Tilting Toward Change

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.

18 thoughts on “Tilting Toward Change

  1. I have to say that this poll warmed my spirit. Main reason I am not around much is that I decided to do, all on my own, a one [anonymous] citizen sort of grassroots thing in Iowa…….and have clocked between 3 and 4 thousand miles so far the past few weeks…… a few days at a time when I can schedule time off.

    It just feels really good to take some action, and yet I have no idea and never will have any idea of whether what I am doing will make a difference.

  2. toughness personified in confronting Republicans????? Who thinks that? All evidence points to continued triangulation and capitulation to Republicans. We’d see the re-ascendance of those wonderful folks who gave us the telecom bill, the defense of marriage act,… When so many of us yelled and screamed that we wanted our party back in the last Presidential election, who the hell does EJ Dionne think we wanted it back from?

  3. I have thought since he announced his candidacy that Obama would have a better opportunity to conduct international post-Iraq diplomacy around the world, especially with the Muslim world, than a white male (for obvious reasons) and than a female (secondary to patriarchal hierarchy being the dominant mode in the rest of the world).

    I know that a female president is very important for this country and I regret sincerely that Hillary is the first best opportunity for that. However, slickey-girls won’t be any different than a slickey-boy and its looking like Hillary in terms of executive power, secrecy and behind the back finger crossing isn’t going to be a whole lot different than the mentality we are living through now.

    I still say, “Just Say No to Dynasty!”

  4. Wow Donna….are you near Des Moines?

    Please keep in mind the views I share here are not my own, but those of regular mainstream hardworking votes (and yes some caucus goers)……And understand that Iowa as a whole still has a ways to go when it comes to diversity, but the state is not as far gone as some southern states that I could mention….but I hear folks saying we are not ready for a woman or a man of color to be president yet…I DO NOT AGREE WITH THIS STATEMENT I am only reporting the theme I hear over and over again, especially men, but from a few women also.After they say that I always try to engage them in a conversation about issues, but they already seem decided based on race and gender rather than on issues.It troubles me that both candidates have not jumped that hurdle in the minds of Iowa voters after all the time the candidates have spent here.Keep in mind I am not hanging out with the white sheet womenz haters club, these are progressive folks who are no fans of the current administration and were hungry for a change in direction and didn’t make it past the front cover of the candidates.It’s as if after 8 yrs of bush their minds have turned to mush… talk about a disconnect.
    Nearly everyone I speak with is a active voter and it bothers me that rather than dislike a candidate for one issue or another these 2 candidates are being judged as unqualified because of gender/ skin color all they while they cannot name a candidate on the “other side” who would be better.
    As a independent voter in Iowa with a cell phone I just wish it was over.The calls have started already….a dozen or more a day(the most recent today from chris Dodd)….being homeless is a blessing because I know the ex is getting flooded with campaign mail, (haha), and not me….going anywhere with all of them in town is a traffic nightmare… and damn it if one of them bugs me at the fair next year they will end up with a corn dog lodged where the sun don’t shine….I swear a gal ought to be able to eat junk food at the state fair with only horse poop instead of bullshit..We have uninvited house guests here in Iowa for the last year now and they won’t go away..they are becoming our “kato” by causus time we will be begging them to just go away…Hell even Chris Dodd has a shot here in Iowa if he would come up with a plan to rid Iowa of all it’s many candidates…

  5. “we’ve had six years of…”
    You made me laugh again Maha. But you know, these guys are not “manly men”, but “girly men” with power. They get others to do their dirty work while they sit in perfumed offices and smoke contrabamd Cuban cigars. I’m flat fuckin’ sick of the whole bunch.

    Most of the working class Republicans ( ain’t that a contradiction in terms) are real big on Ron Paul, and the big reason is Paul’s stance on Iraq and foreign policy in general. They are huntin’ red meat, and Mr. Bush will be the quarry at the end of his term… As in a war crimes trial.

    Cool comment Double Cinco…….
    C. Rice’s gender is one thing holding her up negotiating in the Arab world, the main reason is her clueless boss.

  6. That poll was very welcome news. I’m mailing a donation to Obama for America tomorrow. It’s not my first donation, but I was losing hope until I saw the new numbers. Maybe Clinton isn’t a done deal after all. I’ve also canvassed for Obama in NH and will try to do so at least one more time before the actual primary.

  7. The Iowa caucus is Jan 3; New Hampshire probably Jan 8. There’s plenty of time for stuf to happen but.. suppose the trend continues to tighten the race. IF Obama was to pull off Iowa, there is a question of momentum, which could translate into a win or at least strong show in New Hampshire. This could be darn interesting. Donna, WHAT have you been doing? I would love to hear.

  8. Yes, Donna, please fill us in! A friend and I had considered coming up there after Thanksgiving to observe the process, but alas, practicality wins again–dern.

  9. Hi, justme! I am not in Des Moines, friend. Here is all I will say, as I love doing what I am doing as ‘anonymous’. I thought long and hard about what I would like to see change in my country and my government. I sat down and wrote a one-page ‘essay’ and so far have made and distributed some 1,400 copies.

    I am traveling only on Iowa’s two-lane roads, avoiding big cities, and johnny-appleseeding a few copies per public place per small town. I suppose I should say that I really most trust small town folks to remain commonsensical and rooted in original neighborly values.

    Essentially what I wrote is non-partisan, but in my ‘essay’, I did name one politician, Obama [crediting his words for getting citizen-me to actually act within the audacious notion that one person might make a difference].

    Geez, Iowa is, er, big!! I can only get to maybe three small towns per hour, and have learned to stop at dusk because of the deer. But, Iowa is also very beautiful in most of the rural areas [just now getting to the really flat stuff, like Hwy 3];
    when I discovered the Loess Hills, I sort of fell in love with that region.

    Maybe when this is all over, I will offer more, like the actual essay, which isn’t really very long. For now, I just want to say again that getting into movement/action sure beats the frustrations I have felt for years about politics [probably since the Reagan years].

  10. Could we be looking at an Obama / Opra ticket?
    This could get verrry interesting………
    I think they would clinch the black vote and the women’s vote
    I’m a 53 yr old white boy, and I really like Opra. Is that wierd or what?
    I also like the fact that Obama spent some time in Indonesia. (his middle name is Hussein, which will cause the right to convulse )Obama seems smart, but he did kiss some APAC hiney-butt, which pisses me off.
    I like Kucinich, but don’t think he has a chance.Too pure, too good, so sad.
    We need a President who will get us out of Iraq and prosecute those that got us in there.

  11. It’s way too early to talk about this, but I wouldn’t be surprised with a Clinton/Obama ticket. The first woman Prez and the first black VP – it could be a killer ticket. The triangulator and the “we’re all one family” guy. They’re not very far apart ideologically, and her expertise would balance his inspiration/oratory.

    Great to hear of your efforts Donna (you’re an inspiration dontcha know?) and of your trials, victories and perspective, justme. Hope your birdies and kitties are doin’ OK.

  12. For those of you who haven’t read it, I really would like to point you all to the Atlantic Monthly this month and Andrew Sullivan’s great piece talking about how Obama could perhaps reach above the baby boom generation’s arguments (the Vietnam war, the Clinton years, perhaps something more that I can’t recall off the top of my head), the article was just brilliant. If we nominate Hillary Clinton it will just re-create the debate we have been having over and over since the end of the Vietnam war! Obama wasn’t involved in any of these debates and could therefore step the country out of that morass.

  13. King George — I have the magazne, but I refuse to read that article. I sincerely doubt Andy has even half a clue what was actually argued, and by whom, during the Vietnam War, and I say the general craziness of the Clinton years was being perpetrated by post-boomers, people who reached adulthood during the Age of Reagan. Blame where blame is due, and I’m tired of seeing us Boomers made the one-size-fits-all scapegoat for what’s wrong with America.

  14. Maha, I’m just 27 and clearly do not understand at great detail just what happened during the Vietnam War. As a matter of fact, I always a bit envious of the 60s and early 70s for having something to really bite into for civic activity. I just remember Kerry re-invigorating the Vietnam debate during the 2004 campaign, from that point on I knew Kerry would be doomed. How can you possibly not at least see a small fruit of truth in this argument? I appreciate your columns and opinions, thanks a lot.

  15. How can you possibly not at least see a small fruit of truth in this argument?

    If the argument is that we were all wrong and that everything we believed back then must be disavowed, then it’s crap. I’m not saying many of us didn’t take some unfortunate turns, but there is a huge gap between what the 1960s really were like and how they are perceived now. It’s the false perception — the idea of the Boomers and the 1960s, not the reality — that’s the problem.

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