Dan Balz in the Washington Post notes that leading candidates for president are pitching their message to the base of their respective parties even as independent voters, who were decisive in 2006, seem uncomfortable with the message the two bases want to hear. This dynamic is not particularly novel, but the added twist in this cycle is that independent voters seem substantially less hostile to the core Democratic message than to that of Republicans, especially when it comes to the war in Iraq.
I think Balz is right about this, but the two leading Republican contenders have a countervailing advantage — both McCain and Giuliani have pre-existing credentials as moderates whereas the leading Dems do not. This, along with their stature, presumably explains why despite the fact that independent voters now lean Democratic, MdCain and Giuliani do well in polls matching them up against the top Democratic contenders.
Unfortunately, though, the war in Iraq is such a politically poisonous issue that by continuing to support President Bush, McCain and Giuliani risk gradually losing their built-in advantage with independents. Joe Lieberman avoided that fate in 2006, but two more years of bad news from Iraq (if that’s what the war produces) might well preclude any Republican from doing so on a national scale.
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