On the eve of the important New Hampshire primary, George W. Bush actually lost ground in yesterday’s tracking polls. After cutting the lead to 2 1/2 points by Saturday, he has fallen 4 1/2 points behind John McCain as of this morning’s report by ace pollster John Zogby.
As befits Zogby’s objectivity, he refrains from providing a political reason for the movement in the numbers away from Bush. But I have a hunch about this. On Saturday, Bush held a rally in NH featuring, as a special guest, none other than George the Elder and wife Barbara. Now, my purpose here is not to show disrespect to the former president or his wife. They’re good people, with good values, and raised a good family. But the fact remains that Papa Bush’s broken tax pledge still leaves a bitter taste in the collective palate of conservative supply-side Republicans everywhere. And the surprise appearance of the former president underscores Steve Forbes’s criticisms that Bush the Younger will not be dependable on the tax-cut issue.
Remember, the electoral battle for Bush in New Hampshire is all about pulling conservatives away from Forbes and Keyes (Gary Bauer is no longer a factor) and bringing these hardcore, tax-cutting, and pro-life Republicans into his column in tomorrow’s election. Papa Bush didn’t say much at the Saturday rally, but the barely minute-long appearance dominated the coverage. The Sunday New York Times ran a cover photo of the two Georges. C-Span broadcast the rally, and the local New Hampshire media gave it ample play. Also, the John Sununu endorsement received a great deal of coverage, which probably also served to remind some voters of the Bush presidency’s shortcomings. Again, meaning no disrespect, the political reality is that conservative Florida governor and First Brother Jeb Bush would have provided a much better election-eve symbol for conservative NH Republicans. Also, well-informed GOP conservatives know that Barbara Bush has always been pro-choice.
Zogby says that 7% of New Hampshire Republicans are still undecided. So the outcome of Tuesday’s election is still up in the air. A one or two percent defeat for Gov. Bush would not be fatal, and might even generate some positive momentum going into South Carolina. But, with Steve Forbes’s candidacy slipping, the outcome of marginal tax-rate cuts and smaller government is in doubt. The stock market swooned on Friday after hearing President Clinton’s massive government spending and middle-class entitlement increasing State of the Union message. Clinton’s protégé and would-be heir apparent, Al Gore, will follow the State of the Union line in his campaign.
Gore is surging in the polls and now runs about even with Bush nationally. He is sure to win big against Bill Bradley in NH. As for John McCain, his position on tiny tax cuts and debt obsession sounds uncomfortably similar to the views of Clinton and Gore. The stock market is worried that the pro-growth policies of the Reagan-dominated 80s and 90s could turn into a new Great Society surplus-spending binge in the first decade of the next century. Let’s hope New Hampshire voters have the good sense to send a better message.