Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Charlie Cook: Hillary Is Grinding the Electorate Down

Political analyst Charlie Cook has an interesting take on Hillary:

The pattern from the polls is clear: Clinton never wins big, generally holding a lead of 2 to 8 points over Giuliani and 10 to 13 points over Romney. But her leads are consistent. She has a high floor and a low ceiling, like a stock with a fairly narrow trading range. She doesn't trail, but she doesn't ever blow the Republican opposition away, either.

What seems to be happening is that Hillary Clinton is not really becoming more likable, she is becoming less unacceptable. She doesn't seem to convert people so much as wear down their opposition to her...

Rather than wearing thin, Clinton seems to be wearing better. She has moved up impressively in the polls for both the nomination and the general election. Some suggested early on that voters would tire of her, but instead they almost seem resigned to her winning the Democratic nomination, and the early pattern in her general election polling seems to be following the same trajectory, at least for now.

The key thing, though, is that narrow trading range. Unless Clinton becomes dramatically less polarizing, which seems improbable, she is likely to maintain her slim but consistent advantage. But will it ever widen to the point where a misstep or a bit of misfortune wouldn't give her Republican opponent the lead? That's the key question. She seems to be putting the Democratic nomination away, but can she ever put the general election away? Or will she always have no better than a narrow lead in the polls, never quite beyond striking distance from her GOP rival?

I've written before about a session I was at where Mr. Cook argued that the importance of Hillary's high negatives were overblown. He argued that while 48 percent of Americans (or whatever) would never vote for Hillary, 45 percent would never vote for any Democrat -- it's just that they wouldn't say so. For that reason Cook said, her ceiling was only a little lower than that of other Democrats.

It seems safe to infer that Cook doesn't currently believe that Hillary's ceiling is below 50 percent -- the question which I think is suggested by the Rasmussen poll that many wrote on the other day. Rather, Cook seems to think that 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust Hillary can grind out a 51 percent win, or so.

We shall see.

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