Thursday, August 23, 2007

Clinton Crushes Giuliani, Romney -- But Gerry Ford Gives Reason for Hope

OpenLeft's Chris Bowers posts two general election maps that ought to blacken the heart of any loyal Republican. They are based on the most recent state-by-state polling results, and show Hillary crushing both Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. The first matchup is a blowout for Hillary, and the second one is worse:

First off, I think I'll save this to look back on after election day. I am confident that the actual electoral map will look better than this, so no matter who wins, I'll be able to find a silver lining.

Second, there's no question that overall numbers for GOP candidates are dragged down by the unpopularity of President Bush. When voters say they favor Hillary Clinton over Giuliani, or Romney, or Thompson, to what degree is that judgment affected by a general dissatisfaction with Republicans because of President Bush -- and to what degree will that antipathy dissipate when Bush is no longer the face of the Republican party? I've not seen anyone take a stab at that question.

For example, look at the latest Quinnipiac poll. The generic Democrat beats the generic Republican by 12 points, while Hillary defeats Giuliani by 3. The well-regarded Battleground Poll (same link) shows the generic Democrat beating the generic Republican by 11 points, and Hillary trailing Rudy by 5, while tying Fred Thompson.

This suggests that the leading GOP contenders are running ahead of their generic partisan support -- something that has been true throughout this campaign season. To some degree, that's because right now, George Bush is the GOP brand. Come election day, he will not be. The nominee will. The Republican party is likely to be less unpopular, and the nominee is likely to gain because of that.

In other words, right now all the GOP candidates are artificially tied down by the unpopularity of George Bush. On election day 2008 that will be less true. Sure, Democrats will do their best to tie the nominee to Bush, and will succeed to a degree. But it won't be as bad as it is today.

I can't think of too many parallels -- where a President was very unpopular at the end of his second term and the party's nominee had to overcome that burden. The closest analogy in recent memory is probably that of Gerald Ford succeeding Richard Nixon.

When Nixon left office in 1975, Democrats had a whopping 25 percentage point advantage in partisan identification. Nixon's hand-picked successor pardoned him for his crimes, and still nearly won re-election just a year later.

Well, if Gerald Ford could nearly overcome the Nixon handicap, then all things being equal, a Republican nominee in 2008 -- with no close association with the incumbent -- can overcome the Bush handicap. The polls we look at today give us little indication of what the electoral map will look like once Thompson, or Giuliani, or Romney has actually gotten a chance to campaign. So Bowers' map might indicate that Hillary can win, but she sure isn't a shoo-in.

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