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New Polls, Primary Dates Turn Up Heat in ’08 Race

November 21, 2007 at 6:05 PM EDT
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With new polls showing a tightening race in Iowa and New Hampshire confirming a Jan. 8 primary date, the 2008 presidential election is gaining new traction. Judy Woodruff discusses the latest news from the campaigns with Washington Post political reporter Dan Balz.

JUDY WOODRUFF: New Washington Post-ABC News polls out this week show that both the Democratic and Republican campaigns for president are tightening up in Iowa.

For the Democrats, it is a statistical dead heat between the three leading candidates. Barack Obama had 30 percent of support from likely Democratic caucusgoers, while Hillary Clinton garnered 26 percent, and John Edwards had 22 percent. Bill Richardson came in fourth with 11 percent. Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich, and Chris Dodd each poll less than 5 percent.

On the Republican side, Mitt Romney still leads the field with 28 percent of the support of likely Republican caucusgoers, but Mike Huckabee has surged into second place at 24 percent. That is a 16-point increase since July.

Behind him, Fred Thompson had 15 percent, and Rudy Giuliani 13 percent. John McCain, Ron Paul, Tom Tancredo, and Duncan Hunter each polled 6 percent or less.

For more on the campaigns and the new primary dates, we turn to Dan Balz of the Washington Post.

Dan, hello, and let me first ask you about New Hampshire’s secretary of state making it official today. They will hold their primary on January the 8th. It’s just five days after the Iowa caucuses. What does that say about the relative importance of these two states?

DAN BALZ, Political Reporter, Washington Post: Well, I think, Judy, that these two states are likely to be as important as they’ve ever been, certainly on the Democratic side. There’s been so much attention that the Democratic candidates are giving to Iowa that that looms as the single biggest event on their calendar.

The Republican race, there is some competition in Iowa, as our poll shows. There’s a great deal of competition in New Hampshire. And I think those two states in both those races will, as they have traditionally done, set the table for what comes after that.

Looking at the polls

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let's look at the Washington Post-ABC poll we just cited. In Iowa, the news is Mike Huckabee moving up, Mitt Romney still ahead. But what's the significance of this, Dan, considering we're six weeks out from the Iowa voting?

DAN BALZ: Well, it is a remarkable development. As you know, this has been a very fluid, unsettled Republican race all year long. And I think this is just the latest evidence of that.

What Mike Huckabee has been able to do over the last couple of months is basically go from near the back of the pack to near the front of the pack. I mean, he's tripled his support in Iowa in the three months or four months since we last polled at the end of July.

I think that tells you that Iowa is very competitive, that Mitt Romney, who has been the frontrunner there, now has serious competition to be the winner out there, which he is counting on in order to give him momentum into New Hampshire. So what Huckabee is doing now is throwing yet one more twist into a very interesting Republican race.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But since not all the Republican frontrunners are fully competing in Iowa, you have, I guess, John McCain not really contesting it at all, for intents and purposes, and Giuliani not really making an all-out campaign. So is Iowa going to be a true test for the Republicans?

DAN BALZ: Well, it will be an important test for Romney, because his whole strategy is predicated on winning Iowa and then winning New Hampshire, and he hopes he wins in Michigan, which comes a week after New Hampshire. Any bump in the road for him will cause a serious problem for his strategy.

I think what the Giuliani campaign would love to see is Mike Huckabee overtake Romney in Iowa and then give Rudy Giuliani a chance to win in New Hampshire. He's been downplaying expectations in the early states, but he's actually competing harder both in Iowa and particularly in New Hampshire than he's let on. I think his goal is to now win New Hampshire and stop Romney early and not let Romney get any momentum.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Dan, let me ask you about the Democrats now. Your poll has Barack Obama moving ahead of Hillary Clinton. She's in second place, Edwards in third. Now, they're all in a statistical dead heat, but what does this mean for the three of them?

DAN BALZ: Well, I think it's two things, Judy. I think the first is that this remains the most competitive contest on the Democratic side. All of the campaigns in Iowa have assumed that this race would go down to the wire, and I think they still believe that's the case.

I think, for Senator Clinton, what this poll says is that there are some problems that she's got to deal with, the most important being that a greater share of the electorate there now says that they are looking for a fresh candidate, a candidate who represents new ideas and a new direction, and that tends to be Obama over Senator Clinton.

So I think what we're going to see in Iowa, particularly between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, is an increasingly tough campaign. And we've begun to see it in the last few days. I think we're going to see that become even more intense in the coming weeks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what about for John Edwards?

DAN BALZ: John Edwards has staked literally his entire campaign on winning in Iowa. I don't think you can rule out John Edwards at this point for two reasons.

One is it's clear that he has a core of supporters who remain very loyal from 2004, and the second is a much greater percentage of his supporters have been to caucuses before. They're not intimidated by what can be a somewhat daunting process, which is quite different than a primary.

So he may have an easier time getting his supporters out to the polls than either Clinton or Obama, so he's still a factor.

Iowa's caucuses

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, Dan, we know the process of the caucuses in Iowa, a little more complicated for the Republicans. It will matter who these voters have as their second choice in these caucuses, won't it?

DAN BALZ: In the Democratic caucus, that is definitely the case. And what we saw in the poll is that Senator Clinton tends not to be the second choice of most of the other candidates' supporters, so I think both Obama and Edwards think, if the other begins to fade a little, they can take some of those votes to them, if they don't qualify for precinct delegates in some of these caucuses.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mentioned a moment ago the more pointed attacks we're seeing on the Democratic side, especially between Obama and Clinton. She's saying he's not really that experienced, especially in foreign policy. He's taking some shots at her. How does all of this play with the voters?

DAN BALZ: Well, it's tricky in Iowa, Judy. The Iowa voters have had a tendency in past campaigns not to reward those people who go on the attack the most. And I think that, for all of the candidates at this point, I think their goal is to look like they are responding to somebody else rather than initiating the attacks.

It's a very fine line they have to walk. They all know the problem, but this has become so competitive, particularly between Obama and Clinton -- I think there's one point that's important: Neither wants to finish behind the other in Iowa. I think both of them feel that, if Edwards win, they could ultimately defeat Edwards, maybe or maybe not, but I think they feel that a loss to the other would be the most damaging outcome in Iowa.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we've got six weeks to figure it all out. Dan Balz, Washington Post, thank you very much. Good to see you again.

DAN BALZ: Thank you, Judy.