.

Republican voters, in the same poll, saw Rudy Giuliani as the most electable by a wide margin, though that may change as his front-runner status fades.

Issues Key In GOP Race

Also, with more policy disagreements between top GOP contenders, electability may be less important to Republican primary voters.

Polling by USA Today and Gallup shows that GOP voters, by a 3-to-2 ratio, plan to vote for a candidate who agrees with them on the issues, rather than the one who is the most electable.

That thinking was reflected in the conservative National Review's endorsement of Mitt Romney last week: "Our guiding principle has always been to select the most conservative viable candidate."

Of course, a candidate perceived to be electable doesn't always turn out to be so. Some analysts think Clinton may be the least electable of the top Democratic contenders. Others agree with the Clinton team's argument that she might present the toughest target for Republicans simply because all of the dirt on her is old dirt.

"Realistically, after 16 years (in the public eye), what are you going to tell a voter that is new about Hil-lary Clinton?" asked GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio, who's unaffiliated with any presidential candidate.

Clinton said much the same thing in comments last week. "I've been vetted. I've been tested. There are no surprises," she said.

Meanwhile, former President Clinton told talk-show host Charlie Rose that to vote for Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois, would be to "roll the dice."

Obama, for his part, has argued that Democrats need to be guided by principle -- not polls.

"If we are really serious about winning this election, Democrats, then we can't live in fear of losing," he told an Iowa crowd last month.

Obama Excitement

Electability is a function of being able to attract independent voters and inspire supporters to go to the polls without energizing the opposition.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, sees Obama as the most electable of the top-tier Democrats and Clinton as the least.

"She will pull out Republican and conservative independents (to the voting booth) like no other candidate," he said.

In contrast, Obama "will excite the Democratic base more than Hil-lary Clinton will, and Republicans will be hard-pressed to excite their turnout," he said.

In the latest USA Today-Gallup survey, 51% of respondents said they have a favorable opinion of Clinton and 48% said they have an unfavorable view of her.

By comparison, 57% had a positive view of Obama and only 30% negative. Views of former vice presidential nominee John Edwards are nearly as positive, with 53% favorable and 33% unfavorable.

The Edwards camp has argued that his experience on the 2004 ticket and his rural Southern background make him the most electable Democrat.

What's left unsaid is that electing a woman or African-American to the highest office is untested.

The New York Times-CBS poll found that 40% of registered voters said most people they know would not vote for a female presidential candidate, compared with 25% for a black candidate and 41% for a Mormon candidate.

Independent pollster John Zogby pitted the top three Democrats against the top five Republicans. He found that Obama would beat all five, but Clinton would lose to all of them -- including Mike Huckabee. Edwards tied John McCain and edged the others.

Clinton's problem was with independents and moderates, Zogby said. But the Clinton campaign argued that Zogby's online methodology was suspect.

Other polling organizations have reported different results. A CNN survey this month found Clinton losing to McCain 48% to 50% but beating the other Republicans. Obama tied McCain and beat the other candidates. Only Edwards beat all the Republicans, including a 52%-44% edge over McCain.

Such polling has led some liberal Democratic bloggers to conclude that Edwards, the most left-leaning of the candidates, is also the most electable.

That conclusion is premature, Fabrizio said. Head-to-head polling pitting well-known candidates like Clinton and McCain against each other has some meaning. But for lesser-known candidates -- Edwards among them -- "a lot of water is going to go under the bridge in defining them" for the electorate, Fabrizio said.

Zogby agrees that while it's early to draw conclusions, such polls still have value: "Public polling is the antidote to PR flacking."

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