Even Vermin Supreme wants change

The Monitor wrote about presidential candidate Vermin Supreme a little while ago. Today, he got a lot more press exposure hobnobbing with the media horde awaiting John McCain in downtown Manchester. Jennifer Skalka has details on the bumper sticker he was handing out -- which sure enough mentioned change.

Meanwhile, all this talk about change, change, change reminded me of this classic SNL bit:


Iowa in a nutshell

This is admittedly basic, but consider what Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama have in common:

They are great communicators.

They are likable.

They are relatively young.

They call on Americans to transcend our differences.

They emphasize "we" over "me."

Oh, and they both won convincingly. Thanks, Iowa. Now it's time for New Hampshire.

Clinton, Obama at their best

If you've got 4 minutes and 21 seconds to spare, watch these two videos. The first is Hillary Clinton's final television appeal to Iowa voters. The second is a montage of moments from Barack Obama's campaign interspersed with some of the best lines from his 2004 convention speech. Even critics, I think, will have to concede that these are very effective.


UNH poll: One tie, one near-tie

[Updated throughout]: Here are the New Hampshire results from the latest UNH poll for WMUR/CNN.

Republicans (+/- 4.7 points):

  • Mitt Romney -- 29 percent
  • John McCain -- 29 percent
  • Rudy Giuliani -- 12 percent
  • Mike Huckabee -- 10 percent
  • Ron Paul -- 7 percent
  • Fred Thompson -- 2 percent
  • Duncan Hunter -- 2 percent

Democrats (+/- 4.3 points):

  • Hillary Clinton -- 34 percent
  • Barack Obama -- 30 percent
  • John Edwards -- 17 percent
  • Bill Richardson -- 5 percent
  • Joe Biden -- 3 percent
  • Dennis Kucinich -- 2 percent
  • Chris Dodd -- less than 1 percent

UNH had a pair of polls in mid-December already showing the Republican race tightening, but this is the first of the UNH surveys to show McCain having caught Romney. On the Democratic side, the numbers have been bouncing around more (one of the last two had Clinton +12, the other Obama +2; a third, just before those, had Clinton +1), but the bottom line is the same: a close race.

More numbers:

  • 63 percent of the undeclared voters who passed the UNH screen to be likely primary voters said they will choose a Democratic ballot. That number has been as low as 54 percent and as high as 65 percent in the six UNH surveys since early November.
  • 55 percent of the likely Republican primary voters in the current survey said they had changed their mind about which candidate to support.
  • 47 percent of likely Democratic primary voters said they had changed their mind.
  • Despite the overall tie in voter preference, 38 percent of likely Republican primary voters said Romney has the best chance of beating a Democrat in November (vs. 25 percent for McCain).
  • McCain was judged best able to handle the war in Iraq (53 percent vs. 14 percent for Romney) and to handle terrorism (43 percent vs. 31 percent for Giuliani and 13 percent for Romney).
  • Clinton led Obama by 11 points among registered Democrats, 38 percent to 27 percent, and among women, 39 percent to 28 percent. In the last six UNH polls, Clinton's advantages in those two subgroups (both of which make up nearly 60 percent of the sample) have ranged from a low of 2 points to a high of 24 points among registered Democrats and from a low of 5 points to a high of 21 points among women.
  • 45 percent of likely Democratic primary voters said Clinton has the best chance to beat a Republican in November (vs. 22 percent for Obama); 50 percent said Clinton is best able to handle health care (vs. 17 percent for Obama and Edwards).
  • 41 percent said Obama is most likable (vs. 24 percent for Edwards and 17 percent for Clinton).

Year in review: YouTube edition

With the major caveat that what plays on YouTube is not a predictor of actual voter performance (or even attendance), in a campaign year heavy on calls for change, these three videos resonated unlike any others.

1.8 million views and counting since June:

2 million since the end of October:

4.1 million since March:

Yes, I left out Obama Girl and her 4.5 million voyeurs.

Roundup: fighting words

After watching Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards in Iowa, Mark Leibovich says the choice comes down to pronouns:

[Clinton] prefers the pronouns “I” and “me,” whereas Mr. Obama is more prone to use “we” or “us” and Mr. Edwards “them.” . . .

Mrs. Clinton’s “I” is a proxy for her message of experience. . . . Mr. Obama’s “us’” and “we” reflect his unity campaign. . . . “They have infiltrated everything,” Mr. Edwards shouts, right hand clenched in a fist around his microphone."

Stuart Rothenberg says Edwards just might win in Iowa but, regarding the fighting words, warns: "Given the North Carolina Democrat's rhetoric and agenda, an Edwards presidency would likely rip the nation apart - even further apart than Bush has torn it."

In Iowa, Mike Huckabee fights back against Mitt Romney -- er, decides not to -- er, sorta does -- okay, doesn't. Got that? His new (and positive) Iowa ads are here.

Back in New Hampshire, state GOP Chairman Fergus Cullen just called on Fox to include "all recognized major candidates" in its Jan. 6 debate. The release didn't say whether Cullen recognizes Ron Paul as major, but it says here (and in our in-box): He is.

UPDATE: The Conway Daily Sun endorsed Bill Richardson today:

In our opinion, this year's Democrats are stronger than we've ever seen, and out of three that we believe could be good presidents, we endorse N.M. Gov. Bill Richardson.

It boils down to this: Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards are clearly highly principled people of integrity, and in another race the Sun would have supported one of them.

While Obama and Edwards have the big media budgets, neither has the experience of Richardson. And as for Hillary Clinton, this is what fringe candidate and straight-talking former Sen. Mike Gravel says.

"The Clintons should read the Constitution, eight years is all they get."

A handful of years as senator for each of them simply does not stack up to Richardson's powerful resume as a former congressman, energy secretary, U.N. ambassador, and now, governor of New Mexico. . . .

The knock against Richardson is that he doesn't have the dynamic personality of Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton, although in person he's funny and engaging. Asked about this rap and to compare himself to Bill Clinton, Richardson says, "Yes, Clinton can electrify a room, but I can get it done." We're convinced he can, and we ask you to join us in voting for him.

(The editorial, as transcribed by the Richardson website, says the Sun was the only New Hampshire paper to endorse John McCain in the 2000 Republican primary. That is incorrect. At a minimum, the Monitor and Telegraph both did.)

Decoding the polls

The pollsters for ABC News and the Washington Post will have this column in tomorrow's Post on how to make sense of all the polls. Without naming names, they take a shot at Real Clear Politics, whose all-polls-are-the-same averages "may well do more harm than good":

Poll averages are all the rage this year, even ones that purport to show candidates' standings measured down to tenths of a percentage point. (Don't get us started.) This may fill political junkies' seemingly insatiable desire for a minute-by-minute assessment, as if this were the Nasdaq average or our rich Uncle Leo's EKG. In fact, there's a lot less to these averages than meets the eye.

Averaging across polls with different methodologies can easily obscure rather than clarify. If you take a state with few polls -- one good-quality survey, say, and three methodological clunkers -- averaging may well do more harm than good. Averaging polls done across different time periods, with different sampling methodologies, different procedures to estimate "likely voters" (some reasonable, some not) and different numbers of alleged "undecideds" all assumes that these differences make no difference. With this approach, you might as well throw a little Ouija in as well.

Meanwhile, Pollster.com's Mark Blumenthal checks out the performance of Iowa polls from 2000 and 2004 and concludes: "All have missed significant aspects of the final results." Reader beware.

Edwards, Clinton and the Princess Bride

Matt Mosk of the Washington Post writes here about the extra help Hillary Clinton and John Edwards are getting in the form of New Hampshire direct mail.

Now a word about the Princess Bride-like reading ("a battle of wits") that such mailers require. I received at least one of these mailers at home, the one from AFSCME that attacks Barack Obama's health care plan. I noticed who sent it but didn't remember right away that, as Matt writes, the group is backing Clinton. Instead, seeing that the mailer included an implied-positive statement about Edwards (his criticism of Obama's plan is quoted), I figured it was pro-Edwards. But evidently I made one of the classic blunders, up there with getting involved in a land war in Asia: I'm supposed to think it's Edwards throwing dirt at Obama and therefore be impressed with . . .

For more on the intrigue of independent expenditures and just how independent they are, see this post from Politico's Ben Smith.

Romney takes the calls

Give Mitt Romney credit. He answered the bell for NHPR's The Exchange today. (New Hampshire listeners will recognize, ahem, a few of the callers.) On the heels of the Monitor's editorial (see more reaction here), he was greeted with this editorial from the New Hampshire Union Leader today:

Like a lot of people in New Hampshire, we wanted to believe Romney. We gave him the benefit of the doubt. We listened very carefully to his expertly rehearsed sales pitch. But in the end he didn't close the deal for us. . . .

Granite Staters want a candidate who will look them in the eye and tell them the truth. John McCain has done that day in and day out, never wavering, never faltering, never pandering. Mitt Romney has not. He has spoken his lines well, but the people can sense that the words are memorized, not heartfelt. . . .

In this primary, the more Mitt Romney speaks, the less believable he becomes. That is why Granite Staters who have listened attentively are now returning to John McCain. They might not agree with McCain on everything, as we don't, but like us, they judge him to be a man of integrity and conviction, a man who won't sell them out, who won't break his promises, and who won't lie to get elected.

N.H. poll: Both races close

Today's Boston Globe carries news of one more UNH poll of likely voters in New Hampshire. On the Democratic side, the numbers are:

  • Barack Obama -- 30 percent
  • Hillary Clinton -- 28 percent
  • John Edwards -- 14 percent
  • Bill Richardson -- 7 percent
  • Dennis Kucinich -- 4 percent
  • Joe Biden -- 3 percent.

On the Republican side, the numbers are:

  • Mitt Romney -- 28 percent
  • John McCain -- 25 percent
  • Rudy Giuliani -- 14 percent
  • Mike Huckabee -- 10 percent
  • Ron Paul -- 8 percent
  • Fred Thompson -- 3 percent.

The margin of error for both samples is +/- 4.9 percentage points. Full results here (pdf).

This is the second UNH poll released in the past week. Putting the results side by side, as we did after a similar polling pair a month ago, suggests this snapshot of the race just before Christmas:

  • Clinton: 28-38 percent vs. 35-36 percent in mid-November
  • Obama: 26-30 vs. 21-22
  • Edwards: 14-14 vs. 13-15
  • Richardson: 7-8 vs. 10-12
  • Romney: 28-34 vs. 32-33 in mid-November
  • McCain: 22-25 vs. 17-18
  • Giuliani: 14-16 vs. 16-20
  • Huckabee: 10-10 vs. 5-5
  • Paul: 5-8 vs. 7-8

Tancredo to pull out?

With reports that Tom Tancredo will call off his presidential campaign tomorrow, and much speculation about what other candidate he might endorse, here's a flashback to October 2005, when Tancredo told George Will he was "too fat, too short and too bald" to be president but that he hoped "some tall guy with good hair" would take up his cry against illegal immigration in 2008.

Look, I have no idea if that's a tea leaf or a fig leaf, but just this July, Tancredo had this exchange with the Rocky Mountain News:

SPRENGELMEYER: You look at the Republican field, and you talk about people making conversions on the road to Des Moines. Who has made those conversions? Tell me particularly who you think has totally changed.


SPRENGELMEYER: Do you think he has changed and is on your side completely?

TANCREDO: I've got a brochure in the car I'll show you, that he just sent out. You could take Romney off, put Tancredo on, you'd never know. You'd also never know that a year ago he was supporting McCain-Kennedy (comprehensive immigration reform). In this, it's like the guy's (the) strongest immigration advocate you ever saw in your life.

Bottom line: Whether he endorses or not, if he chooses, Tancredo can declare victory and go home.

Yes, Virginia, you can campaign at Christmas

Look, under the tree, more Christmas-themed political ads!

Rudy Giuliani gets in the first fruitcake joke.

Barack Obama gathers the whole family in front of the tree.

And, regarding Mike Huckabee's ad, you know, sometimes a bookshelf is just a bookshelf.

UPDATE: Hillary Clinton just finished her wrapping. And John Edwards wants to make sure homeless veterans aren't forgotten.

UPDATE II: Ron Paul decks the halls with lots of family members. And John McCain remembers a Christmas past.

Roundup: style and substance

Walter Shapiro caught Iowa stump speeches from Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards last weekend and concludes: "Edwards and Clinton are both playing traditional roles in the never-ending political drama of the outsider versus the insider. Obama is the wild card, as the 21st-century candidate trying to rewrite the equations that govern political math. Voters may claim that they crave issues, but in the closing weeks in Iowa -- with the Oval Office quite possibly at stake -- style and substance have become entwined like no campaign in memory."

Also in Iowa, David Yepsen says don't count out Edwards -- or Fred Thompson. And Jonathan Martin catches a glimpse of "Fredmentum" rollin' by.

In the categories of subtext and satire, TPM conjures up an ad from Citizens to get Barack to Quit While He's Ahead.

The Wall Street Journal isn't surprised to find John McCain staging a resurgence in New Hampshire: "In his Friday visit with us, the Senator spoke with authority on all manner of foreign policy. He is a hawk in the Reagan mold on Iran, the larger Middle East and overall defense spending. Our guess is that this national security record is the main reason for his own political surge. With the success of General David Petraeus's counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq, even some conservatives have taken to arguing that foreign and military policy will become less important in 2008. We doubt it. This is still a post-9/11 country, and voters know they will be electing a Commander in Chief in a world that is as dangerous as it was during the height of the Cold War. In an election against any Democrat next year, Mr. McCain would have little trouble winning the security debate."

Captain Ed isn't crowning him just yet: "McCain has been magnificent on the war and on spending. He has bucked his own party on what turned out to be a poor strategy in post-war Iraq and fought hard for the White House when they finally took his advice. For porkbusting, one could not find a better candidate, one who has already fought in the trenches against the thinly-veiled bribery system that has gripped Congress. Those qualities have rightly kept him in contention -- but will they be enough for him to prevail? Only if Republican voters decide that the other top-tier candidates have more negatives than McCain. If GOP voters perceive him as the most reliable conservative, one who can hold the Republican big tent together, he has a fighting chance. Unfortunately, McCain's record as a "maverick" will make that conclusion very difficult to reach."

Meanwhile, Drew Cline works overtime to defend the Union Leader endorsement of McCain against critics at The Corner.

Rudy Giuliani makes his case to the Foster's Daily Democrat editorial board. And his TV ad about the Iranian hostages, criticized by a Monitor editorial here and defended here, rates a "barely true" from the Truth-O-Meter (which updates automatically in our blogroll on the right).

UPDATE: Ron Paul got a full hour of TV time (minus commercials) on the Glenn Beck show tonight. The video segments are here. The bottom line: "The Constitution was written to restrain the government and not restrain the people."

Psst. What's Bob Kerrey's middle name?

Bob Kerrey, who called Bill Clinton unelectable when they were both running for president in 1992, endorsed Hillary Clinton Sunday. Later, he said of Barack Obama:

"The fact that he's African American is a big deal. I do expect and hope that Hillary is the nominee of the party. But I hope he's used in some way. If he happens to be the nominee of the party and ends up being president, I think his capacity to influence in a positive way without spending a penny the behavior of a lot of underperforming black youth today is very important, and he's the only one who can reach them."

Kerrey continued, "It's probably not something that appeals to him, but I like the fact that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and that his father was a Muslim and that his paternal grandmother is a Muslim. There's a billion people on the planet that are Muslims and I think that experience is a big deal." He added, "He's got a whale of a lot more intellectual talent than I've got as well."

Much speculation ensued about whether this was praise or more not-so-subliminal negative campaigning. For what it's worth, Kerrey gave an interview seven months ago in which he was similarly interested in Obama's name and personal history. At the time, Kerrey told the New York Observer that "Obama's foreign-language skills, connection to Muslim countries and personal background uniquely qualify him to send the message that 'we are not your worst enemy, unless you make us so. And then we're your worst enemy.' "

UPDATE: The Observer also traced the interesting arc of the Kerrey-Clinton relationship, including Kerrey's 1992 prediction that the Republicans would open Bill Clinton up "like a soft peanut" and the never-confirmed suspicion that Hillary Clinton vetoed the idea of Kerrey being Bill Clinton's running mate that year.

Roundup: Fire the consultants

Ron Paul gets serious attention on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, where Kimberly Strassel says he's right that there's nothing "heroic" or "conservative" about ballooning federal government. (She's less keen on his foreign policy.)

Charles Krauthammer is troubled by the way religion has taken center-stage in the campaign: "There's nothing wrong with having a spirited debate on the place of religion in politics. But the candidates are confusing two arguments. The first, which conservatives are winning, is defending the legitimacy of religion in the public square. The second, which conservatives are bound to lose, is proclaiming the privileged status of religion in political life."

Jim Splaine says "let Hillary be Hillary." Yes, Democrats, you've heard this before.

And the Monitor editorial says of the Bill Shaheen saga: Yes, voters, you've heard these attacks before.

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