Getting The Race Refocused
The impact of last week's Democratic debate in Philly has been analyzed to death, but between that and the endorsements yesterday on the GOP side, several things have become clear.
First, Hillary did take a hit after the debate, but not so much in the national race. Rather, she suffered a drop in New Hampshire according to Rasmussen, where her large lead over Obama has been reduced. This is critical, because if Obama somehow wins Iowa and runs a strong second in New Hampshire, the Clinton inevitability narrative is gone, given how Team Obama have built their effort and fundraising for the long haul. Nationally, she still has a strong lead over Obama according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll and leads him among Democrats on the issue of experience and being a capable commander in chief, but she runs behind him on honesty. In head-to-head matchups with Il Duce in this latest poll, Clinton is in a statistical dead heat, yet a Gallup poll shows her leading Giuliani by six points. As for Edwards, things haven't changed: he needs to get his people out and win Iowa, plain and simple. If he does, he carries on to other contests, primarily South Carolina. If he doesn't, he's done.
On the GOP side, Crazy Marion's endorsement of Giuliani yesterday may give Robertson's sheeple heartburn and serve to be only a temporary boon for Giuliani. Robertson's declining but still significant followers and others in the evangelical community may now question why they should ignore Rudy's positions on their core issues when McCain is already in sync with them. What Giuliani doesn't want to see is the race narrowed down significantly between now and Iowa to a Giuliani versus McCain race, which makes it easier for the evangelical base to back McCain to stop Rudy. Also, keep in mind that James Dobson isn't likely to endorse Rudy, and yesterday's Robertson endorsement may actually prod Dobson to signal his preference for McCain to slow down any inevitability narrative for Giuliani. And it goes without saying that either Clinton or Edwards in a general election will hang Robertson's unstable past comments around Giuliani's neck, whereas I have no confidence at all that Obama would.
Let's see how these various polls look towards the end of this month after Clinton has steadied and returned to her earlier messaging and moved beyond the last week of detours. The 2008 race will be run on national security and the economy. The first Democrat who can make the clean, clear case that they can lead the country out of Iraq, deal with Iran, steady the region, and finish the job against Al Qaeda, all while getting universal health care and energy independence done here at home while fending off the GOP's fear machine on taxes, terrorists, and brown people has a good shot to win the White House. Debates about how we got here or about Kyl-Lieberman, or her evasiveness are legitimate lines of attack for her opponents. But responding to such attacks each day with flawed arguments instead of going after the GOP and making the case on the above issues doesn't help Hillary. The sooner she nails down the clear, short narrative on why she is better on these issues than the GOP, the sooner the race will resume a favorable trajectory for her.