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Michael Barone analyzes Iowa and New Hampshire

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

HH: Joined now by America’s preeminent political analyst, Michael Barone. If you need a book for anyone for Christmas, if they love history, I recommend Our First Revolution: The Remarkable British Upheaval That Inspired America’s Founding Fathers. And if they love politics, The New Almanac of American Politics is out, both authored by Michael Barone. Michael, happy holidays to you. – – Michael, we do not know what is going on in Iowa. What’s your estimate?

MB: You do not know what is going on in Iowa?

HH: Yeah.

MB: Well, my estimate is that you know, it’s…polls in Iowa are problematical, because it’s hard to isolate a small sample like that. But my estimate is that it’s, that we’ve seen some movement towards Huckabee on the Republican side, and towards Obama on the Democratic side. And nobody’s sure how big it is, but we can also see that Mitt Romney is, and Hillary Clinton is doing something that looks like a response to that.

HH: Now is the Huck surge coming from Romney? Or is it coming from other places?

MB: Well, it seems to be coming largely from Evangelical Christians. If you look at last week’s ABC/Washington Post poll, whose top line results have been replicated in the other polls, you find that he gets two thirds of his votes from people who classify themselves as Evangelical Christians. Some of that’s probably coming from Romney. You’ll find that among Evangelical Christians, he’s getting 44% of the vote. That’s nearly half the votes in a seven or eight candidate field. Among non-Evangelical Christians, people who don’t fall in that category, he’s only getting 12% of the vote, which is competitive for third place.

HH: He’s beginning to get hit on George Stephanopoulos’ ABC News’ This Week by George Will, your colleague in the Washington Post, and by others on his immigration and tax and spend policies as governor. Enough time for those hits to take a toll on him in Iowa?

MB: Well, I think there’s enough time for people to learn about them, and if they don’t like his positions, to say well, maybe he’s not a true conservative, or maybe he doesn’t believe what I believe. I mean, he’s been defending the program of in-state tuition, or tuition for children of illegal immigrants who may have illegal status themselves. I think there are some good arguments for that program, but I think that it’s an uphill struggle in a Republican primary electorate, for the most part, to back that. And I think similarly, he’s associated with tax increases. And as you know, there’s an important element in the Republican Party that is just dead set against tax increases.

HH: And do you see the same kind of movement in New Hampshire?

MB: We have not seen as much movement in New Hampshire. You know, Iowa’s been fairly close on the Democratic side all the way. It’s been Mitt Romney pretty well ahead on the Republican side, but close on the Democratic side. That’s…in New Hampshire, I think you know, we’ve seen Hillary’s numbers come down a little on the Democratic side. Obama’s still doing better than Edwards. On the Republican side, Mitt Romney now has some serious competition, and we’ve seen Rudy is not equal to him, Fred Thompson has not made a big impact there. But I think…and Huckabee has not made a big impact there. You know, the big competitor to Mitt Romney at the moment there might turn out to be John McCain. We’re not…I think you’ve got to regard New Hampshire as pretty fluid.

HH: Senator McCain picked up the endorsement of the Manchester Union Leader. In years past, has that been decisive, Michael Barone?

MB: Well, I think it’s been an important voice. I mean, the Union Leader is known for being a conservative newspaper, adhering to conservatism. It helped to legitimate the campaigns of Pat Buchanan in 1992 and 1996 for a lot of New Hampshire voters. So I think that’s not an unimportant thing. I don’t think newspaper endorsements move mountains, but I think that it’s a serious thing, and I think it’s a problem for Mitt Romney, and it’s a problem for Rudy Giuliani.

HH: Now absentee balloting begins in New Hampshire on December 10th, Michael Barone. Has New Hampshire traditionally voted in significant numbers via absentee? Or do they like to wait for the day of the primary itself?

MB: My understanding is that traditionally, they have tended to wait for the date of the primary, but we’re seeing early voting as a big trend in a lot of places around the country. And of course, if I was the candidate, I’d like to get my number ones to vote absentee, to make sure that those votes are registered, and to vote them before they change their minds.

HH: And given that that’s going, do you expect every bit of dirt to be emptied out of the trash bag in the next ten days before the absentees begin to get sent out and returned?

MB: Well, I think we’re starting to see some negative campaigning. We had Hillary Clinton kind of changing courses Sunday, and saying well, she’s maybe going to make some personal attacks on Barack Obama. And you know, we saw in the CNN/YouTube debate Rudy and Mitt going at it hammer and tong. So yeah, I expect to see some more of that, and I expect to see Mitt Romney highlighting some aspects of Mike Huckabee’s record, not only in Iowa, but perhaps, also, in New Hampshire, where tax increases have been anathema to Republican primary voters.

HH: Now Huckabee’s been ducking us here on the show, Michael Barone. Can candidates hide out from their base during this period of time? Or does that get noted?

MB: I think it gets noted in some quarters, Hugh. I think Huckabee, I believe he appeared on Sean Hannity the other day, but the fact that he’s apparently not willing to make appearances on your program, that says something negative about him. Now his side can say hey, Hugh is on record as being very friendly to Mitt Romney’s candidacy, and a person who has gone on record as saying Mike Huckabee is just a way for Rudy Giuliani to win.

HH: I know, I just was wondering if it works to try and avoid tough media, or if it actually helps you to go into the lion’s den.

MB: I think it helps you to go in the lion’s den, and I’ll give you an example of a Democrat that has done that over the years, and that’s Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen.

HH: Yup.

MB: He regularly goes on conservative talk shows. He’ll disagree with the people in a nice, civil way. And people give him points for being willing to go on there.

HH: That’s why whenever Rudy comes on this program, and obviously, I’ve written the book about Romney, but I like Rudy. I like Huckabee, too. Rudy comes on and just takes any question, and he always gets great applause after he does that. I think that’s his strength. Now last question, Michael Barone, he took some big hits last week from ABC News and from Are they lethal? Or is that just to be expected from Rudy?

MB: I think they’re probably not lethal. I think they’re somewhat harmful. I mean, the fact is that if you’re supporting Rudy Giuliani at this stage, there’s some baggage. He’s behaved in some ways in his personal life that are unsettling to many people. As he says in each of his ads, I’m not perfect. And he proceeds to show us that that’s true. But I don’t know that he’s…I think it does cost him something. I think, you know, on the other hand, he has a credential that very few presidential candidates in history have had, which is we don’t have to ask how he would handle a crisis. We know the answer.

HH: Because we’ve seen that, yeah. Michael Barone, author of Our First Revolution and The Almanac of American Politics, thank you, my friend.

End of interview.

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