ENPR: Static Poll Numbers Bad News for Obama

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: As you may have read, Robert Novak was admitted to a Boston hospital this past Sunday where he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I’m sure you join Bob’s Eagle Publishing family in wishing him a speedy and complete recovery. Until then, Evans-Novak Political Report Senior Reporter Tim Carney—who has worked with Bob for many years, covering conventions, congressional, Senate, and presidential races for him—will assume Bob’s newsletter duties.


  1. The seven-charge indictment of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), highlights two themes of this year: Republican losses in Congress will range from bad to catastrophic, and the anti-reform wing of the GOP seems to be steeped in corruption.
  2. The good news for Democrats is that the indictment could lead to another Senate seat pickup. The good news for conservatives is that the continued march into scandal or even into jail of pro-pork, old-school GOP lawmakers could help the conservative reform wing of the party.
  3. While Sen. John McCain‘s campaign continues to inspire very little enthusiasm among either conservatives or independent voters, it may be the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama that is desperately in need of a shot in the arm. His world tour wasn’t enough to lift him over 50% in national polls, and the Electoral College still looks like a dead heat. Obama should be leading at this point, and he’s only barely ahead.
  4. While close observers see reasons for McCain confidence, there is no reason for a broader GOP confidence. McCain has nearly even chances of winning, but on nearly every other score, election 2008 will be disastrous for Republicans.


    National Polls: The complete lack of movement in the national polls is good news for Sen. John McCain and bad news for Sen. Barack Obama, even as the Democrat continues to hold a modest lead.
    1. First, a word of caution: National polls are generally given undue attention in the press. There is no national election, but rather 51 state elections. On that score, our Electoral College count shows a razor-thin Obama lead (273 to 265).
    2. The usefulness in national polls is in getting rough ideas of a candidate’s popularity, and more importantly as a judge of momentum. It is on this latter score that Obama needs to worry. On June 4, Rasmussen Reports released its first daily tracking poll of the general election (3,000 likely voters over three nights, with a margin of error of +/-2%), and it showed Obama 47%, McCain 45%. Fifty-seven days later, the Wednesday, July 30 poll showed Obama at 48% to McCain’s 46%—virtually no movement. In the interim, neither candidate has shown movement outside the margin of error.
    3. The first observation to draw is that voters aren’t paying close attention, and so minimal movement is to be expected. This is important: It’s still too early to foresee the outcome of the race.
    4. But the deeper significance of these national poll numbers is the way in which Obama lags his party and has failed to break 50% nationally, even while all the breaks go his way.
    5. In all corners of the country, it’s good to be a Democrat and bad to be a Republican. Democrats are guaranteed double-digit gains in the U.S. House (with pickups possible even in places like Alabama and Idaho) and significant gains in the Senate (with no seriously vulnerable incumbents or open seats). On generic ballots, Democrats post 15% leads.
    6. Why does Obama lag his party? His unprecedented combination of youth, race, and inexperience makes many voters wary. Playing basketball well and often appeals to many voters, but it may come across to others as unpresidential, especially in combination with his thin résumé and younger-than-his-age looks.
    7. Even more worrisome is the complete lack of a poll bump from Obama’s overseas visit. He conducted himself well, and scored a coup with the “Maliki endorsement” (the statement by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in favor of an Obama-like timetable for withdrawal from Iraq). The trip was specifically aimed at making him “look presidential.”
    8. His world tour had two downsides: his utter refusal to accept that the surge was successful or to offer a credible counter-argument makes him look more like a demagogue than a pragmatist. Showing up in London, Paris, and Berlin could make him look more like jet-setter or Euro-rail-hopping student than a world leader. Declaring himself a “fellow citizen of the world,” further feeds that perception.
    9. Regarding state-by-state polls, closer examination reveals more troubles for Obama than a surface examination would suggest. In many states where Obama is “ahead” in the polls, such as Nevada, there remain nearly 20% undecided or third-party voters. Almost all of these voters will eventually choose Obama or McCain. Obama’s appeal has been so clearly on display, and Republicans are so unpopular already, that it’s hard to imagine what Obama could do to win over the voters who are still undecided, especially in the states where Obama already campaigned hard in the primaries.
    1. The “Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008” is, in large part, a bailout for mortgage lenders. Credit Suisse and Bank of America wrote the portion that allows the Federal Housing Authority to take defaulted loans off the hands of lenders.
    2. The other portion is a bailout of the government sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
    3. That nearly every Democrat and a majority of Republicans voted for this bailout says important things about each party. Democrats, it appears, are feeling invincible on the corruption issue: Banking Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) received generous campaign contributions from bill co-author Bank of America after receiving a VIP loan from Bank of America’s newest acquisition, Countrywide Financial, but he was open and passionate in his support of the legislation.
    4. Republican willingness to inject government into this market shows that the GOP’s professed commitment to free markets is outweighed by industry lobbying and fears of public sentiment. Only 13 Republicans voted against final passage over the weekend.
    5. While McCain missed the weekend vote, he expressed support for the bill. On the other hand, he published an op-ed that blasted the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. On finance, to some extent (a lesser degree than on ethanol and sugar subsidies), McCain is siding with the minority reformer wing of his party—pitting him in contrast to the Bush Administration, GOP congressional leadership, and Barack Obama.
    1. Both parties voted unanimously to bring the oil speculator bill to the floor. Republicans used the bill as a vehicle for demanding domestic drilling–most notably to lift the ban on offshore drilling. This continues to be the one economy-related issue where Republicans feel they have the political upper hand.
    2. Congressional Democrats continue to block recorded votes on GOP off-shore drilling measures. So far, Democratic proposals, although numerous, have stalled. They include: increase in taxes for oil companies, forcing companies to drill on existing leases, energy conservation mandates, releasing oil from the Strategic Reserve and creating federal subsides for alternative energy. These measures are aimed at defusing GOP charges that Democrats oppose measures to increase supplies.
    3. As of Wednesday morning, negotiations on the bill were still stalling. Republican rejection of a Democratic offer to allow four specific GOP amendments (including one on drilling) signaled that Republicans might prefer abusing the Democrats for preventing votes to actually voting on drilling.
    4. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) sounded the stereotypical liberal, out-of-touch note when she repeated that she was “trying to save the planet” by blocking drilling.
  2. Congress

    Financial: President Bush ensured the passage of a mortgage-lender bill by lifting his veto threat.

    Energy: Congressional deadlock on energy manifested itself this week with the stalling of a Democratic bill aimed at curbing oil speculation, and the inability of Republicans to move drilling legislation.

    House 2008

    California-4: Rep. John Doolittle (R) may have saved this Sacramento-area seat for the GOP by deciding to retire. State Sen. Tom McClintock (R), a conservative leader in the state party and a candidate for governor in 2003’s recall election, won a contested primary, defeating the more moderate former Rep. Doug Ose (R). Now he faces retired pilot Charlie Brown (D), who nearly knocked off Doolittle in 2006.

    The district is very Republican, giving Bush about 60% in both elections. Brown started the third quarter with a cash advantage, because McClintock had spent nearly all his $1.4 million to win the GOP primary. Ose endorsed McClintock afterwards, however, and the GOP vote is likely to unify behind their nominee to save this seat. McClintock is capable of making enemies, and that’s Brown’s best hope. Leaning Republican Retention.

    California-11: One of the biggest Democratic coups of 2006 was unseating conservative property-rights champion Rep. Richard Pombo (R) by tying him to the Jack Abramoff corruption scandals. The scourge of liberal, pro-government environmentalists, Pombo fell under the weight of massive independent expenditures. This makes Rep. Jerry McNerney (D) a top target for the GOP this year.

    This valley district east of the Bay tilts Republican, but not overwhelmingly—Bush garnered 53% and 54% in 2000 and 2004. To compensate for the tilt of his district, McNerney has roped some local GOP politicians into his campaign. He also has a heavy fundraising advantage, thanks to his being one of very few vulnerable Democratic incumbents this year. McNerney now sits on a two-to-one cash-on-hand edge over former state bureaucrat and former state Assemblyman Dean Andal (R).

    McNerney realizes he needs to work hard to win this seat, but he has the edge early on. Leaning Democratic Retention.

    California-50: A bright spot in the Republicans’ miserable 2006 was the continued GOP hold on California’s 50th District. When Rep. Duke Cunningham (R) resigned to begin his jail sentence for accepting bribes from military contractors, Democrats saw an opportunity to turn GOP corruption into a Democratic gain in this Republican-leaning district.

    Former Rep. Brian Bilbray (Calif.), however, pulled out a victory in the fiercely contested special election, and held on firmly in the 2006 general, both times over Francine Busby (D).

    This year, Bilbray faces attorney Nick Leibham (D). The district voted 55% for Bush in 2004. At the end of June, Bilbray had twice as much as cash on hand as did Leibham, and California donors (in both parties) seemed to be directing their money elsewhere. Likely Republican Retention.

    California-52: Retiring Rep. Duncan Hunter (R) hopes to leave his seat to his son, Afghanistan and Iraq veteran Duncan D. Hunter (R), who last month easily won his party’s nomination. Democrats also nominated a veteran in this veteran-heavy San Diego-area district, former Naval officer Mike Lumpkin (D).

    The district is very Republican (61% for Bush in 2004), and Hunter starts with a huge name advantage. Hunter also comes out of his primary with a 2-to-1 cash-on-hand advantage over Lumpkin. This is a district where McCain should outpace Obama, which further helps Hunter. Likely Republican Retention.

    Oregon-5: Transportation millionaire Mike Erickson (R) has dedicated more than $1.5 million of his own money to winning the open-seat contest to replace retiring Rep. Darlene Hooley (D). State Sen. Kurt Schrader‘s (D) most valuable asset, on the other hand, is Erickson’s past.

    Erickson’s primary opponent this spring, frequent candidate Kevin Mannix (R), revealed that Erickson (who was endorsed by Oregon Right to Life) had paid to abort a onetime girlfriend’s unborn child. Erickson argued that he did so unknowingly. With the electorate unsure of the facts, and turned off by Mannix’s tactics, Erickson won the primary.

    But Erickson came out of the primary bruised. Mannix refused to endorse him, and Sen. Gordon Smith (R) has refused as well. Schrader today touts on his website “Republicans for Schrader.” The district’s partisan makeup is fairly evenly split, and so Erickson can’t afford to lose a sizable number of Republicans.

    But as of June 30, Erickson had a huge cash advantage, thanks to his generous self-financing. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is chipping in for Schrader, with a $1.2 million ad buy scheduled. Erickson could win, but Schrader is the early favorite. Leaning Democratic Retention.

    Washington-8: Rep. Dave Reichert (R) has never had an easy election to Congress, and that won’t change this year. Reichert faces a rematch against former Microsoft executive Darcy Burner (D), who lost by only 7,000 votes in 2006.

    Just as Burner matched Reichert’s $3 million last cycle, this year she is slightly outpacing him in fundraising (she is the heavy favorite in the August 19 three-way primary). President Bush barely lost this district in both 2000 and 2004, and being a wealthy, white, suburban district, it is trending Democratic. Obama is likely to win here bigger than his Democratic predecessors, but it’s not clear that he will drive up Democratic turnout—the district lacks a large student population or black population that would be particularly inspired. Overall turnout, however, should be high, considering the presidential race and the hotly contested governor race.

    If there is no Obama boost to liberal turnout, it’s hard to see why Burner should fare any better here than she did in the very favorable Democratic year of 2006. In fact, one of the strongest lines of attack she used against Reichert was associating him with President Bush. With Bush less of a factor, the landscape looks slightly more favorable to Reichert this year than it did last time he beat her.

    To match the moderate nature of the district’s Republicans, Reichert has a moderate record on Capitol Hill: He voted to override Bush’s veto of federal funding for research on embryos, and he also voted against drilling in ANWR. It will probably take a Reichert misstep for Burner to win. Leaning Republican Retention.