Rassmussen has started their daily tracking poll of the 2008 Presidential Election, and so far there’s been an interesting, but consistent result. The tracking poll shows that McCain leads both Clinton and Obama in head-to-head matchups. What’s more interesting is that McCain’s lead is actually wider against Obama, 5% to 3% against Clinton. Also of note is that McCain’s favorable rating is slightly higher than that of Obama and his negatives less. For all the praise that Obama gets from the media, it’s curious that he isn’t blowing McCain out of the water at this point. Then again, on deeper reflection, perhaps it isn’t that surprising a result.
The ever-astute Stuart Rothenberg
thinks that McCain may be able to escape the damage to the GOP brand. I think that’s right. The fact that many prominent conservative figures have deep issues with McCain, as a purely political matter, probably helps him. In such a divisive political season, McCain has a level of centrist credibility that no one else in the Republican field really had. That will be key to fighting against Obama (or perhaps Clinton).
I suspect there’s another factor at play here as well. That has to do with the fact that Obama really has nowhere to go but down. The essential problem that Obama faces is that he plays very well with the Democratic base. He’s reliably anti-war, populist and liberal. But while McCain has been reaching out to the center, Obama suddenly has to tack to the right to remain viable in the general election. What happens when a candidate has to change their spots? The contradictions start catching up to them. Obama claims that he never said that his NAFTA position was a political calculation. Yet internal Canadian documents show that his advisors said exactly that. Now Obama has to explain himself, and it’s not looking pretty. There are plenty of skeletons in Obama’s closet that the Clinton’s haven’t pulled out (probably because of the large number of skeletons in their closet). You had better believe that Obama’s tenure in the corrupt world of Chicago machine politics will be coming back at him soon.
The conventional wisdom is that Obama will pull in a huge number of independents and even Republicans. Then again, we heard that about every Democratic candidate. Remember all the Republicans coming out of the woodwork to endorse John Kerry. As it turned out, more Democrats supported Bush than Republicans supported Kerry. Obama’s hype machine makes it sound like Sen. Obama is practically the Second Coming—but when it comes right down to it, he’s just another politician.
Now, I would be greatly remiss is I didn’t say what I always say about polling this far out: it usually means nothing. However, the Rassmussen poll shows a definite and surprising trend, and if it plays out it could mean that the Republicans lucked out in selecting the “maverick” McCain as their nominee. In a season with a diminished Republican brand, the GOP needs to be able to reach out to moderates without sacrificing key conservative positions. Sen. McCain is the candidate best equipped to do that, and he may even be more credible in reaching out than his radically liberal competitors across the partisan divide.