The Washington Post-ABC News poll, released today, features Hillary with an overwhelming lead among Democrats — she’s now above 50 percent, and is 33 points ahead of Barack Obama. It features Rudy Giuliani with a substantial lead, though nowhere near Hillary’s — at 34 percent, double Fred Thompson’s 17 percent. Richelieu, the pseudonymous political consultant now writing for the Weekly Standard’s campaign blog, dismisses these results:
National polls are the worst, since they hinge on the faulty assumption that a presidential primary is a national election, which of course it is not. Even if you combine all the potential voters in the January states that might actually have an influential voting voice in the primary process, it totals only about 12 percent of the U.S. population. So only about 1 out of 8 people interviewed in this Post poll have anything to do with choosing the nominee….Leading a national poll now is not meaningless. It means you are both famous and popular, two highly advantageous things when running for president. But despite the media’s obsession with them, national poll numbers alone are a false Gospel of success, especially on the Democratic side. Just ask Presidents Muskie, Glenn, and Dean.
The problem with this dismissal is this: It’s now October. Iowa and New Hampshire are no more than three months out. There have been scads of debates already. Candidates have fleshed out their positions and taken their stands far earlier than they ever have before. People may not be paying much attention, but they’re not paying NO attention.
This is a new kind of campaign, as the astounding amounts of money — in excess of $250 million — raised so far indicates. And it is a national campaign. I say this because of the nature of the way most of the campaigns are conducting themselves. There is only one serious candidate on the Republican side who has bet everything on the traditional Iowa-New Hampshire model — Mitt Romney. There’s only one candidate on the Democratic side who has bet everything solely on Iowa — John Edwards.
Otherwise, the approach on both sides and with the frontrunners on both sides is basically a national one. That’s been helped along not only by the fact that the two most famous people in American politics besides the president are in the race — Hillary and Rudy – but because of the changes in the electoral calendar. They really do matter. It’s true that those changes might make it easier for the winner of early states to roll on forward, but it’s not actually likely.
Hillary and Rudy won’t going anywhere before February 5, and that’s why the winner of the early states won’t be as significant. Simply by winning New York and California, for example, Hillary can knock Obama for a loop even if she loses in Iowa and New Hampshire (though certainly losses there would reveal a glass jaw).
Consider the fact that Rudy Giuliani can lose the first three contests in the GOP race but win the fourth, Florida, and go into the super-duper 21-state primary on February 5 with a substantial delegate lead. (It’s worth noting here that Florida is the only winner-take-all state in January. New Hampshire and South Carolina apportion their delegates, which means that you can win without appreciably helping your delegate count and you can lose and still claim to have won something because you’ll get delegates out of it. The Giuliani campaign thinks it’s strong in South Carolina in the regions along the coast where McCain was strong in 2000.)
The thing is that Mitt Romney winning Iowa and New Hampshire isn’t going to cause a massive Giuliani meltdown unless Rudy does something (like a banshee scream, or another cellphone call from Judi) to help the meltdown along.
The Giuliani campaign is carefully husbanding its resources so that it will not spend all its money too early, which is a classic mistake made in primary season. The compressed calendar helps that along, actually, because the campaigns won’t have to maintain their payrolls through April to try and win big states. The big states are all in and out by February 5.
It’s good to be a national leader when 27 states will cast their ballots in a 32-day period.