In two weeks the Iowa Caucuses will be our first test of the thinking of actual voters.
Polling is extraordinarily accurate these days - especially when you know who is going to vote.
But an actual event like the caucuses and then the New Hampshire Primary five days later will be our first test of the mind-set of these very interested, very motivated voters.
Keep in mind: the Democrats and Republicans who vote in these contests are much, much more involved in issues and politics than the voter who only votes in the November general election.
The January 3rd Caucus-goer and the January 5th Primary voter reads newspapers, watches political news carefully, talks with other people about issues and politics. These voters are aware - and they care. And they do not believe this nonsense you hear all the time: “I don’t bother to vote because it doesn’t matter who I vote for...they’re all the same.”
These activist voters know that indeed, it does matter who you vote for. All the candidates are not the same.
OK, let us try to examine the mind-set of the two parties’ voters in January:
A) The Democrats. Here is the thinking of a typical Democrat primary or caucus voter: They believe the Bushes stole the 2000 election...that Gore legitimately won that election and that Bush’s presidency is perhaps the worst in our history...that the GOP was way, way off base in impeaching Bill Clinton...that Clinton was a damn good president...that the Iraq War was - like the 2000 election - a fraud and a lie thrown at the American people by a dishonest Republican Party. They also know the Republican Hit Machine is a powerful force - and the Democrat candidate has to be able to stand up to it.
Now - and here is the capper: they know that 2008 is their best chance to get the White House back - maybe ever! They desperately want to win in 2008. They are so burned by 2000 and then by John Kerry’s inept “I voted for it before I voted against it” 2004 campaign that they are afraid of making yet another Big Mistake in 2008.
And this Hillary vs. Obama match is emblematic of this fear. Up until recently polling data has shown Hillary as the most electable Democrat in a general election. (That has recently reversed; new polls now show she is the least electable Democrat.)
Many, many Democrat voters like Obama’s freshness and newness. But they worry that America will not elect a black man - yet - particularly one so inexperienced.
These voters are struggling because they do not want to blow it yet again and pick a loser - especially when they see the GOP in total meltdown and thus very, very beatable next November.
This winnability argument may still help John Edwards among Democrats because he can argue that in a general a white southerner has the best chance. (After all, the only two democrats elected president in the past 40 years were white southerners - Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.)
All of the above explains why Democrats are tearing their hair out over their upcoming votes.
Expect many surprises in 2008 as these activist voters struggle to find a November winner.
2) The GOP: the mind set of the Republican caucus-goer and primary voter is different than that of the Democrat: active GOP voters are NOT desperate to win the White House in 2008. They are so used to having power that they haven’t really contemplated the loss of that power - yet. These voters hate Hillary...but they are terribly disappointed in GW Bush, too...the illegal immigration issue has torn the GOP apart and made the Bush White House very unpopular among these voters... they don’t really like any of the current crop of presidential candidates...they want another candidate who can win and who can inspire and who is a real conservative who hasn’t adjusted his positions to fit this campaign...they’re very down about the present political situation...they’re more interested in fighting each other than in fighting the democrats...the GOP is rife with intra-party troubles...they are sour and down and pessimistic.
Whew! What a mindset, eh?
But that is how GOP voters are thinking these days.
So January 3rd and January 8th will be the first day these very involved voters have their say.
Expect a lot of surprises.
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