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The new NBC/Journal poll shows that despite media's urge to cast the two open presidential primaries as a pair of mano-a-mano contests (so to speak), both races are more complex than that.

In the Democratic primary, where all the heat and light lately has been between Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Clinton remains the far-and-away favorite with 37%, with Obama performing half as well at 18%.  Close behind Obama, at 14%, is former Sen. John Edwards.  Asked which Democrat has the best chance of winning the general election, Clinton still ranks first with 35%, followed by Edwards at 18% and Obama at 13%.  (Sen. John Kerry ranked fourth on both questions.)  "It would seem that people haven't exactly bolted from Senator Clinton," comments Hart.

In the Republican primary, while the media is focusing on the battle between McCain and Gov. Mitt Romney, the leader of the primary field is actually former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.  Giuliani takes 34%, five points ahead of McCain.  Lagging far behind is former Speaker Newt Gingrich at 10%, followed by Romney at 8%.  Asked which Republican has the best chance of winning the general election, Giuliani actually rises in the estimation of those surveyed, with 40% saying he has the best chance of winning, followed by McCain at 32%.  Romney and Gingrich are back at 5%.

And in a series of general election match-ups, McCain defeats Clinton by four points and defeats Obama by five -- but he loses to Edwards, 41%-43%. 

As Hart points out, these data suggest that contrary to the CW that Clinton "is considered under siege" and McCain isn't, "the reality is a little different."

Also, as noted above, the poll hints at potential problems down the road for the conventionally accepted frontrunners for the Republican nod.  For starters, 79% of those polled want US troops removed from combat operations in Iraq one way or another; only 16% say the troops should still take part in all aspects of the war.  That points to a potential problem for McCain, who told reporters in Baghdad just this morning that "five to 10 more brigades of U.S. combat soldiers must be sent to Iraq," per the AP

That isn't McCain's only potential stumbling block.  His age may also pose a problem.  Sixty-six percent of those polled say they would either "have some reservations" or be "very uncomfortable" with a presidential candidate who is over age 70 (McCain is currently 70).  On the other hand, 85% say they would be "enthusiastic" or "comfortable" with a candidate with a military background.

McCain isn't the only top GOP contender who comes to the table with a potential drawback, per the poll: 53% say they would either "have some reservations" or be "very uncomfortable" about a Mormon candidate, suggesting a possible problem for Gov. Mitt Romney.  That said, 74% say they'd be enthusiastic or comfortable with a candidate who served as a governor. 

Two of the biggest presumed liabilities for top Democratic contenders, in fact, turn out not to be liabilities: 83% say they would feel enthusiastic or comfortable with an African-American, and 80% say as much about a woman.

Some prominent conservative columnists are weighing in today, with George Will calling for Obama to run now, citing William Butler Yeats ("All life is a preparation for something that probably will never happen.  Unless you make it happen"), and with Robert Novak looking at how McCain is transforming from guerrilla candidate to Establishment favorite.  "The GOP, abhorring competition and detesting surprises, likes to establish its presidential nominee well in advance."  Novak also mentions, "Former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore and former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating are testing prospects for filling the vacuum, but the required fundraising will be daunting."   

The New York Times says that Giuliani's move to hire Republican National Committee political director Mike DuHaime as the head of his exploratory committee sent "an unmistakable message about how serious he is in exploring a 2008 run…  The announcement was a bit of a blow to efforts by aides to Senator John McCain of Arizona to suggest that he was emerging as the anointed candidate of the White House." 

Seeking to draw a contrast between himself and McCain on immigration, Romney yesterday approved a controversial law that would allow certain state troopers to arrest alleged illegal immigrants.  "But a spokesman for Governor-elect Deval Patrick immediately said his boss will seek to rescind the agreement after he takes office Jan. 4, about the time 30 troopers are scheduled to begin five weeks of training." 

It's not just Kerry who's heading to the Middle East -- Sen. Chris Dodd (D) is going, as well, per the Hartford Courant.  "Dodd said he hopes to talk to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to see if she wants him to convey any messages to Syria." 

Kerry is still defending his "botched joke," writes the Boston Herald.  Kerry "denied the tour was an attempt to recover" from that unfortunate moment. 

Pegged to Obama's sudden surge onto the national scene, the Washington Post Style section considers the whole "it boy" phenomenon in presidential politics.  "Obama, like many objects of political desire before him (including Howard Dean and Wesley Clark) is in great part beloved for what people imagine about him, rather than what they know." 

DraftObama.org is releasing its first TV ad.  The ad, titled "Believe Again," "highlights Obama's potential to lead this country in a new direction and demonstrates the movement's growing strength," says the group.  The ad will air in New Hampshire and Washington, though it's unclear when.  The Manchester Union Leader has it online.

The Chicago Tribune writes that Obama is already proving he can raise money over the Internet from grassroots supporters.  "A political action committee that Obama has formed has taken in more than $1 million this year in the kind of low-dollar donations that reflect excitement among ordinary voters.  More than $165,000 flowed in during a six-week period this fall that coincided with the Democratic senator's highly publicized book tour." 

In a poll of likely Iowa Democratic caucus-goers, sponsored by Environmental Defense and conducted by Harstad Strategic Research (D), Edwards leads the pack with 36%.  Clinton came in second with 16% and Obama was third with 13%.  Soon-to-be-former Gov. Tom Vilsack got only 9% from Democrats in his home state.  The poll, however, was conducted before Vilsack formally announced his candidacy, and Paul Harstad is advising Obama.