Saturday :: Jan 24, 2004

Kerry And The Challenge Of Being A Front Runner


by Steve

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

As polls show conflicting information about the New Hampshire race, with some showing a tightening and some showing growing Kerry strength, the temporary front-runner is faced with challenges he didn’t face just a week ago when his political survival was in the balance to all except those on the inside who saw the campaign in Iowa up close.

First, the polls. The ARG New Hampshire daily tracking poll through yesterday shows Kerry now up to 34%, with Dean plummeting to third place at 15%, only two points ahead of John Edwards’ 13%. Wesley Clark checks in at 19%. ARG notes that Dean’s slide appears to have stopped and his favorables are on the rise once again. But ARG and others now claim that everyone except Kerry is playing for second place. Zogby similarly reflects that Dean’s slide may be over. Although the overall tracking reflects a Kerry lead over Dean of nine points (31%-22%), Zogby says the Friday-only numbers show a four-point spread between Kerry (26%) and Dean (22%).

A Los Angeles Times story and poll this morning shows Kerry with a 13-point lead over Dean (32%-19%), with Clark coming in at 17%. The poll, taken through yesterday with a large sample of 1176 likely primary voters showed that health care and the economy rated higher in the minds of those polled than Iraq. The Times’ analysis of the poll shows that the Thursday night debate did little to change voters’ minds.

Yet a new Newsweek national poll out today shows just how much Iowa changed the national race. Reflecting the media buzz since Iowa, Kerry now is the choice of 30% of Democrats nationally, with Edwards logging in second at a distant 13% and both Dean and Clark tied at 12%. These results mirror a Fox/Opinion Dynamics poll several days ago. The same poll shows all Democrats polling even with Bush in head-to-head matchups within the MOE, with Kerry actually leading Bush. Just as interestingly, since Iowa Bush now loses to an unnamed Democrat by eight points (44% for Bush, 52% for the Democrat) and this was since the god-awful SOTU. The same Newsweek poll shows that Bush’s approval rating since the SOTU fell back to 50%.

As a result of the frontrunner status, Kerry now faces pressure to nationalize his campaign immediately, instead of picking his targets as I suggested several days ago. Aside from raising $1 million over the internet since Iowa, Kerry was focusing a lot of his post-New Hampshire attention on Missouri, picking up the assistance of former top Gephardt lieutenant Steve Elmendorf today, as well as grabbing the endorsement of the influential League of Conservation Voters. But officials in South Carolina warned him to not make the same mistake that Gore did by giving up on the south. Although a quick nationalization of Kerry’s campaign would be hampered by an immediate need to raise large amounts of money in a short time, other new poll results show that Kerry may have no choice but to do as South Carolina advises. For instance, a new Survey USA poll done late this week in Oklahoma in of all places shows that Kerry is now running a strong third in a state that Clark (32%) and Edwards (23%) are running well in. With a little effort in such a state, Kerry could demonstrate strength in an unexpected part of the country. Moreover, Kerry (31%) has now blown past Dean (26%) in the Granddaddy State of them all, California, according to Survey USA also this week, which also reports that Kerry is the only Democrat who runs even with Bush in Washington State.

Kerry’s emergence has affected obviously his rivals and their approaches. Dean, for his part, is actually pulling money out of the February 3 states to pour a half-million into New Hampshire, while complaining today that he was the victim of “under the table” campaigning in Iowa. And a Page One in today’s Post outlines how Kerry’s emergence has thrown a monkey wrench in Clark’s plans to be the Dean Alternative.

But the story remains whether or not Kerry can pull off a victory in New Hampshire, and what decisions and challenges he will face as a result. In any event, he would rather have the problem of raising money due to success instead of raising money for survival.

(Thanks to our friends at PollingReport.com for the graphics)

Steve :: 4:59 PM :: Comments (2) :: Digg It!