Polling by Scott Rasmussen detects no adverse effects on Hillary Clinton from this week’s debate. His tracking polls show that support for Clinton among Democrats actually ticked up slightly in the two days after the debate.
The absence of a negative bounce isn’t surprising. For one thing, few people saw the debate. For another, as I noted earlier, the impact of any stumbles by Clinton may be largely, if not entirely, offset by the sympathy factor.
Rasumussen notes that the full effect of the debate on the primaries won’t be known until after her opponents use Clinton’s poor responses in ad campaigns in the early primary states. I can imagine John Edwards getting a little traction from this in Iowa, where he’s fairly popular and where the caucus-goers have a strong sense of their own importance in the process. Overall, however, the pathology of the Democratic party is such that Hillary basically can’t lose. If she dwarfs the Democrats she debates, the response is “you go girl.” If they get the better of her, she benefits from the victim mentality of alll-too-many female voters in the base. If nothing much happens, she continues to cruise to the nomination.
The good news, of course, is that this dynamic will not hold in the general election. In that context, her performance will be judged more or less objectively by the swing voters who will decide the election. On the other hand, the question won’t be, did Hillary stumble or not; the question will be how she performed compared to her one opponent. There’s no reason to assume she won’t perform capably, although my sense is that Giuliani for one, if he’s the candidate, may well outperform her.
The selection of the moderators for next fall’s debates should be fascinating. Other things beng equal, the Republican candidate might be better off with a female moderator. Presumably such a moderator would feel constrained not to throw Clinton too many softballs. With a female moderator, moreover, there can no question of men ganging up on Hillary. For these reasons, Clinton might push for male moderators, though probably not Tim Russert.
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