McCain's Move Off Deep End Having Real Consequences
by Jonathan Singer, Tue Dec 19, 2006 at 09:45:47 AM EST
By many accounts John McCain is succeeding in his goal to position himself as the frontrunner for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. He has hired GOP insider (and lawbreaker) Terry Nelson as his campaign manager. He has brought on a professor from Jerry Falwell's* Liberty University, Brent O'Donnell, as an advisor. He is tapping Henry Kissinger to serve as his honorary campaign co-chair for New York state. He is even apparently securing the financial support of many Bush contributors.
Yet at the same time McCain's standing among the broader electorate is declining. This is not a coincidence. This should not come as a surprise. This morning Josh Marshall picks up on new polling from ABC News and The Washington Post that shows McCain sinking fast among independent voters, who Marshall rightly notes " are McCain's big constituency."
In contrast, McCain's favorability ratings have declined over the past nine months. Among independents, his support has dropped 15 percentage points since March. Independents were his strongest supporters when he sought the Republican nomination in 2000. The decline comes at a time when McCain is calling for sending more troops to Iraq and has aggressively reached out to conservative groups and Christian conservative leaders.
That's not all. By now, no doubt, you've seen (despite the efforts of the editors of the magazine) the Newsweek poll showing Hillary Clinton (sans "Rodham" -- an important point given other recent polling) would defeat John McCain by a 50 percent to 43 percent margin. In that same poll, Barack Obama, about whom only 41 percent of registered voters know "a lot" (14 percent) or "some" (27 percent), is statistically tied with McCain, with the Arizona Senator at 45 percent and the Illinois Senator at 43 percent. (Update [2006-12-19 16:34:36 by Jonathan Singer]: In the comments, reader demiowa points to the recent Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll that shows John Edwards also statistically tied with McCain, with Edwards at 43 percent and McCain at 41 percent.)
While these numbers are no doubt at least as indicative of the degree to which the current political environment is generally more favorable to the Democrats than the Republicans as it is the race for the White House in 2008, these numbers -- both the head-to-head and the favorables among independents -- should strike real fear within the McCain team and, indeed, among the Republican ranks. But that's not the only piece of data that should scare Republicans. Charlie Cook, looking at the meaning of November 7 and December 12 (the Bonilla-Rodriguez runoff in Texas) for his column this week, writes,
If Republicans don't increase their performance among either Hispanics, the fastest growing minority in the country, or among African Americans (neither happened this year), then they will have to perform much better among white voters simply to replicate their presidential victories of 2000 and 2004 and get their majorities back. Simply put, this Texas loss just added insult to injury for the GOP and gave party strategists even more to worry about as they look forward to 2008.
These numbers are not intended to instill triumphalism or foster a false sense of optimism. Far from that. But at the same time they do show that John McCain is not nearly the unstoppable force that many believe him to be, that he his support among independents is not nearly as strong as it is assumed to be or that it once was, and that even a supposedly divisive Democratic nominee or a not-very-well-known Democratic nominee could give him at least a run for his money in a general election campaign.