Polls, Endorsements, & Other Worthless Campaign Items

Listening to Juan Williams on Fox News cite Hillary Clinton’s continued lead in national polls as evidence that the race was still hers to lose, two words came to mind: Rudy Giuliani. If anyone ever wondered about the value of a national poll, the ever-shrinking candidacy of Giuliani should persuade them otherwise. He led in national polls all last year, but when he decided to skip Iowa and New Hampshire and Michigan and South Carolina, well, his national poll numbers tanked. On the Democratic side, we have seen Hillary’s once formidable lead in state after state disappear: in South Carolina, she was leading Obama by 20 points at the end of November, and he beat her 55%-27% on Saturday. The dirty secret is that most people (you, dear reader, are not most people) are more worried about New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady’s ankle than they are about the presidential nominating contests. They pay attention when the contest comes to their state, when they start seeing ads and news reports on television. National polls test name recognition. Surprise, surprise, everyone in America knew Rudy’s and Hillary’s name but had never heard of Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney or Barack Obama. Many of the people who vote on February 5th will start paying attention sometime during the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl on February 3rd. (Note to Obama Campaign – big mistake not buying ad time during the Super Bowl.) Today, in Washington, Sen. Edward Kennedy will endorse Barack. Kennedy’s endorsement is about as big as they come. But what does it mean? It may help Barack in Massachusetts with feet-on-the-ground, but governors have more patronage and therefore more ground troops--and Barack already has the support of Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick. Kennedy does have an extensive fundraising network, but my hunch is that everyone on that list has already been solicited multiple times by all the candidates. The real value of an endorsement is the effect on the 24-hour news cycle. After the rout in South Carolina, Hillary Clinton is desperate to change the storyline away from "momentum is with Barack." Instead, tonight’s news will reinforce that storyline because of Kennedy’s announcement. But no one in New Mexico or California is going to vote for Barack because Ted Kennedy told them to and, tomorrow, there will be a different new lead story on the news. On my way to church this morning, I passed a series of "Hillary for President" lawn signs. But, they were not on anyone’s lawn; they were on the grassy median of Rhode Island Avenue in Washington, D.C. What is the value of these signs? On someone’s lawn, in front of their house, the sign would indicate "Someone here supports Hillary!" But, on public land, in the middle of the street, the signs only indicate that Hillary has staff who wanted to put them up, and they did not have enough homes to claim them, so they used the median. And, it could mean that the person allocating funds at the Clinton campaign is being over-generous with bad ideas. Which leads to a truly interesting question that might help us gain a better sense of who is going to win on Tsunami Tuesday in both party primaries: what is the cash on hand of all the candidates? Michael Sean Winters

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