Monday, January 14, 2008

Poll Shows McCain Leading GOP Pack

Today's Washington Post, with its poll findings on the presidential nomination horse race, provides the second jab in today's one-two polling knockout for GOP frontrunner John McCain (the New York Times' new presidential poll is also out this morning).

Here's the WaPo story:

The first contests of the 2008 presidential campaign have led to a dramatic shake-up in public opinion nationally, with Sen. John McCain now leading the Republican field and Sen. Barack Obama all but erasing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's once-overwhelming advantage among Democrats, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

As the campaigns head into the next round of voting this week, the competitive contests in both parties have captured the public's attention. Four in five are closely tuned in, and a third are "very closely" following the races, a sharp increase from a month ago, and well higher than the proportions saying so at this stage in 2000 or 2004.

Clinton had dominated in national polls from the outset, holding a 30-point advantage as recently as a month ago, but the competitiveness of the first two contests appears to have reverberated among Democrats across the country.

In the new poll, 42 percent of likely Democratic voters support Clinton (N.Y.), and 37 percent back Obama (Ill.). Clinton's support is down 11 percentage points from a month ago, with Obama's up 14. Former senator John Edwards (N.C.) held third place with 11 percent, followed by Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (Ohio) at 2 percent.

The big gains by McCain (Ariz.), which come after his victory in the New Hampshire primary, mark the first time he has topped the Republican field in a Post-ABC News national survey. His rise mirrors a dramatic tumble for former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who led most national polls throughout 2007.

Giuliani, who finished well back in both Iowa and New Hampshire, ranks fourth in the new poll at 15 percent. McCain, meanwhile, has more than double the support he had a month ago and now stands at 28 percent among likely GOP voters. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who scored a big victory in the Iowa caucuses, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the runner-up in both early contests, sit just above Giuliani, at 20 and 19 percent, respectively.

Former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.) registers 8 percent, in single digits for the first time, with only half the support he had in early November. Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.), who got 10 percent of the votes in Iowa and 8 percent in New Hampshire, is at 3 percent; Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.) is at 2 percent.

The sudden turnaround in national sentiment partly reflects the continued uncertainty among Republican voters about their field of candidates. Although McCain sits atop the GOP field, only a third of his supporters back him "strongly."

And this week's primaries may further unsettle the race. Victories by McCain over Romney in Michigan on Tuesday and in Saturday's South Carolina GOP primary, where his main rival appears to be Huckabee, would stamp McCain as the front-runner, but stumbles in either contest could further disrupt the GOP nomination battle.
First up is Michigan. The Los Angeles Times has the background:

Castigated by the national party for moving their primary ahead in the nominating calendar, Michigan Republicans could inject even more volatility into the 2008 GOP presidential campaign when they go to the polls Tuesday.

Although only half of the state's delegates will be seated at the Republican National Convention as punishment for flouting party rules and jumping ahead of the approved Feb. 5 date, Michigan is a crucial state for all three of the top contenders.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the son of a popular former Michigan governor and auto executive, needs a win to counter growing perceptions that he can't do better than his second-place finishes in the first two significant nominating contests.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, who won here in 2000, needs a win to keep his New Hampshire-born comeback alive.

And a first-place showing by Mike Huckabee could help propel the former Arkansas governor through the South Carolina and Florida primaries heading into the coast-to-coast balloting Feb. 5, on which former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who is not campaigning in Michigan, has pinned his hopes for the nomination.

The significance of the vote here can be read in the candidates' schedules. With South Carolina and the Feb. 5 states looming, McCain and Romney focused exclusively on Michigan over the weekend, each arguing in town halls, drop-ins and party dinners that he is better suited to end Michigan's economic slide.

Romney is to address the influential Detroit Economic Club today. Huckabee, who spoke before the club Friday, returned here Sunday night after a whirlwind spin through South Carolina, where he is trying to protect a lead in the polls.

Recent Michigan surveys show a tight contest among Romney, Huckabee and McCain, but a local Detroit Free Press-Local 4 poll released Sunday gave Romney a slight advantage. Conducted by Selzer & Co., the poll found that he had a 27% to 22% lead over McCain, with Huckabee trailing at 16%, tied with "uncommitted."

If the poll holds up and Romney wins, that would mean that three different candidates had won the first three major Republican nomination fights.

With state unemployment at 7.4% -- the highest in the nation -- and an industrial base dominated by the embattled auto industry, the campaign has focused more directly on economic issues than it did in Iowa and New Hampshire.

An added wild card: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York is the only major candidate on the Democratic ballot Tuesday -- Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina dropped off after Michigan scheduled its primary for Tuesday.

State rules allow anyone to vote in any party's primary, and it was independents and crossover Democrats who gave McCain the win in 2000. With an uncompetitive Democratic primary Tuesday, they could again be a determining factor.

"McCain needs momentum and crossover. Huckabee needs the young voter turnout, and he needs the evangelical turnout," said Ed Sarpolus, a veteran Lansing pollster. "Romney's really in the best position when you consider he's got the time [campaigning in the state], money and organization."

But Romney also has the most pressure on him to win, said Bill Ballenger, a Lansing-based analyst.

"Romney has got to stop the hemorrhaging," Ballenger said. "His strategy is predicated upon winning in the first three contests, and he's already lost two of them. This is his native state. He's invested an enormous amount of time . . . and he's spent $1.5 million on TV already."
My weekend analysis of the Michigan race is here.