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January 14, 2008

McCain's Michigan Edge: Democrats

The Michigan primary promises to start a bloody debate among Republicans that in some quarters has already started. A new Zogby poll of likely GOP primary voters in Michigan shows John McCain with a three-point edge over Mitt Romney. The poll's internals, however, show that Romney leads among Republicans while McCain gets a boost from Democrats and independents that will skip the meaningless Democratic primary (via Memeorandum):

The survey shows McCain with a 27% to 24% edge over Romney, with Iowa caucus winner Mike Huckabee trailing with 15% support. McCain, fresh off a 37% to 32% victory in New Hampshire over Romney, is battling the former governor on what is essentially Romney’s home turf, having grown up in the Detroit suburbs while his father, George, was governor of the state in the early 1960s. ....

The poll shows that among Republicans, Romney beats McCain, 30% to 20%, but McCain gets more support from Democrats and independent voters. Republicans made up about 51% of the sample, Democrats 22% and independents 27%. About 35% of Democrats liked McCain, to Romney's 17%. Among independents, about 33% like the maverick Arizona senator, compared to 18% for Romney and 11.6% for Huckabee. Huckabee and McCain are roughly tied among Republicans, each with about 20% support.

The usual caveats relating to a Zogby poll remain in play. Zogby has a pattern of bad predictions, and one has to take their on-line surveys with a very large grain of salt, about equal to Lot's wife. However, this survey used telephone interviews and a substantial sample of 915 likely voters for the Republican primary.

Two arguments can be made from these results. The Romney argument will focus on the response of Republicans to the candidate. They will argue that their lead among Republicans shows that Mitt represents conservatives best in the race, and that McCain will shift the party to the Left. They can point to New Hampshire for support, where CNN's exit polling had Mitt winning the plurality of "very conservative" voters 43%-18% over McCain, while McCain won the plurality of "moderate" and "somewhat liberal" Granite State voetrs (both in the mid-40% range).

McCain's team will press the electability of their candidate. Having the ability to draw Democrats and independents constitutes a feature and not a bug, they will argue. The Republican nominee has to be able to beat Hillary Clinton in the general election, or perhaps Barack Obama, and recent polling shows him best positioned to do both. Romney's limited draw from the center will be their message if McCain wins Michigan.

Which will it be -- electability or policy reliability? On the latter, McCain can be expected to point out his 82.3% lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union. That stacks up against Fred Thompson's lifetime 86, and Ron Paul's 76. (Romney, Giuliani, and Huckabee never served in Congress and have no ACU rating.) Will that give conservatives a big enough fig leaf to vote for electability? Expect that to be the central Republican debate over the next couple of weeks, which is at least better than what roils the Democrats lately.

UPDATE: The Washington Post has a timely article on the pushback against McCain:

"It is conceivable that he can be nominated because of the [primary] system we developed," said David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union and a longtime McCain foe. "It's not conceivable that he could come out of this nomination fight or the national convention with the kind of enthusiastic support he is going to need for the general election." ...

Last year, he snubbed Keene and his conference, choosing to appear on David Letterman's show instead. In a nationally televised debate in November, he dismissed Norquist's pledge on taxes, declaring, "My record is up to the American people, not up to any other organization." He starred in advertisements on behalf of mandatory gun-trigger locks. And his investigation of felonious lobbyist Jack Abramoff in the Senate Indian Affairs Committee wound up painting Norquist and Reed as cash conduits who enabled Abramoff's predations, charges they have said are unfair and vindictive.

On top of that, his famous temper and expletive-laden tirades against fellow Republicans have long led opponents to question his suitability for the White House. One congressional GOP leadership aide said he could accept some of McCain's iconoclasm, but when the senator introduced legislation in 2004 to create a federal boxing commission, the aide began wondering why McCain thought he belonged in the party of small government.

I attended CPAC last year (and I will again this year), and we widely criticized John McCain for skipping it. Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Sam Brownback all made time for the biggest collection of grass-roots conservative organizers in 2007. He could have buried a few hatchets with a one-day bungee visit, but instead pointedly shrugged off the conservative base. That may loom a little large as a bitter memory among the activists who gathered there.

He could, of course, drop by this year's CPAC, but it comes after the Super Tuesday primary on February 5th. It could help him rally the base if he manages to win the nomination.


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