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Could McCain put Minnesota in play?

Good morning Fellow Seekers,
The big political trends favor Democrats in countless ways that would have been almost unthinkable a few years ago when Karl Rove could talk, with some credibility, about his vision of a permanent Republican majority.

Good morning Fellow Seekers,

The big political trends favor Democrats in countless ways that would have been almost unthinkable a few years ago when Karl Rove could talk, with some credibility, about his vision of a permanent Republican majority. At the moment, one contrary factor should worry Dems very much: John McCain’s proven appeal to independent voters.

Writing this as McCain has just been declared the Florida primary winner, with reporters buzzing about rumors that Rudy Giuliani will drop out of the race today and endorse McCain, it’s hard to resist the impression that the senator from Arizona is pulling into a commanding lead in his quest for the Republican nomination.

Now, with all due skepticism about polls taken in January about a theoretical match-up in November, one fact leaps out from trial match-up polls being taken around the country: McCain is by far the only Republican who matches up favorably against either Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama. He doesn’t just match up favorably, he runs ahead. And he runs ahead of them in states — including Minnesota — that are part of the Democratic base in the Electoral College.

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First, some national numbers: An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken a week ago, matched McCain, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Giuliani against both Obama and Clinton.

Sen. Clinton, D-N.Y., beats Romney 52-36, beats Huckabee 50-41, beats Giuliani 52-37 and loses to McCain 46-44. Sure, that’s well within the margin for error, but you get the idea.

Sen. Obama, D-Ill., leads Romney 48-35; destroys Huckabee 55-33, trounces Giuliani 54-34. Obama and McCain are tied at 42-42.

The nightmare for either party
I don’t have enough state-by-state data to go too crazy on this, but, as you know, the presidency is won state by state and really in a small number of swing states. The nightmare for either party is the possibility that the other party will nominate someone who takes states from your base and turns them into competitive states.

Now take Minnesota, which has gone for the Democratic nominee in every presidential election since 1972, the longest streak of any state (I’m finessing the District of Columbia there). Sure, it has been close in some recent cycles. But most recently, it’s been blue-ing back up, big time. (Don’t tell Mark Kennedy, he knows.)

In a poll released a week ago by Survey USA (its Twin Cities client is KSTP), 550 registered Minnesota voters were given a choice between the two leading Dems and the four leading Repubs.

Clinton crushed Giuliani and Romney (both by 51-40) and Huckabee by 50-42. But McCain beat Clinton among these Minnesotans by 49-45.

Obama did even better against Giuliani (52-36) and Romney (55-36!) and infinitesimally worse against Huckabee (beating him by 49-42). But McCain ran ahead of Obama by 49-42.

My friend Eric Ostermeier of the excellent blog Smart Politics has been onto this pattern for a while. I don’t have enough other swing-state trial heats handy to generalize, but the other Eric did a month ago and wrote, based on  Dec. 13-15 polling:

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“In Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, Missouri, New Mexico, Washington and Oregon, matchup polls were conducted of McCain, Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney against both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

“Of the 16 possible match-ups in these battleground states, McCain performed the best among the four Republicans in 13 of them. …

McCain tied or bested the Democrats in exactly half of these matchups: leading Obama by 9 points in Minnesota, by 9 points in Ohio and by 11 points in New Mexico, and leading Clinton by 7 points in Wisconsin, by 3 points in New Mexico, by 1 point in Iowa, and tying Clinton in both Ohio and Oregon.”

The Republican with the best shot
Clearly, based on current polling, McCain is the Republican with the best shot at winning in November.

And bear in mind, McCain, is the most steadfast supporter of the Iraq war in the field. This is his signature issue position. He has talked about the possibility that U.S. troops might be in Iraq for a hundred years. He accuses those who favor a phased withdrawal of waving the white flag of surrender to al-Qaeda.

Personally, I don’t believe that the support for McCain among swing voters reflects support for the war. It seems clear to me that McCain attracts some of his support — as Paul Wellstone did — from people who disagree with him on a number of issues but respect him because he seems to be expressing his true convictions. There’s political gold in them thar hills.

As I said above and say again, it would be foolish to make too much of trial heat polls 10 months before Election Day. But I find myself contemplating the possibility that in January 2009, we will swear in both a Congress with increased Democratic majorities, elected on pledges to end the war, and a president with a fresh four-year mandate and as deep a commitment to continuing the mission in Iraq as the current occupant of the Oval Office possesses — and one more possession in common with the current occupant. A veto pen.

Parliamentary system anyone?