The chosen candidates receive untold millions of dollars in free advertising as part of the press coverage surrounding the media stampede. Remember the breathless speculation before Hillary announced? The unrelenting media speculation before Obama announced? Anybody remember similar coverage for John Edwards? Joe Biden? Dennis Kucinich?
Poll results are fundamentally created by media hype and the media then dutifully report them in a self-fulfilling cycle that ends with the election between the two candidates that, too often, the media promoted best.
But history shows that that neither big poll numbers nor big money can guarantee a victory.
First, the money.
According to OpenSecrets.org (www.opensecrets.org/] the candidate who spends the most wins about 85% of the time giving big money a solid grade of 'B' for deciding elections. Better than average but not a sure thing.
That leaves a stunned 15% of big spenders who lose to rivals who spend less. In recent elections that has included Senator George Allen (R, Va) who outspent his Democratic challenger, Jim Webb, by 2 to 1; John Ashcroft (R, Mo) who was unceremoniously booted from his senate seat before taking office as Bush 43's attorney general; House minority leader Tom Daschle (D, ND); and the highly regarded triple amputee Senator Max Cleland (D, Ga). Painfully, the list includes Ned Lamont who outspent Joe Lieberman in the race for the Connecticut senate seat.
The donor base tells the true story of a candidate's appeal and is rarely mentioned by the press.
Senator Clinton's contributors come mainly from New York and, secondarily, from the Washington, D.C area. Her largest contributing zip code outside of the east coast is in toney Beverly Hills, California.
In contrast, one of John Edwards major donor zip codes is in Montgomery, Alabama.
Compared to either Obama or Edwards, Clinton's private donors are heavily skewed towards the big money side. Nearly three-quarters of her funding comes from donors contributing more than $2300. Almost 50% comes from contributions of $4600, roughly twice the percent of high donors as Edwards and Obama combined, and far more than any of her Republican challengers. A measly 9% of her funding comes from contributions of less than $200, compared to 22% for Obama.
Based on campaign contributions alone, Hillary's support is geographically relatively limited. That support, however, comes from deep pockets. Obama and Edwards have wider support from people of more limited means. John Edwards' campaign is especially notable. He gets 100% of his funding from individual contributors, not PACs and not corporations.
And then there are the polls.
Remember Howard Dean in 2004, predicted by polls as the sure winner in the Iowa caucuses? The media did its usual post mortem search for an esoteric, creative justification for his sudden fall, but the one that resonated was given by several caucus participants interviewed after his loss: They didn't think he could win a general election.
If the perceived ability to win a national election is a major criterion for primary voters, Hillary may be in trouble. Poll after poll has shown that her negatives among all voters swamp her positive support. How does someone win an election with nearly 50% of the voting population adamant about supporting anyone but her?
Plus, there is that problem with her base. Almost 30% of Democrats don't believe she is electable, even if you don't count the additional 32% who have similar doubts about her viability as a candidate.
Approximately 30% of those who should be her core supporters say they disagree with her stand on the issues or they just don't trust her. Although the polls are silent on the reasons why, it may be that she is now reaping the whirlwind she created when she cozied up to Rupert Murdoch, defended her vote on a tragic war, supported the Patriot Act and a flag burning amendment. If these ill-considered moves were designed to broaden her appeal to the right, she failed. However, she apparently did succeed in shutting down a large part of her base.
As in the race for funding, Obama does well in opinion polls, although so far his supporters appear to be banking mainly on hope since he is still, to a large extent, an unknown quantity. His negative poll numbers are based mainly on his inexperience and his positives, appropriately enough, are based mostly on his 'fresh face', i.e., his inexperience.
There is also the inconvenient problem with Obama's wife Michelle who takes every opportunity to assure audiences that they can't expect too much from her husband, a man who can't remember to pick up his own socks. Voters may eventually decide that she is right: he is not yet ready for prime time.
John Edwards seems preternaturally unfazed by national poll numbers that barely reach the double digits and by dismal fundraising results. Does this man know something we don't?
Well,actually, yes. (http://www.opednews.com/articles/opedne_sandy_je_061031_iowa_s_stealth_democ.htm)
Edwards probably knows better than anyone except Howard Dean how rapidly poll numbers can shift. In November 2003, the DesMoines Register's Iowa Poll showed him to be preferred by only 5% of voters; two months later he came within a few percentage points of winning the state, setting the stage for his choice as John Kerry's vice-presidential running mate.
He knows that his 2004 performance in Iowa was that of a genuine political phenomenon, although one that was ignored by the media. So he probably knows better than we do the limits of the media.
He has polished his foreign policy credentials, a concern of Iowa voters in 2004.
He is likeable, he wears well, he is greeted like a rock star by labor unions, grannies and everyone in between.
He receives no corporate funding making him the only candidate beholden to no one but us.
He knows that his negative poll numbers are considerably lower than either Hillary's or Obama's making him probably the most electable of the three, and that matters in Iowa.
He is the candidate who might make this race memorable.