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Pollster Scott Rasmussen sees last minute movement toward Romney in New Hampshire

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

DB: We are very pleased to have with us right now the best pollster in the business, Scott Rasmussen of Hello, Scott.

SR: Hi, Dean.

DB: So Scott, let’s get right into it. On the Republican side, you see McCain with 32% of the vote, and Romney with 31% of the vote, which is a tighter race than some of the other pollsters see it.

SR: Yeah, a few days ago, we had McCain with a 5 point lead, and I think in terms of the way we’re looking at the race, it’s really very much the same dynamic as everybody else is seeing. Mitt Romney leads among registered Republicans. John McCain does very well among independent voters who will participate in this primary. What’s been happening the last couple of days is McCain has been competing not against Romney, but against Barack Obama. And the number of independents who are showing up, or who are in our sample, anyhow, who are likely to vote in the Republican primary, has been dropping. And if that number continues to drop, John McCain could be in trouble. On the other hand, if it bounces back a little bit, not only will he win in New Hampshire, he will be the frontrunner for the Republican nomination.

DB: Now that’s really interesting, Scott. And does it seem, do you get the sense that you’re making different assumptions in your polls that the other guys are making?

SR: Most of the time, the differences in polls are based upon timing or other details of the screening process. You know, we had a great example this weekend on the Democratic side of this race. We came out and polled on Friday night, and showed Obama with a 10 point lead over Clinton. In the tracking polls that others were coming out with, didn’t show that, because they were still including interviews from before the Iowa Caucus results were known. A couple of days later, all of the things worked out pretty much the same. Everybody is showing Obama ahead. The question is by how much. I think on the Republican side, the issue is again one that you really can’t determine by polling precisely. It’s who’s going to show up and vote. I have seen a little bit of a trend away from McCain in the last day or so, and that, you know, we poll more than anybody else, so that may just be something we’re picking up because of that.

DB: Now we’re talking with Scott Rasmussen of Rasmussen Reports, who historically has been proven the most accurate pollster in the business. Scott, one of the things that’s really surprised me, and I wrote something on it at yesterday, is everybody, myself included, expected Mitt Romney, after losing Iowa, to plunge in the polls, to plunge in New Hampshire. And it seems like that’s not happening.

SR: Yeah, it has been a little bit of a surprise to me as well. I didn’t expect that John McCain would get a huge bounce, because after all, he didn’t come in third place. Had he gotten a couple of points better and topped Thompson, maybe he would have gotten more of a bounce out of it. But I think enough of the story was about Huckabee and of course Obama, that John McCain didn’t get the bounce maybe we were expecting. But the other side of it, Mitt Romney has a base of support. It’s not what it was two months ago or three months ago, but it looks like he’s going to hold onto it. And it gets really interesting when you consider what could happen in this nomination race. Again, if he loses, even by a point or so, I think he’s done, because if you’re a governor of Massachusetts, and you can’t win in New Hampshire, you’re not going to win the party’s nomination. But if he wins narrowly, we’re back in a race with no frontrunner.

DB: Yeah, and where do you think that leaves us? Do you think that leaves us with Huckabee, McCain and Romney trading blows all the way to the convention?

SR: Well, at least all the way until February 5th, when Rudy Giuliani enters the fray, and you have four candidates. I have a hard time believing we really get to the convention. But I could see a circumstance where you have some kind of a brokered arrangement ahead of the convention. Look, Mike Huckabee’s going to pick up delegates in the South, no matter what happens tomorrow. So he will be a factor. If Romney wins, he will obviously be a factor. John McCain would be hurt, and Rudy Giuliani will have a chance. And so it’s hard to see anybody having a knockout blow too quickly in that situation.

DB: Now Scott Rasmussen, have you seen any movement in the polls that appears to be attributable to the debates over the weekend? I know it’s early, but have you seen the debates having any impact on the Republican dynamics?

SR: There is so much happening in the political environment right now with the reporting on what happened in Iowa, with the reporting on…and let’s face it, the people that are consuming news are reading about both primaries. It’s impossible to single out and say you know, this on the first debate helped somebody, and this on the second debate hurt. I do think there is a little bit of a comeback for Mitt Romney, who we’ve been talking, and again, we don’t know how strong that will be, but a little bit of strengthening in the last couple of days. And I suspect that when he talks about an issue like immigration, which is the top issue on the minds of primary voters in New Hampshire, like it is everywhere else on the Republican side, he’s going to score some points. The question is, can it be heard, and also, you know, let’s face it, while Mr. Hewitt may not like to acknowledge it, there is a credibility issue that has arisen for Mitt Romney, and people aren’t sure the strength of his convictions.

DB: Yeah, that’s something that he…

SR: Having said that, he is seen as one of the more conservative candidates in the race right now, and John McCain is clearly seen by primary voters as politically moderate.

DB: Yeah, that’s interesting. Now Scott Rasmussen, are you going to have another poll out tomorrow on the Republican race?

SR: We are. We’re polling right now, and we’ll have numbers on the site tomorrow morning. We’re also going to have some numbers out on South Carolina tonight on the Republican race, and we’ll continue to track it every day until we have a president.

DB: Now we have a couple of minutes left. Let’s turn to the Democratic side. It’s my impression that the house of Clinton is just about done. Is that your sense as well?

SR: You know, it’s funny. I’ve spent much of this year saying that Hillary Clinton is not like Howard Dean. She has a more substantive organization. And I didn’t expect that she would lose in Iowa, and then begin to crumble. And I’m still not willing to say that she’s done. Why not? Well, she, number one, we don’t know enough about Barack Obama. He is going to go through a barrage somewhat like Mike Huckabee went through in the Republican side in Iowa. Now that he’s in front, he’s going to face some questions he hasn’t faced before. Hillary Clinton needs to see what that looks like, and needs to plan on February 5th, and hope she can win some states on February 5th to keep her campaign alive. But if not, then you’re right.

DB: And your calls when we come back, folks. Scott Rasmussen, let’s talk a little bit about Rudy Giuliani’s strategy of going dark until Florida on January 29th. Cockamamie or could it actually work?

SR: It’s one of those things like a football coach on 4th and 1. If it works, it’s brilliant. If not, it’s stupid. And it could work. It could work right now, very well, if Romney wins, say by a point, tomorrow. It’s harder to work if John McCain wins tomorrow. But if we go into a situation where Romney wins tomorrow, Huckabee will have a good day in South Carolina, McCain and Romney will slug it out in Michigan. Then, Rudy Giuliani at least has a fighting chance.

DB: Now you see…if Romney wins tomorrow, you still see Huckabee holding on in South Carolina, correct?

SR: Yes. I see him doing very well in South Carolina and Southern states, almost no matter what happens. He has a base of supporters that nobody else is speaking to in the party right now. And one of the dangers for the Republicans is Mike Huckabee has energized some of those voters. If somebody else is the nominee, the party has to find a way to avoid alienating those voters.

DB: Let’s quickly turn our attention to the general election. Saturday night, watching those debates, did not fill me, as a Republican, with a great sense of comfort. Should I be comforted about our prospects in the fall?

SR: You know, this election, especially the way it’s shaping up right now, will defy prediction early on. I don’t know how Barack Obama will handle an entire campaign, if he is the Democratic nominee. Somebody asked me the other day, you know, will the age issue doom a John McCain if he is the nominee? Well, the answer to that is how’s he going to look in October? You deal with those same kind of questions with every single candidate.

DB: Scott, I’m sorry, we’ve got to go to break. We’ve talked with Scott Rasmussen of, the best pollster in the business.

End of interview.

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