29 December 2007

Peaking at the right time?

One man is urbane, soft-spoken in personal conversation yet impassioned in front of a crowd. He is African-American - his father having been born in Kenya - and would likely come up slightly left-of-center on the U.S. political continuum.

The other man is a country-boy preacher from Arkansas who has ridden a winning persona and conservative social values to a 10-year stint in the Arkansas governor’s mansion and, now, into the driver’s seat in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

While quite different in background and ideology, Sen. Barack Obama, a Democrat, and Republican Mike Huckabee have one thing in common – they have each played an impressive game of catch-up in the race for their parties’ presidential nod.

They are also poised to pounce with primaries upon us.

Obama remains roughly 20 percentage points behind Sen. Hillary Clinton nationally. However, primaries are not national and the Illinois senator has made steady gains in the early-voting states, putting himself in position to win the important battle for early momentum.

In Iowa – the first state that will weigh in with its caucus on Jan. 3 – Clinton held a small but steady lead in October over both Obama and John Edwards. By mid-December, both challengers had caught up to Clinton. The latest poll, a Los Angeles Times-Bloomberg poll released on Dec. 28, shows the three in a statistical dead heat.

The same poll shows Obama - down by 19 points in September - has taken a small lead over Clinton in New Hampshire, 32 percent to 30 percent. New Hampshire holds the first primary on Jan. 8.

While Obama pretty much walks the Democratic Party line on most issues – he is pro-abortion, against the Bush tax cuts and for some form universal health care – he has distinguished himself on foreign policy. He boasts of his opposition to the war in Iraq from the beginning and has pledged to bring all U.S combat troops out of Iraq within 16 months, leaving behind only those guarding the U.S. embassy or involved in counterterrorism.

“If Al Qaeda in Iraq is reforming bases there, we should have the capacity to strike them,” Obama said recently in an hour-long interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “But that would be it.”

On the stump, Obama has been critical of Clinton’s Iraq strategy, which calls for a redeployment of troops to guard Iraq’s borders and limit Iran’s influence on Iraq.

At the Jefferson-Jackson Democratic fundraising dinner in Des Moines in November, Obama told the crowd he’s “sick and tired of Democrats thinking that the only way to look tough on national security is by talking, acting and voting like George Bush Republicans.” Pundits have interpreted the comment as a swipe at Clinton and the Democratic Congress, which has failed in several attempts to tie troop withdrawal to funding for Iraq.

Obama has also said he would not hesitate to go into Pakistan to find the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden and, unlike Clinton, is in favor of opening a dialogue with Iran about its nuclear plans.

Obama has not made much use of the race card but has seen his support among black voters rise in some key races. The Jan. 26 primary in South Carolina is the first in which the black vote will have a major impact. A Rasmussen poll taken in early December showed Obama with a 51-percent to 27-percent lead among black voters in the state. Just a month earlier a Rasmussen poll showed the two candidates dead even among black voters. An ABC News-Washington Post poll in mid-December showed Clinton still carried a 12-point lead over Obama among blacks nationwide.

Unlike Obama’s steady rise, Mike Huckabee’s has been meteoric. In Iowa, he has stormed ahead of all comers, putting as much as eight points between himself and Mitt Romney in a mid-December CNN poll. About a month earlier, Huckabee had trailed Romney by 16 points in a Zogby Iowa poll. Hucakbee is well behind a resurgent John McCain and Romney in New Hampshire, but is even with Romney in Michigan - a state where Romeny’s father George was a popular governor in the 1960s. Huckabee has a solid lead in South Carolina, which votes Jan. 26.

Huckabee’s red-meat issues are those most dear to the evangelical Christian branch of the GOP. He is in favor of a constitutional amendment banning abortion, as well as one banning gay marriage.

“My faith is my life. It defines me,” Huckabee tells supporters in a recorded message on his campaign Web site. “I see no separation of my faith from my personal and professional lives.”

It’s that kind of stubborn devotion to faith that has made Huckabee the darling of many on the religious right, but has given others reason for concern. The former Baptist preacher has come under criticism for the unusually large number of clemencies he granted as governor of Arkansas, with critics attributing the actions to Huckabee’s ties to other preachers.

The former Arkansas governor has also been on the hot seat for a comment in a recent New York Times Magazine article in which he questioned whether Mormons believe Jesus Christ and Satan are brothers. Huckabee apologized publicly to Romney, a Mormon, saying: “I don’t think his being a Mormon or not being a Mormon has a thing to do about being president. I don’t think anybody ought to vote for or against anybody because of their faith.”

Fiscal conservatives are suspicious of Huckbee because of his expansion of health insurance for the children of Arkansas’ working poor and his support for a fuel-tax boost to pay for road repairs in the state.

Though the first votes will be cast in just a few days, both Obama and Huckabee could face last-minute challenges from unexpected twists.

If voters turn their focus to world events with the recent assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, Obama could lose some support. The same late-December Los Angeles Times-Bloomberg poll that showed Obama gaining in the early voting states also shows that Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire consider Clinton far more qualified than Obama on national security issues.

As for Huckabee, in addition to possible damage from stepped up scrutiny in recent weeks, an Associated Press-Yahoo News poll done in the final week of December shows his rising numbers may not be solid.

Four in 10 Iowa Republicans polled say they know too little about the candidate to offer an impression of him. The same number of GOP voters said they have changed their support at least once in the past month. Nearly two-thirds said they may change their minds again in Iowa, a state Huckabee is counting on to get him to South Carolina and then on to Tsunami Tuesday in the first week of February.

All polls referenced in this post, except thos linked directly to it, can be found at Real Clear Politics.

27 December 2007


When it comes to coverage of both the Democratic and Republican presidential races, FOX News is the fairest of the big networks. At least that is what one study has turned up.

Before I go any further, I must provide a bit of background here.

I work for News Corp.- the owner of FOX News.

I didn't work for News Corp. until about two weeks ago, when the fairly large newspaper company I work for was taken over by News Corp. Our flagship publication is the Wall Street Journal. You may have heard of it.

Like most of the journalists at Dow Jones, I was, and still am, a bit skeptical about this new ownership. After all, News Corp. publishes The New York Post and The Sun (London's raciest tabloid). It also, of course, broadcasts the FOX News Channel, itself the subject of some ridicule for its "fair and balanced" claims.

So you can imagine my surprise to read the results of a study by the Center For Media And Public Affairs, which shows FOX News has been the most balanced of the national TV outlets in recent coverage of the presidential campaign.

The study of the main nightly broadcasts of ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX showed that FOX's news stories about the Democrats were 51% favorable and 49% unfavorable. The numbers are reversed for the Republicans, and split 50-50 when the two are taken together.

Among the traditional broadcast networks, the coverage of the Democrats was 47% positive and 53% negative, while the coverage of the GOP candidates was 40% positive and 60% negative.

The press release for the study (which I have linked above) does not break out each broadcast network individually and the center's Web site says only that full results will be posted soon.

The study also showed, based on analysis of 481 election news stories from Oct. 1 to Dec. 15, that Bill Clinton's frequent assertions that the media are hardest on his wife may be correct. The numbers bear that out, at least among the Democrats.

Of the stories about Hillary Clinton, 42% were deemed positive by those completing the study, while 58% were negative. Coverage of her closest competitor, Barack Obama, was 61% positive and 39% negative.

John McCain had the least positive coverage of all candidates at 33%. Mike Huckabee fared best among the GOP at an even 50-50.

The results seemed to validate another of Bill Clinton's complaints as well - that the media is focused on the horse race and not the substance of the candidates' positions.

Campaign strategy and tactics far outweighed other aspects of coverage with all the candidates.

The Center For Media And Public Affairs is an academic endeavor at George Mason University, so presumably there is no ideology involved in the study. It is interesting, however, that the headline on the study press release reads: "Obama, Huckabee Fare Best; FOX Is Most Balanced (not a typo)"

21 December 2007


It's been nearly nine months since PrezPolitics went on a somewhat involuntary hiatus.

With too much going on I had to give up the blog or publish it at a quality level below my satisfaction.

So shut 'er down we did.

But things have calmed a bit and it's time to take another shot.

A lot has happened - obviously - since the last time we posted back in April.

Back then Hillary Clinton had a comfortable lead in all the polls and an air of invincibility. Today she finds herself in a dead heat with Barack Obama in polling in Iowa, the state that will weigh in first in the race with its caucus on Jan. 3. John Edwards is very much a factor in Iowa as well and could be poised to surprise.

Things have also tightened in New Hampshire, the second state slated to render a verdict on the presidential hopefuls with its primary on Jan. 8.

The Clinton campaign has been on the defensive for weeks now, with the first tests of the political season on the horizon.

Some things don't seem to change however. Dennis Kucinich is still polling in the single digits, as he spreads his left-wing gospel to a small group of fiercely loyal supporters.

For whatever reason, Bill Richardson's campaign never took off like I thought it might. Richardson has been a cabinet member, a congressman, a diplomat and a governor. He has a sensible, middle-of-the-road message. He is of Hispanic heritage, a factor you might think would help as that sector of the electorate continues to grow. But his poll numbers are not much better now than they were in the spring and he stands precious little chance of being around for Tsunami Tuesday at the beginning of February.

The same can be said for two veteran Democratic senators in the race, Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Joe Biden of Delaware. The two of them, along with Richardson, appear to be running for vice-president in reality.

On the Republican side, Ron Paul didn't even register on the political radar when we went on hiatus in April. Today, while still in the single digits in the polls, the Texas congressman is drawing crowds and raising record amounts of cash from small donors. He is the only anti-war Republican and he is riding that and his populist, libertarian appeal to heights no one expected of him.

When we last posted there was one Republican in the race named Thompson. Tommy. Now the Thompson in the race is Fred, the actor-turned-senator-turned-TV star-turned presidential candidate. Back in April he was playing it coy, waiting for the draft-Thompson movement to swell to the proper size before getting into the race. Today, after a quick burst as he entered the in September, he is looking like a tired, also-ran. How quickly they come and go.

Nearly every candidate on the GOP side has seen his fortunes rise or fall since the spring.

Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas preacher-turned-governor, was polling at about 2 percent back then. He was mostly known as the candidate who once weighed over 300 pounds. Now, with strong poll numbers in Iowa and North Carolina, Huckabee is seen by many as the man to beat in the Republican race.

Rudy Giuliani has ridden his 9/11 fame throughout most of the year, but his appeal seems to be wearing thin at just the wrong time. He's invisible in Iowa and nearly so in New Hampsahire. His strategy was to write-off those small, early-voting states and go for the gold in the larger, more moderate states on Tsunami Tuesday. But recent national polls have shown Giuliani slipping and he is no longer seen as a clear front-runner.

John McCain, looking scorched around the edges back in April, is no longer toast. He's made a bit of a comeback in national polls and is looking strong in New Hampshire, the state that made him a very temporary front-runner back in 2000. A good showing there could keep him viable for the big payday on Feb. 5.

Mitt Romney seems to be the only GOP candidate whose fortunes haven't changed all that much since April. He's still in the mid-teens in national polls but putting up strong numbers in the early-voting states. His strategy of winning early and riding the momentum still seems to be intact.

So, that pretty much brings us up to date. Rather than report the tit-for-tat and play-by-play of each day on the trail, we hope to report and comment on the bigger events in the campaign.

Come back and watch it with us won't you?