In the Arena

Shocking Political News

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The Washington Post reports today that Hillary Clinton has a lead in the Democratic primary race because women support her.
And then, there’s this poll from the Los Angeles Times showing that the idea of Fred Thompson is stronger than the reality of any Republican but Rudy Giuliani.
Then, there’s the–cliche alert–All-Important-Money-Primary which is moving toward another quarter poll.

And you know what all this means? Not all that much. My sense is we’re in a period of stasis in the campaign right now, a summer doldrum. Not sure how long it’ll last, but I am pretty sure of this: Outside of Iowa and New Hampshire and Washington DC, and the hovels in which the political junkies of the world feverishly scan the internet, the election hasn’t really begun yet. Once the fund-raising numbers have been crunched, it will be time for the candidates and their staffs to hunker down, review and plan for the fall.

A presidential campaign is a series of introductions. First you introduce yourself to the media, activists and political junkies. We’ve pretty much had that. In some ways, the “announcement” introduction is a trial run. The big introduction–technically, a reintroduction–will come next fall when the primary-voting public begins to tune in. A third introduction will occur once the nomination is won. A fourth and final introduction will take place when the general election electorate checks in around Labor Day, 2008.

Of the polls and fund-raising cited above, I suspect that Hillary’s showing among women has the most significance. Something has happened here. You see it on the campaign trail. A lot of previously skeptical women have decided that Clinton’s Methodist rectitude is needed to clean up the mess the frat boy made in Washington.
This doesn’t mean she’s got the nomination locked up or anything close to that. It just means she’s surviving better than that other former front-runner, John McCain. She’s wearing well. (Although a gaffe, or a breakthrough moment by Obama or Edwards could change that.)

On the Republican side, the polls seem particularly meaningless–with the exception of McCain’s unpopularity, a potentially serious problem for a candidate so well known. Fred Thompson’s robust 21% in the G.O.P. horse race has no significance whatever. We’ll see how he does when he actually starts to campaign. A big moment of truth is coming for the Republicans: Iraq. It seems clear that Congressional GOPs will begin to bail on the President in September. Will the Presidential gang follow?

I’ll have more to say about the aspect of the presidential campaign that interests me most in 2008–the substance of their positions, the courage of their convictions–in the print magazine soon.