In spite of Senator Clinton’s performance in last week’s debates, the news today is that Senator Obama is pullng ahead of her in Iowa. Anne E. Kornblut and Jon Cohen write for the Washington Post:
The top three Democratic presidential contenders remain locked in a close battle in Iowa, with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) seeing her advantages diminish on key issues, including the questions of experience and which candidate is best prepared to handle the war in Iraq, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News Poll.
Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) draws support from 30 percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa, compared with 26 percent for Clinton and 22 percent for former senator John Edwards (N.C.). New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson received 11 percent. The results are only marginally different from a Post-ABC poll in late July, but in a state likely to set the tone for the rest of the nominating process, there are significant signs of progress for Obama — and harbingers of concern for Clinton. …
…At the heart of the Democratic race has been the dichotomy between strength and experience (qualities emphasized by Clinton, Richardson, and Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut in their appeals) and the ability to introduce a new approach to governing (as Obama and Edwards have promised to do).
Iowa Democrats are tilting toward change, and Obama appears to be benefiting from it.
My understanding is that Obama is not only the first choice of a small majority of likely caucus-goers, he is also the second choice of a larger majority. Given the way the Iowa caucuses are conducted, this is significant. As various caucuses struggle to reach consensus, Obama could emerge as the most palatable compromise candidate.
Fifty-five percent of those surveyed reported that a “new direction and new ideas” are their top priority, compared with 33 percent who favored “strength and experience.” That is a shift from July, when 49 percent sought change and 39 percent experience.
Nationally, Clinton is viewed as a candidate of change, with support from 41 percent of Democrats seeking a new direction in a recent Post-ABC poll. But in Iowa, Obama dominates the “change” vote, winning 43 percent of that group, compared with 25 percent for Edwards and 17 percent for Clinton.
I say polls don’t mean anything until serious campaigning starts. Pundits always make too big a deal of very early polls. Last February nearly half of Democrats polled said they would vote for Hillary Clinton, and the other half of the votes were distributed among about 12 other people, including I Don’t Know. The political pundits proclaimed this as a sign that Hillary Clinton was inevitable. I think what it really meant was that Hillary Clinton had the most name recognition, and people being polled didn’t know much about the other 12 people named on the poll. Once campaigning heats up and voters get a good look at the rest of the mutts in the kennel, then polls start to mean something.
The factor that doesn’t necessarily mean much are campaign policy promises. Experience should tell us that very little of what any presidential candidate proposes will, if he is elected, be enacted exactly as it promised it. I think proposals can tell us how the candidates understand the issues, and that can be important. Certainly, intentions matter, and if a candidate proposes something that is spectacularly dumb and clearly won’t work, that tells us something, too.
E.J. Dionne has a column today about how Dems might eventually choose their candidate:
Clinton’s strongest asset is that Democrats are certain that she will know her way around the White House, be toughness personified in confronting Republicans, will rarely make a mistake — in brief, that she can survive walks through minefields.
But many Democrats like the idealism that emanates from Obama, appreciate the rupture with the Clinton-Bush past he represents, and see his very persona and background as sending a powerful signal of change.
My perception is that at least some of the electorate is worn out with toughness personified. We’ve had six years of strutting, chest-thumping, red meat tossing, testosterone-on-wheels politics. The Right still wants all that, but I think the rest of the country wouldn’t mind something entirely different.
And so it is that Democrats who once struggled over ideology will be making a much more personal choice in 2008. As the candidates shadowbox over issues, Democratic voters know in their bones that position papers will shed little light on the one question they really care about: Who has the best chance of ending, and then transcending, the Bush era?
I think if Senator Obama can persuade primary voters that he’s the true candidate of change, he’ll get the nomination.