Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Obama Takes The Lead In Iowa In New Poll

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll in the race for the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, the first vote in 2008, shows that Sen. Barack Obama has taken the lead over Sen. Hillary Clinton for the first time in months of campaigning there.

The poll was within the margin of error, but it still showed Obama with 30% support, Clinton with 26%, former Sen. John Edwards with 22% and Gov. Bill Richardson with 11%. Just last month, Clinton held a lead with 25%, over Edwards with 23%, and Obama third with 22%.

The writers of the Post story this morning, Anne E. Kornblut and Jon Cohen, are perhaps too cautious in assessing this startling change. The say that Obama, Clinton and Edwards "remain locked in a close race." The fact is that Obama's breaking into the lead has tremendous psychological importance, I believe, and puts Obama into a possibly commanding position in the Iowa vote with just 44 days to go.

Kornblut and Cohen do report more clearly that in key subsidiary questions in the poll there are indications "Iowa Democrats are tilting toward change, and Obama appears to be benefiting from it." For one thing, 55% of those surveyed reported that a "new direction and new ideas" are their top priority, compared with 33% who favored "strength and experience." That's a shift from the July results when 49% said strength and experience were key as against 39% a new direction and new ideas.

There is little question the way the Iowa race has been developing that Obama is identified with the change position, and Clinton with the experience. After all, a Clinton presidency would be, more or less a continuation of a political-family status quo which has seen either a Clinton or a Bush in the White House since 1989.

Altogether, Kornblut and Cohen write, "The factors that have made Clinton the clear national front-runner -- including her overwhelming leads on the issues of the Iraq war and health care, a widespread sense that she is the Democrats' most electable candidate, and her strong support among women -- do not appear to be translating on the ground in Iowa, where campaigning is already fierce, and television ads have been running for months."

In Iowa, they note, "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." One is that among women, Obama now holds the lead too, 32% to 31%.

Although Clinton this week is reported to have doubled her staff in Iowa and scheduled intensive campaigning throughout the state, also sending in her husband, former President Bill Clinton, Obama continues to hold the edge both in terms of the number of days he has spent in Iowa and the amount he has spent on television there.

Also, since Edwards, after monumental early effort in Iowa, now is fading gives Obama an advantage in the voters' minds of being the alternative to Clinton who seems to have the best chance. It has always been clear that if the opposition to Clinton did coalesce around one candidate, she would be vulnerable.

Another factor is that in a recent Iowa debate, the general consensus was that Obama had prevailed. He has been getting high marks for speaking frankly, while Clinton appears to waffle.

An early start is important in politics, although not always decisive. There have been cases where one candidate has prevailed in Iowa, only to lose the nomination. However, in 1976 for example, the victory of Gov. Jimmy Carter in the Iowa caucuses was the first in a sweep toward the Democratic nomination and the presidency. In 1976 too, after Watergate and the Nixon pardon, a "new" candidate had the edge.

On the Republican side, where complete results may be out tomorrow, former Gov. Mitt Romney, who made an early commitment to a summer straw poll in Iowa, when other leading Republicans backed off from participation, has now fortified the lead he showed in the straw poll. And, in another poll, in New Hampshire, Romney has built his lead there into impressive double digits, getting 33% support to 18% for Sen. John McCain and 16% for former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Romney, like Obama, is the "new" candidate in the race in his party.

The new poll results in Iowa fortify impressions, discussed in this blog Nov. 13, that Obama's campaign is showing progress and that Clinton's may be in some trouble. The most recent poll results in New Hampshire show Clinton still in the lead there, although Obama has been gaining.

The Post-ABC poll has frequently dominated election news. Both the New York Times and L.A. Times do not poll as much, and have fallen cleanly behind the Post in overall political coverage leading up to 2008.

--

I speculated last week that maneuvers would be forthcoming to increase the likelihood that the Zell deal for control of theTribune Co. would go through. Now, this morning, comes a report from Radio Online that Tribune is considering the sale of WGN-AM Radio in Chicago as a means of assuaging FCC concerns about cross media ownership in the big markets. Such a sale might encourage earlier FCC action to at least grant Tribune a temporary waiver not to require that all present cross-media ownership restrictions be honored.

They are squirming in Chicago, and will do anything to avoid a breakup of the company, even if they have to "destroy" their hold on certain assets to do it.

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