The line item veto discussion (see here) between Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani during the recent GOP debate was incident to an exchange about which of the two leaders have the best record on cutting taxes and spending. Romney touts his tax cutting record as Governor of Massachusetts, but critics contend that his record is not so pretty when you look at the fees he imposed in lieu of taxes. Yesterday morning on Bill Bennett’s radio show, John McCain said that “you can call them bananas or fees,” but no matter what you call them they’re taxes on the public.
The media seems to be working hard to make the GOP race look like a two-man race between Giuliani and Romney, despite the fact that most polls have Giuliani as the clear leader, with Fred Thompson coming in second, John McCain third, and Romney fourth. Part of the reason for this is that the Giuliani and Romney campaigns are well organized machines that perform very well, while the Thompson and McCain campaigns have money and organization problems.
Ron Paul supporters argue that the polls ranking GOP candidates are improperly skewed because they survey only people identified as likely Republican voters, while many of Paul’s supporters come from outside those ranks and are registering as Republicans to vote for him. I don’t know how accurate that view is, but there is clearly some truth to it. Paul will still have to convince a whole lot of traditional GOP voters that he’s their guy to become viable.
The establishment clearly wants to ignore Paul’s surging popularity. USA Election Polls says that their “statistical analysis of the [GOP] debate transcript proves that Ron Paul was censored beyond expectations.” They posit, “A candidate raising $5 million dollars, winning 14 straw polls, and at or above the margin of error in 8 states only had 5.8% of the time to speak?” (See here for more info.)
Paul isn’t the only candidate that the media is trying to shunt aside. USA Election Polls has a more detailed report written a month and a half ago that considers candidates on both sides of the aisle. They conclude that the media is more or less anointing the top tier candidates in both parties.
The biggest problem candidates like Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee have is recognition. Gallup’s recent polling indicates that very high percentages of likely GOP voters have never heard of these guys (65% for Huckabee and 71% for Paul). Even upper tier candidates have this problem. 13% and 15% don’t know who Giuliani and McCain are respectively. I realize that most voters really don’t follow politics much, but if you don’t know who these guys are you must be living in a cave. Thompson and Romney have more of a problem, with 37% and 40% respectively that don’t know anything about them.
Everyone watches positive polling numbers, but negative polling numbers are also very important. These are people that know about the candidate, but that have an overall negative opinion of the candidate. Pollsters know that these people are unlikely to be persuaded to vote for the candidate. Of the likely GOP voters that have formed an opinion, 15% don’t like Giuliani and 15% don’t like Romney. Only 10% don’t like Thompson, but 24% don’t like McCain. McCain’s a great guy and a bona fide hero, but some find his politics wrong headed. Only 9% don’t like Huckabee, but only 26% do like him. 14% don’t like Paul, which is equivalent to the number the do like him.
Due to the changing election cycle, some of the traditional rules of primary elections no longer apply. The trouble is that nobody knows for sure how the rules apply and to what degree they apply. Some feel that if you’re not in the top tier by now you have no chance of taking the nomination. Others aren’t so sure about that. Some Al Gore advisers floated a rumor just the other day that he might still get in on the Democratic side, particularly now that he has won a Nobel Prize. That would shake things up.
There is no question that the MSM and the political establishment are working to push out candidates that they don’t want to see coming to the final round. I’m in favor of keeping as many candidates in play as possible. It broadens debate and expands choice, even if it’s difficult to manage a large number of candidates in a single debate forum. And I think expanding choice is a good thing. I’m sorry if that doesn’t fit into the plans of the MSM and the political establishment.