By Bill Bradley
In national polls of the Democratic and Republican nomination contests, Obama has essentially closed into a dead heat with Hillary, who had long enjoyed big leads, while McCain has shot into a big lead over Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. The new CBS News/New York Times poll has it Clinton 41%, Obama 41% on the Democratic side. And McCain 46%, Romney 23% on the Republican side. The new national ABC News/Washington Post poll has similar numbers in the party contests.
In general election matchups, McCain has a narrow lead over Clinton, but trails Obama narrowly. As for Romney, both Democrats hold big leads over him, Hillary by 12 points and Obama by an astounding 25 points.
Tracking polls through Sunday, private and public, show Obama catching Clinton in a number of big contests, and McCain running strongly, with a few striking problem spots. In some cases, Obama is shooting past Hillary. For example, the Zogby tracking poll for Reuters now has Obama leading Clinton by six points in California, a Clinton redoubt since the 1990s, averaging the last three nights. But last night alone, and it’s statistically unreliable to look at only one night, Obama had a 17-point edge. He also made a big upward move in Missouri, following a huge St. Louis rally on Saturday.
While there is drama aplenty in both parties — with the Republicans’ hard right radio talkers and pundit-bloggers trying to block the merely moderately conservative McCain and boost formerly liberal Massachusetts Governor Romney –the biggest drama is on the Democratic side.
So first to the Republicans.
After a sizable Florida victory, McCain seems poised for victory in most of the big Super Tuesday contests, in many cases big victories over Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. Of the big states, it seems only Georgia and California are problematic for McCain; the latter paradoxically, since he got the backing of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger a few days ago.
Here is where the races in the two parties intersect. For Schwarzenegger’s Kennedy family member wife, former NBC anchor Maria Shriver, dramatically endorsed Obama yesterday at a huge UCLA rally with Oprah Winfrey, Caroline Kennedy, and Michelle Obama. Tracking polls Sunday night in California show Obama moving up. And McCain moving down. It may be that having Mrs. Schwarzenegger out to be a difference-maker for the Democrats’ most formidable general election candidate is too much for many conservative Republicans. And the California Republican primary is closed to independents.
Confirming that his wife has lost her once massive lead in California to Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton – who already campaigned around the LA media market this Sunday morning, as I reported he would – stayed on to campaign all day around California on Monday, as I also revealed he would. He will hit Orange County, the Central Valley, Sacramento, and San Francisco.
California First Lady and former NBC anchor Maria Shriver making a dramatic surprise appearance at the massive Oprah/Caroline Kennedy/Maria Elena Durazo/Michelle Obama rally at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion didn’t rank as a nuclear event. Quite.
Shriver showed after a Sunday horse outing, in riding attire sans makeup or special coif, deciding finally after days of consideration to endorse Obama. “The more I thought about it,” she said, “I thought you know if Barack Obama was a state, he’d be California. I mean, think about it – diverse, open, smart, independent, bucks tradition, innovative, inspiring, dreamer, leader. And the thing I like the best … he’s not about himself. He’s about us. We’re at the epicenter of change,” she said. “We can lead this country. So I would ask you to go out to follow your heart, to be proud that you’re doing that, and to remember that so goes California, so goes the nation.”
Here, incidentally, was a tell that this might happen. When Barack Obama held his dramatic rally last Monday at the American University in Washington with Ted Kennedy (JFK’s brother) and Caroline Kennedy, (JFK’s daughter), there was actually another Kennedy on hand as well. Which went unreported. That Kennedy was JFK’s sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, whose health now does not put her in the position of making big rally speeches. Eunice, a familiar figure from NWN videos, is also, in addition to being the founder of Special Olympics, the mother of Maria Shriver and mother-in-law of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Her husband and Maria’s father, Sargent Shriver, among many things founded the Peace Corps.
How this all turns out is still in flux. Romney is cancelling out of Missouri, where he’s running third behind McCain and Huckabee, and suddenly rushing back to California to try to cement a win.
Since California, unlike the other big Republican states, is not winner-take-all, it’s a bit problematic for him. But he can use any psychological boost he can get. Schwarzenegger, meanwhile, will campaign for McCain today. And presumably not be sounding the general election message he signaled last week, when he talked up the environment and McCain’s ability to “work across the aisle.” Former Governor Pete Wilson, a colleague of McCain’s from the Armed Services Committee on which the Vietnam War hero has long served, is also pitching in.
Hillary Clinton campaigns today in Massachusetts, where she still led, last I checked, and in Connecticut, where she has lost her lead, holds a national “virtual town hall” on her web site and the Hallmark Channel, and ends the day trying to be amusing on Late Night with David Letterman.
Barack Obama holds rallies tomorrow in New Jersey, where he’s pulled into a tie with Hillary, Connecticut, where he leads, and Massachusetts.
As consequential as the twenty-odd state contests in both parties are on Tuesday, this is not all there is to the week.
This coming Saturday brings the Louisiana primary, the Kansas Republican primary, the Nebraska Democratic caucuses, and the Washington state caucuses. And a week from Tuesday brings several Southern primaries, in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. On balance, these contests look pretty good for Barack Obama and John McCain.
Hillary Clinton has one big thing going for her tomorrow.
There’s a score of contests, and not enough time for Obama to campaign fully in them. (Obama is now quite famous, but Hillary has depth of fame. Democrats know more about her, making it easier for her campaign to shoot him down, as it did in New Hampshire, with highly questionable charges.) Even in California. I said weeks ago that if Obama had two full days of campaigning in California, doing the right things, he would beat Clinton there. He didn’t have those two days, because he had to get better known really fast in states around the country. And yet he may beat her anyway, in a state that Bill Clinton — now here in a last ditch effort to stave off defeat — called his own through the eight years of his presidency.
Hillary will have little opportunity to reassert her former dominance in the next few weeks. Tomorrow is the best turn in the calendar she had going for her until March.