Clinton and McCain Grab Big Leads?

That’s what CNN says. Their latest national poll shows Hillary Clinton leading Barack Obama by 49% to 36%, with John Edwards trailing with 12%. On the Republican side, CNN has McCain jumping out to a substantial lead with 34% of the vote, followed by Huckabee at 21%–those are words I never thought I’d type–Guiliani at 18% and Romney at 14%. (Via Real Clear Politics.) Such, perhaps, is the dramatic consequence of New Hampshire.
Well, maybe. But count me as a skeptic. CNN interviewed a grand total of 443 Democrats and 397 Republicans. And these were registered voters, not likely voters, let alone voters who are likely to vote in a primary. Talking to 400 Republicans scattered across the United States, probably 75% or more of whom won’t vote in a primary or attend a caucus, doesn’t give us much guidance.
Still, the primary season so far does teach some lessons. The issues that caused Republican activists to write McCain off six month ago–illegal immigration, taxes and campaign finance–evidently don’t have the same weight in the world at large. Voters have always chosen Presidents mostly by sizing up the man (or person, this year). Character generally trumps, within a pretty broad range, policy preferences. And, frustrating as this orientation may be to those who focus on policy, history suggests that the voters’ focus on character is usually wise.
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