Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Hillary Clinton Pulls Out Lead in Key Early States

Today's article on the Los Angeles Times poll focuses its main attention on the Republican presidential field.

The poll finds, for example, that while Rudy Giuliani remains the GOP presidential frontrunner nationally, in the key states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, Giuliani is either running behind or is statistically tied with Mitt Romney or Fred Thomspon.

What I found more interesting is the poll's findings on the Democratic field. Hillary Clinton has consolidated her frontrunner status in this survey:

On the Democratic side, the poll results show that Clinton's top rivals have so far not succeeded in their recent efforts to portray her as too much of an insider to foster change in the country.

To the contrary, voters in the three early states sometimes view her rivals as more likable and more likely to offer new ideas -- yet they seem to place greater emphasis on Clinton's perceived experience and her ability to deal with Iraq and terrorism.

Clinton holds leads in all three states, despite factors in each that have been considered advantages for her opponents:

* In Iowa, where Edwards has been strong in the past, Clinton leads him by 5 percentage points, 28% to 23%, whereas Illinois Sen. Barack Obama wins support from 19% of voters.

* In New Hampshire, which has been considered favorable ground for Obama given his past appeal among upscale and well-educated white voters, Clinton's lead is more stark. More primary voters there support her than Edwards and Obama combined.

* In South Carolina, where Obama's campaign has hoped to rally support from the state's large black population, Clinton continues to beat him among nearly every constituency, including blacks.

Edwards, meanwhile, who touts the fact that he was born in South Carolina and won that state's primary as a candidate in 2004, wins only 7% among South Carolina Democrats -- suggesting that he, like Obama, is failing to gain traction against what is looking more and more like a Clinton juggernaut.

"On foreign affairs, I think Clinton's stronger. On security, I think she's stronger," said Dana Cote, 64, a retired registered nurse who lives in Columbia, S.C.

Cote was among the 34% of South Carolina Democrats who named Obama as the candidate of "new ideas," compared with 27% for Clinton. But like Cote, nearly one-third of the South Carolinians who praised Obama on that front said they would actually vote for Clinton, anyway.

Obama "hasn't got enough experience," he said. "You've got to be dirty to play politics. And he hasn't gotten dirty enough."

Across the board, Clinton is either winning every major voter category or is competitive with Obama among groups that have favored him in the past, even the upscale voters who helped fuel his rise in national polls.

Obama holds slight leads among college graduates in Iowa and South Carolina -- a proven strength for him in the past. But Clinton leads among those voters in New Hampshire. The survey suggests that Clinton has closed that gap by courting college-educated women, among whom she is either tied with Obama or ahead in the three states.

Even among South Carolina's black voters, who are expected to make up about half of the Democratic primary electorate there, the prospect of electing the country's first black president has not yet emerged as an advantage for the Illinois senator. Obama wins only about one-third of the black vote, compared with 43% for Clinton and 18% who don't yet know.

That spells trouble for Obama, who clearly has not closed the deal with this core constituency.
I keep joking with my students about a Hillary Clinton presidency (they get a kick out of the notion of Bill Clinton as "first gentleman"), but there does seem to be some inevitability to her nomination as the Democratic standard-bearer.

How will she govern?

Earlier I had been reassured by some of Clinton's positions on foreign policy. She seemed quite centrist late last year - before she faced tremendous pressure from the antiwar factions - but she's now lost credibility on Iraq as far as I'm concerned. I'm not looking forward to a second Clinton presidency.

For more on these prospects, check this week's Newsweek adds cover story, "
What Kind of Decider Would She Be?" How's that for some sense of "Hillary inevitability?"

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