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Michael Barone analyzes polling in Iowa and New Hampshire, and speculates on the new primary schedules, especially in Florida.

Friday, March 23, 2007

HH: I start this hour with Michael Barone, senior editor at U.S. News & World Report. You can read Michael’s work at Barone Blog most every day. I quoted from it today. And Michael, welcome. I am very pleased to see that Our First Revolution: The Remarkable British Upheaval That Inspired America’s Founding Fathers is getting closer and closer to publication.

MB: That’s right. It’ll be available in May, and you can preorder it on Amazon right now.

HH: And in fact, it will make the perfect Mother’s Day gift if mothers like history, because this is about the glorious revolution of 1688, and it’s going to be…is it all done? Have you finished the proofs and everything?

MB: Yup, it’s all done, finished the proofs, and you know, this turns out to be a very important event, mostly occurred in England, but it had a real effect on Americans, and is part of our background that most Americans don’t know very much about.

HH: I’m looking forward to a full hour on the book when it gets here, Michael, so let’s put that aside. Let’s go back to politics, though. Extraordinary day in American politics, I was just talking to Howard Fineman about it, and have you recalled ever seeing anything like the announcement that the Edwards made jointly today?

MB: I can’t recall anything precisely similar. You know, we have had much more frankness about illnesses that people have had, presidents, first ladies, presidential candidates have had, major candidates for office, Rudy Giuliani announced his prostate cancer in 2000, and then withdrew from the Senate race, for example. But yeah, it was pretty extraordinary.

HH: I was speculating, and Dean Barnett at my website agrees, that I think actually, Americans will have a great deal of admiration for their decision to continue the campaign in the face of the necessary treatments. Do you agree with that, Michael Barone?

MB: Well, I think so. I mean, they’re showing an upbeat and positive attitude, both of the Edwards. I think their strongest suit is that they have, they tend to treat people in a very nice way, just along the campaign trail, very polite. I found the Edwards staff in the 2004 cycle to be the most polite group of staffers that I’d ever seen. Naturally, as a Northerner, greeted with Southern politeness, my first question is what’s their angle? What are they doing?

HH: (laughing)

MB: But you know, the campaign always reflects the candidate, and that reflects a nice quality that John and Elizabeth Edwards have.

HH: Now let’s get to the tall grass, which is why I originally asked Duane to call you today, Michael Barone. You did a post at Barone Blog where you took the six polls from Iowa, and the eight polls from New Hampshire, and you averaged them on the Republican side. Tell people what you’ve come up with.

MB: Well, what I come up with is that in Rudy Giuliani is the leader in Iowa, but not by as much as he’s been the leader in recent polls nationally among Republicans. He’s been getting 35, 37% nationally in February and March, on an average, to 21 and 20 for John McCain, only 8% for Mitt Romney. A little different in Iowa. It’s closer. Now it’s always hard to sample caucus goers, because they’re a small percentage of the electorate, and your screen is likely to draw in people who aren’t really caucus goers. But the average in Iowa shows Giuliani with 26%, McCain with 22 ½, Romney with 8%, Newt Gingrich with 13, with 30% basically not committed to any one of those four. That shows a pretty good score for Giuliani in a place that he hasn’t campaigned, and pretty good for McCain in a place where he hasn’t campaigned much, and did not campaign in 2000. But it says to me that the Iowa race is open, and there’s room for others to grow, and room for those changes between those two.

HH: How alarmed should John McCain be at his New Hampshire numbers, which is to me, of all these data points, that John McCain’s only at 28% is perhaps the most significant one.

MB: That’s right. They show McCain at 28, Giuliani at 27, and that’s…you know, John McCain did very well in New Hampshire, beat George Bush by something like 18 points in 2000. His poll numbers in New Hampshire have been robust, both in primary and general election pairing. But at the moment, he’s no better than even with Giuliani, Mitt Romney is at 16 points, he’s doing much better, double the percentage that he is in Iowa, and of course, he’s at least somewhat familiar to many New Hampshire voters, because the governor of Massachusetts, the Boston TV stations, you know, are watched in New Hampshire.

HH: He has a summer house in New Hampshire, yeah.

MB: Summer house in New Hampshire, yeah. So he’s, you know, that number says to me that he’s entirely possible to be a credible contender. We’re looking at this ten months out. And so that looks like certainly a two way, quite possibly a three way race there, with perhaps some premium to whoever wins in Iowa.

HH: Have you seen any cross tabs on the 13%, say, that cite Gingrich in Iowa? Where do they break?

MB: I have not seen the cross tabs on that, Hugh, and I would be a little leery because the sample size in those polls is usually small, subgroups are unclear, and the basic sampling problem that exists with trying to determine who is a caucus goer. So I wouldn’t get too much involved in that. It does say that, you know, he’s well known, and he’s getting about half the level of Giuliani and McCain, approximately. There’s some support for him if he should go ahead and be a candidate, as he says, on September 30th.

HH: So fair conclusion, either any of the big three could conceivably be the nominee at this point?

MB: I think that’s right. I think that’s possible.

HH: In your estimate, is it too late for a Fred Thompson to come in, given the organizational and money requirements of running a presidential campaign?

MB: No, I don’t think it’s too late. I mean, if you look at national polls of Republicans, the percentage of those not going for Giuliani, McCain, Romney and Gingrich has lowered from 32% in November down to 23% in March. But that’s still a quarter of the potential electorate sitting out there presently unmoored to any of those candidates. Gingrich, of course, may not run. That would put another 11% up for grabs. That says to me that you know, there are people around there looking, none of these candidates in the view of many sort of base conservatives is perfectly positioned on issues for that bloc of the electorate that you know, was really sort of the dominant bloc in many respects in the Republican races between 1980 and 2000. So there’s room there.

HH: Now yesterday, the Florida House of Representatives voted unanimously to change the date of Florida’s presidential primary to the second Tuesday in January, or the Tuesday immediately following the New Hampshire primary, whichever occurs first. Michael Barone, that really screws this thing up.

MB: Well, it does, and I suspect that that violates the Democratic Party rules, which would present some problems for Democrats. But you know, the only sanction for violating those rules is your delegates don’t get counted in the national convention. And of course, by the time the national convention comes around, the nominee’s been determined, so who cares if the delegates are not seated, you know?

HH: Right.

MB: Let them sit in the front row in the gallery. Yeah, Florida, it’s not clear whether that’s going to go ahead in the Florida Senate, I gather, from reading comments by people that know more about it than I do. But yeah, that’s even a week before the Mardi Gras primary, February 5th.

HH: If that happens, who does that help in this, way out? Obviously, you’d have the trampoline effect from Iowa to New Hampshire, but assuming all things equal, who does that help to move Florida to the front like that?

MB: Well, on the Republican side, I think it probably helps Rudy Giuliani, who starts off quite well known in Florida, with the raft of former New Yorkers there, although not a lot of them are in the Republican…you know, Jewish voters not in the Republican primary for the most part. It probably, conceivably help Mitt Romney, who’s got the support of a lot of people, former state chairman Al Cardenas and a lot of people close to former Governor Jeb Bush, including his chief of staff. So…

HH: Has a Florida primary…

MB: That high level support has to translate into votes.

HH: Right.

MB: That’s not always automatic, but it’s certainly plausible.

HH: Have you heard that Jeb Bush will be endorsing Romney down the road at some point?

MB: I have not heard that, but it would not surprise me, given the fact that so many people who are close to Jeb Bush have already done so.

HH: Now has Florida ever played a decisive role in presidential politics? In many respects, it may be the ideal state to have a big role, because it is so very much a cross section of America.

MB: Well, it’s the fourth largest state now.

HH: Yup.

MB: We tend to forget that. If you go back to 1940, Florida was the smallest state in the South. That ain’t the case no more. It’s the fourth largest state, it’s got a wide variety of people, mixtures and so forth. You know, Broward County voted 68% for Al Gore over George W. Bush. That’s a county with a large Jewish percentage, Fort Lauderdale, the Western Panhandle of Florida, an area about the same population, voted 68% for George Bush. So you’ve got a wide variety of people there, you’ve got a large body of registered Republicans. Historically, there was a big registration edge for Democrats. That’s down to about very little, at this point. And in fact, we’ve had higher turnout in state Republican primaries than in Democratic primaries in Florida. So it’s kind of a broad-based Republican electorate, not just a few country club people. And you know, a wide variety of people, and it’s also been one of America’s fastest growing states, not only in population, but as an economy. I mean, Jeb…it may be no coincidence that Jeb Bush has had these tax lowering policies, advancing school choice, and Florida has been booming. And it’s not just retirees or anything, it’s a state of commerce.

HH: Always a pleasure, Michael Barone. Looking forward to the new book, and we’ll talk to back here for an hour when it comes out. Thank you for joining us from U.S. News & World Report, Michael Barone.

End of interview.

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