Preliminary Thoughts On ABC's 2008 'Invisible Primary Ratings'

When I first saw these rankings of the 2008 contenders, I thought maybe ABC should just have titled the report "Netroots: You Are Irrelevant." But perhaps that's unfair. After all, they do include as part of their rankings a "Netroots" score, even if it isn't weighted very heavily. And in all honesty, this isn't a completely terrible ranking, even if it is quite early for rankings. They're broken down by a number of criteria -- the aforementioned "Netroots,""Polling / Name ID,""Money Potential,""New Hampshire," and so on. They point to the fact that their ranking of the 2004 contenders at this same point in 2002 found the number one and two spots going to John Kerry and John Edwards, respectively. Not bad, but I'm still not convinced. After all, in mid-2002, Kerry and Edwards had been knocked down by Gore and Gephardt, and Gray Davis came in at number nine. A lot can happen in two years.

On the GOP side, the top five, in order, are John McCain, George Allen, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and Mike Huckabee. For the Democrats, it's Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Mark Warner, John Kerry, and Tom Vilsack. Though they do offer some explanation of their methodology, it seems there's a lot of boilerplate conventional wisdom in here. Is Vilsack really in the top five for the Democrats? Does he really outrank Bill Richardson and Wes Clark? Personally, I doubt it. And among the Republicans, I can't buy Rudy Giuliani at number four. Now, maybe that works. But in two years, with his social life the talk of the GOP primary circuit, not so much.

So those are my issues with the overall rankings. What do I think of their more specific charts? Honestly, I don't feel well-equipped enough to dissect every list here. "Polling / Name ID?" That's a matter of hard numbers, hard to argue, unless you're going to talk about their relevance this early in the game. "Fire in the Belly?" Well... okay. Here's how they describe the category:

Fire in the Belly: How badly does the candidate want it? How hard is he/she willing to work? Will he/she do "what it takes" to win, including shedding or at least temporarily freeing himself/herself from other responsibilities and distractions? Are they ready to ask strangers for $4,200 contributions and sleep in bad hotels away from the family night after night?

On our side, the winner in this category is Mark Warner, with Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Bill Richardson tying for second place. What, no John Kerry? This strikes me as too nebulous a characteristic to rank accurately, but in terms of gut instinct, I'd say again, it's not terrible. I do disagree with putting Russ Feingold in the middle of a four-way tie with Tom Vilsack, Evan Bayh, and Wes Clark for seventh place, however. If "fire in the belly" is defined by willingness to twist one's self like a pretzel to placate every constituency, Feingold is certainly not the winner. But if it's defined by willingness to put one's self out in public as a strong advocate for his or her beliefs, then Feingold is massively underestimated here. Point being, once again, I think this is too vague to be considered serious criteria.

And finally -- for the purposes of this post, anyway -- the "Netroots" ranking. ABC figures that Russ Feingold is in solid first place in the Democratic blogosphere, with Wes Clark in second. Obviously, they've been paying attention to the straw polls. However, they put Kerry in third here, and I'm going to have to disagree. Kerry's certainly been courting the netroots vigorously, but does that really earn him the number three spot? I still sense a lot of skepticism of Kerry after 2004, here and at other sites. And Kerry also tied Mark Warner in third, which I don't agree with. By all means, Warner has earned the spot by both reaching out to the netroots and taking advantage of people like Jerome and Nate. But other than his e-mail list and posting diaries, Kerry hasn't come close to matching that effort.

At the end of the day, rankings like this serve to define the conventional wisdom as much as codify it. Of course, the media's already defined Hillary Clinton and John McCain as the front-runners, so ABC isn't really doing them any favors here. However, I can't help but feeling there's a not-so-subtle message in here directed at candidates like Russ Feingold and Chuck Hagel, that they really shouldn't bother, and neither should their supporters. But I don't really like taking my marching orders from the vaunted "Gang of 500," and I'm fairly certain I'm not alone in that.

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McCain's Approval Ratings Punctured, and Other Survey USA Goodies

Lots of fascinating new stuff out from Survey USA's new Senator rankings, as Chris notes in Breaking Blue.

First up, McCain.  In Arizona, he's taking a beating in his approval/disapproval ratings.  He was up 72-24 a month ago, he's now 64-29.  That's a 13 point swing.  What's more interesting is where the swing is happening.  Among Democrats, his approval rating has dropped from 73-24 to 58-32, a drop of 23 points.  Among independents, he goes from 72-25 to 64-30, a drop of  13 points (which I would imagine is occurring among left-leaning independents).  Among Republicans, he stayed neutral, going from 70-24 to 72-26.  McCain's partisanship isn't new, but the willingness of Democrats to call him on it is new, and this seems to be having an effect.

Next up, Lieberman.  His numbers haven't moved in any statistically significant manner.  He's below 50% among liberals, which will become more of a problem if he keeps pissing off influential journalists by yelling at them.  He still has very high ratings in Connecticut among Republicans and generally good favorables among Democrats.

Both Santorum and Burns are in desperately weak Katherine Harris-esque territory, though Republicans still seem to like both of them.

In New Jersey, Bob Menendez is shoring up his approval ratings quite dramatically.

Two places I'm watching are Arizona and Virginia.  While I think Kyl is vulnerable, and the numbers show him at below 50%, Jim Pederson hasn't yet done anything to prove he can win this.  And in Virginia, George Allen looks like he can be taken down with the right campaign, though it will not be easy.

An interesting set of numbers.  I wonder, what do you think explains the drop in McCain's approval rating among Democrats and left-leaning Independents?

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McCain Is The GOP Heir Apparent

I think we've been leading up to this conclusion here at MyDD for quite a while. Now with Ryan Lizza of The New Republic jumping on board, I'd say we can officially call it. John McCain is George W. Bush's pick for President in 2008. (Emphasis mine.)

There seems to be only one issue in the Bush primary. Whatever Bush may have once stood for--tax cuts, social conservatism--it all seems puny and ephemeral compared with the way he defends his decision to invade Iraq. So which 2008 Republican has the sort of total commitment to the war that possesses Bush? Only John McCain springs to mind. And with the notable exception of the use of torture, McCain is also the staunchest backer of Bush's self-proclaimed wartime powers.

Of course, most political things for Bush are also personal. The second trait he is likely looking for is someone he can personally trust. He has been careful about turning to loyal lieutenants as the guardians of his national security decisions. ...

Given their history, McCain probably doesn't quite pass Bush's trust test. But unless Jeb Bush, Dick Cheney, or Condi Rice change their minds about running, neither do any of the other declared (or all-but-declared) candidates. That leaves Bush with only one obvious protector and defender of his legacy. It is a strange irony: John McCain as the last Bush Republican.

The 'rifts' between Bush and McCain over the past few years have been carefully stage-managed. Take, for example, McCain's "torture amendment." Very publicly, McCain railed against the Bush administration's unwillingness to refuse torture. Eventually, the White House "came around" to McCain's position and signed it into law. Immediately afterwards, they declared that it didn't actually apply to them. McCain and Bush got what they wanted -- McCain looked like a winner, Bush looked like a compromiser, and the status quo remained intact. As I said at the time, it was little more than kabuki theater, designed to make McCain look independent.

None of this is to say that the fight between Bush and McCain in 2000 was anything less than authentic. The Rove-direct smear campaign against McCain in South Carolina was truly one of the most disgusting things I'd ever seen, only to be duplicated nationwide against John Kerry in 2004. For McCain to cozy up to Bush after that says a lot to me about his character and his hunger for power, no matter what kind of ethical compromises it takes.

The way I see it playing out, the Republicans are going to pretend that 2008 is a complete changing of the guard -- from Bush to McCain. But it will just be more of the same. McCain will no doubt put a friendlier face on the politics, but the policies will remain bad none the less, because as Lizza says, at the end of the day McCain really is "the last Bush Republican."

Rubber Stamp McCain Hires TRMPAC-linked Terry Nelson

So I'm reading all about John McCain's new advisor Terry Nelson, a well-known Bush guy.  McCain thinks that it's the Republican establishment who he has to court in order to win the nomination, and he's doing his best to pander to them.  This recruit is a double-whammy, because Nelson was sandwiched right between Tom Delay and Rove's RNC in the alleged money laundering that took place in Texas in 2002.

The political director for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign testified Friday before a grand jury investigating charges that corporate money was used illegally in 2002 state legislative races.

A spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee confirmed that political director Terry Nelson testified.

The spokeswoman, Lindsay Taylor, told The Associated Press on Saturday that the RNC would have no further comment.

The Austin American-Statesman reported that Nelson emerged from the secret grand jury meeting after about an hour on Friday and referred all questions to the RNC.

Nelson, the RNC's former deputy chief of staff, could not be reached.

He joined the Bush-Cheney campaign last May.

The grand jury is looking into whether state law was violated when an RNC group gave $190,000 to seven candidates for the Texas House in 2002.

The donations to each candidate were made on the same day two weeks after Texans for a Republican Majority, created by U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, sent $190,000 in corporate money to the RNC group.

Under state law, DeLay's political committee could not legally give corporate donations to candidates.

Democrats charge that Republicans took money that couldn't be given to candidates and moved it around before donating it to their candidates.

Republican officials have said the transactions were legal and the timing and amounts were coincidental.

Understand what's going on here.  Nelson is a GOP establishment marker - he has dealt with Delay and Rove and has testified to a grand jury.  He's as loyalist a Bush loyalist as they come.  He's also in and around the massive conservative slush fund machine that is sending GOPers to jail.

And now he's in with McCain.  Get the picture?

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McCain Hires Bushie for Faltering Presidential Campaign

Down at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference last weekend, The Hotline ran a straw poll measuring support for the presidential ambitions of leading Republicans. Historically, the SRLC straw poll has been seen as an effective way to gauge the race for the GOP nomination, with George W. Bush win in 1998 presaging his eventual success in the 2000 Republican primaries, for instance.

Sensing imminent defeat in the SRLC polling, Senator John McCain, a favorite of the national media, decided to "swing his weight" behind the President, telling conference attendees to write in George W. Bush in the straw poll as an indication of unwavering support for the White House. The trouble for McCain is that we saw through this not-so-subtle ruse and noticed that even if all write-ins for President Bush were counted as votes for McCain -- and even that's a stretch -- McCain's anemic 4.6 percent support would still be unimpressive at 15.9 percent, nowhere near a level of support that would warrant such glowing coverage from the national media.

The fact of the matter is that as of today, John McCain does not have a path to the 2008 GOP nomination -- and he know's it. It's no surprise, then, that McCain is so clearly and unabashedly embracing President Bush in an effort to endear himself to the Republican base. This effort is not limited to stale rhetoric at a conference of Republican insiders or stumping on Bush's behalf during the 2004 election. Today, the AP's Ron Fournier reports that McCain has hired a top Bush strategist and continues to woo another in an effort to breath some life into his faltering presidential campaign.

With an eye toward the 2008 presidential campaign, GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona has hired one of President Bush's top re-election advisers to help run his political action committee.

Terry Nelson, political director of the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004, will be senior adviser to Straight Talk America, according to several official familiar with the hiring. They spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to pre-empt an announcement by McCain's committee.


McCain is courting Bush's supporters, major fundraisers and advisers. Mark McKinnon, the president's chief media strategist, has signaled his willingness to help McCain unless Secretary of State     Condoleezza Rice or Florida Gov.     Jeb Bush gets in the race.

Both Rice and the president's brother have said they will not run.

Fournier hypothesizes that McCain's hiring of Nelson "may help McCain cast himself as the early front-runner and potential heir of Bush's political machine." Front-runner? I'm not sure that someone who could garner less than 5 percent support among key GOP activists could be labeled a front-runner, even in the inside-the-Beltway lalaland in which Fournier resides.

Political reporters and analysts need to wake up and realize two facts:

  1. John McCain is not the leading contender for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination; and,
  2. John McCain is not a rebel or a maverick who is interested in cleaning up Washington but instead a party hack willing to sell out what little principle he once had for a shot at the Republican nomination -- and a small shot, at that.

Once the media gets beyond the storyline that a Hillary/McCain matchup is inevitable, voters can begin taking a good look at who they actually would like to see in the White House. It's not Fournier's job to crown the next GOP nominee, or even grant a candidate "front-runner" status, nor is it Dick Morris' place to annoint Senator Clinton the shoo-in for the Democratic nomination. No, it's primary voters across the country who have a voice in the process, and, to a lesser extent, activists voting in straw polls like the one at the SRLC (or the one on MyDD, for that matter). And when voters have the actually have the opportunity to make a choice, the cocktail dinner types living in Georgetown might be surprised to find out just how out of touch they themselves actually are.

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