Pundit Central

Iowa Pregame Show

Ed.’s Note: “Pundit Central” is a weekly roundup of the weekend’s major political chat and interview shows.

The top issue is Monday’s caucus vote in Iowa.

Many of the Sunday programs note a new Des Moines Register poll showing George W. Bush and Al Gore with bulletproof leads. In the Republican race, Bush has 43 percent, Steve Forbes has 20 percent, and John McCain and Alan Keyes each have 8 percent. On the Democratic side, Gore has 56 percent to Bill Bradley’s 28 percent. [Jan. 16-21, +/- 4 percent margin of error.] Also, a new CNN/USA Today poll takes the pulse of New Hampshire: McCain has 42 percent there; Bush, 33 percent; and Forbes, 13 percent. Gore has 52 percent to Bradley’s 43. [Jan. 20-22, +/- 4 percent.] (The same CNN/USAT poll shows Bush with a 63-19 lead over McCain nationally, and Gore with a 60-27 lead over Bradley nationally.) (To read Slate’s “Explainer” on how polls work, click here; to read “Ballot Box“‘s latest dispatch from Iowa, click here.)

For the second week running, pundits downgrade Bradley’s chances to upset Gore. Why, they ask, has Bradley lost ground in Iowa despite spending more money and time there? Bill Kristol (NBC’s Meet the Press   and CNN’s Capital Gang) and Mark Shields (CG and PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer) point to Bradley’s poor showing in the Des Moines Register debate last week. (To read “Ballot Box“‘s account of that debate, click here.) Tucker Carlson (CNN’s Late Edition), Brit Hume ( Fox News Sunday), and Juan Williams (FNS) blame Bradley’s sluggish response to negative ads (David Yepsen [FNS] points out that Bradley took three days to correct a Gore ad mischaracterizing his Senate vote on a flood-relief bill). Susan Page (LE) and Mara Liasson (FNS) blame Bradley’s untimely heart problems. Cokie Roberts (ABC’s This Week) notes that teachers’ unions–which support Gore–are especially strong in Iowa, while Shields notes that unemployment in Iowa is 2.2 percent–two points below the national average (in 1980, for example, it was 20 percent). Every panelist on the McLaughlin Group   predicts that Bradley will lose in Iowa and New Hampshire. (Many pundits also predict that Gore will get a boost after Thursday’s State of the Union address.)

Dissenters: Joe Klein (MTP) argues that caucuses are an unreliable gauge of support, and that New Hampshire has a radically different political climate than Iowa and is more important in the long run. On CBS’s Face the Nation, Bradley promises to stay in the race through the New York and California primaries, and possibly until the Democratic Convention. William Schneider (LE) says that for Gore to do “better than expected” he needs to win more than 65 percent of the vote. Below 55 percent means “worse than expected.” Paul Gigot (NH) says Bradley needs at least 40 percent to remain viable, but probably won’t get it. Al Hunt (CG) thinks 35 percent is passable for Bradley.

Everyone agrees that Bush will win Iowa, but by how much and at what political cost? Many say that Bush’s recently declared support of a Constitutional amendment to overturn Roe v. Wade will hurt him in the general election. (Steve Roberts [LE] calls it “McGovernism in reverse,” and Tom Brokaw [MTP] predicts that Democrats will use Bush’s statement to scare soccer moms.) Brit Hume (FNS) says that Bush’s statement shows the strength of the Christian right, and John McLaughlin (MG), Tony Blankley (MG), Jim Warren (MG), and Tucker Carlson all predict that the stridently pro-life Alan Keyes will place third in Iowa. (Some say this will induce Gary Bauer to drop out.) William Schneider notes that conservative Christian candidates often do better in the caucuses than the polls indicate. He says that over 50 percent for Bush is “better than expected”; under 40 percent, “worse than expected.” Paul Gigot says 40 percent will be good enough for Bush.

How well must Steve Forbes and John McCain do? Eric Felten (MG) says 20 points will be fine for Forbes, but Dan Balz (FTN) and Paul Gigot think he needs to get 25-30 percent to remain a player. Al Hunt and Bill Kristol see lots of enthusiasm for Forbes; Kristol thinks he may get within 10 points of Bush. Pundits say that McCain–who has not officially campaigned in Iowa–will do “better than expected” if he gets 10-12 percent.

Miscellany: Tom Brokaw (MTP) notes that the press in Iowa equal one percent of the projected caucus participants (800 media to 80,000 voters). … George F. Will (TW), David Yepsen, and Mark Shields argue that a large turnout will help Gore, since moderate voters need to be coaxed to the polls, while those supporting insurgent Bradley will attend anyway. But Bob Novak (CG) and Al Hunt disagree: Because caucuses are face-to-face meetings with an open ballot, those supporting a minority candidate such as Bradley will avoid offending their neighbors and will shy away. (Hunt notes that two caucus meetings in Iowa are actually held at the house of a Gore-supporting congressman.) … Amid the hubub surrounding the caucuses, does Iowa ultimately matter in selecting presidential nominees? Mark Shields and Bill Kristol don’t think so. After all, Iowans have never elected a candidate who became president. In 1988, for example, Republican Bob Dole and Democrat Richard Gephardt won in Iowa but lost their respective nominations. (To read an “Explainer” on caucuses, click here.) … Most pundits agree that with Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey’s decision not to run for re-election, the Democrats’ chances of capturing the Senate greatly diminish. John McLaughlin notes that every state office in Nebraska–not to mention the state’s second U.S. Senate seat–is held by a Republican. Paul Gigot argues that with mavericks like Kerry, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and John Chafee gone from the Senate, a GOP president would be hard-pressed to pass reforms–such as campaign-finance–requiring bipartisan support.

Forbes–Rhetoric as Usual

In appearances on Meet the Press and Late Edition, Steve Forbes uses the phrase “politics as usual” eleven times. (Getting creative, he says “politics-as-normal” the twelfth time.) On MTP, he notes that Iowans are adept at “seeing through slogans and phrases.”

Last Word

I mark it a real step of progress that in New Hampshire the other day, there were New York Knicks and Boston Celtics campaigning for the same person.
–Bill Bradley (Face the Nation)