- The Washington Times - Monday, May 7, 2007

Democrats seem to have nearly everything going their way in the 2008 presidential election campaign, except the most likable candidates.

It is widely acknowledged that Republicans face another tough, candidate-killing campaign year as a result of an unpopular war in Iraq and a rash of administration scandals, but pollsters and analysts say the party has one major advantage that could help them overcome the Democrats next year: Republican presidential front-runners draw higher favorability ratings from voters.

“In spite of a very favorable Democratic environment, the public views the current Republican front-runners more positively than the current Democratic front-runners,” the Gallup Poll said in an analysis of how the 2008 election is shaping up.

Republican front-runners Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor, and Sen. John McCain of Arizona “typically receive favorable ratings in the mid-50s to low 60s.” This compares with ratings in the low 50 percent range for Democrats Barack Obama, the senator from Illinois, and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, and especially Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, whose approval ratings “have descended into the 40s,” Gallup said.

Other independent polls, with few exceptions, conducted last month appear to support Gallup’s analysis. A Fox News poll of 900 voters gave a 55 percent favorable score to Mr. Giuliani and 49 percent to Mr. McCain. This compared with 46 percent favorable ratings for Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama.

A CBS poll of registered voters conducted April 9 to 12 showed Mrs. Clinton with an unfavorable rating of 46 percent, compared with lower unfavorable scores of 37 percent and 28 percent for Mr. Giuliani and Mr. McCain respectively.

“This Republican advantage in candidate popularity at this point may be offsetting the Democratic advantage in the political environment,” the polling organization said.

Even Democrats acknowledge several points in the Gallup analysis, though few are willing to do so publicly at this point in the campaign.

“Likability is a potential problem for the Democrats. There’s a great deal of truth in what [Gallup] is saying,” said Bud Jackson, a Democratic campaign consultant.

Independent analysts, too, say the Republican Party could overcome a hostile political environment with a more appealing nominee.

“The Democrats start with an advantage in the political environment, but not with an advantage that is so overwhelming at this point that we could say the Republicans could not win,” said election analyst Stuart Rothenberg.

“But it’s likely their ability to win next year will depend on the personal appeal of the two nominees,” he said.

Among Democratic front-runners, no one has experienced a deeper loss in personal appeal with general election voters than Mrs. Clinton — raising questions about her electability in the minds of some Democrats and hopes among many Republicans that she will be the Democratic nominee.

Her favorability ratings soared to nearly 60 percent earlier this year, “but by mid-April they had plummeted to 45 percent. Among the well-known contenders in both parties, only [Republican Newt] Gingrich is less popular at this point,” Gallup said.

“She is also less likely than Obama to be seen as likable,” the polling group said.

That likability deficit in Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy has become a growing topic of discussion in some Democratic circles.

“It’s certainly true that this trend of declining favorability ratings is troubling. An important factor for any of the candidates is their likability and whether the voters think they care about them,” Mr. Jackson said.

Independent analysts say there is plenty of time for her to turn around her high unfavorable scores.

“It’s early. She has a lot of time to work on that. If she’s the nominee, she’s ultimately going to have to warm up to people and connect. That’s obviously the question mark about the senator,” Mr. Rothenberg said.

“She knows that,” he said. “The question is whether she can do it.”

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