Pure Horserace: A Uniter, Not A Divider?

Democratic presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, of Illinois addresses a crowd as he campaigns in Sioux City, Iowa, Monday, Aug. 6, 2007, at Irving Elementary School. (AP Photo/Sioux City Journal, Jerry Mennenga) **NO SALES, MAGS OUT** AP/SiouxCityJournal/Mennenga

In an interview with the Washington Post today, Barack Obama reiterated his belief that, among the Democratic field at least, only he has the ability to change the culture of Washington and bring the nation together. While both he and Hillary Clinton are running on a message of "change," Obama said, "I think it is fair to say that I believe I can bring the country together more effectively than she can."

Sound familiar? In the 2000 presidential campaign, then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush told the country he was a lot of things — a "compassionate conservative," a "reformer with results," and, most importantly, a "uniter, not a divider."

To appeal to independent and moderate voters ready for something different, the Bush campaign touted their candidate's success in working with Democrats in Texas, most visibly his close relationship to then-Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, a Democratic power broker in the state. That across-the-aisle model, they claimed, would help to usher in a new era of cooperation in Washington and turn the page on the partisan mudslinging that came to define the Clinton years.

Several elections and a long, hard slog of a war later, the country is as bitterly divided as ever. Democrats are emboldened by their electoral successes in 2006 and the unpopularity of the current administration. Even Republican candidates like Mitt Romney are talking about "change."

But Obama wants more. "The question is, moving forward, looking towards the future, is it sufficient just to change political parties, or do we need a more fundamental change in how business is done in Washington?" he told the Post. "Do we need to break out of some of the ideological battles that we fought during the '90s that were really extensions of battles we fought since the '60s?" If Democrats represent change in this election, Obama is selling transformation.

Obama seems to be making the point that Clinton cannot win the presidency because many Americans have strong opinions about her — particularly on the negative side of the ledger. It's an argument that may resonate with some Democratic primary voters who want to win the White House in 2008 above their loyalty to any one candidate. It may be an effective argument to make to Democratic voters, but how would it look in October 2008?

Democrats are hungry for change — a specific brand of change. They may well win the White House on a platform that represents the party's position on issues ranging from Iraq to terrorism, health care, taxes and trade, but that won't wipe out generation of bitter differences. Elections are waged by making sharp distinctions with the opposition, not accommodations — and Democrats are in no mood to accommodate at the moment. If he's right and the country has been carrying on these partisan and ideological fights for more than four decades, it is hard to imagine how this year's election will be any different regardless of who the candidates may be. We cynics will only believe it when we see it, but for now, Obama's self-proclaimed ability to "bring the country together" seems likely to end up in the same place as Bush's promise to be a "uniter, not a divider" — and long before the 2008 election. — Vaughn Ververs


Back To The Status Quo? In late July an American Research Group poll on the Democratic race in New Hampshire won a lot of attention after showing Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both tied at 31 percent support. Coupled with a similar poll result from Iowa, reporters eagerly portrayed the race between the two as tightening heading into fall.

But a couple of polls released since then may have thrown some cold water on that analysis. The first survey, a joint project between Democratic firm Hart Research and Republican pollster McLaughlin and Associates, released Aug. 10, showed Clinton with a wide lead in New Hampshire, with 36 percent support, compared to 19 percent for Obama. A new Rasmussen Reports survey released today shows similar results, with Clinton at 37 percent to Obama's 22 percent.

ARG has a pretty good reputation, but looking at the all the numbers we've seen over the months, including the two most recent surveys, its poll looks like an outlier. Whether that's truly the case will only be known for sure once more polls are released — and have no doubt, there will be plenty of them. — David Miller


Tuning Back In To YouTube: After looking like a lost cause for a couple weeks, a proposed YouTube debate among the Republican candidates, similar to the one Democrats participated in last month, is back on the calendar, slated for Nov. 28. Even Rudy Giuliani, who flat out declined the initial invite, is on board now. But there's still one holdout: the debate's harshest critic, Mitt Romney.

Soon after the Democratic debate, Romney said, "I think the presidency ought to be held at a higher level than having to answer questions from a snowman." He was referencing a question from the Democrats' debate in which an animated snowman asked about combating global warming. He never committed to the original debate and has yet to accept an invite to the one in November.

Romney might want to swallow his pride on this one, however. He may gain little from attending, but if he skips, he risks the ire of a coalition of conservative bloggers who, through the Web site SaveTheDebate.com, helped pressure the GOP hopefuls into accepting the invitation. One of the chief backers of that effort is Ann Marie Curling, who runs the Elect Romney in 2008 blog.

Republican bloggers aren't quite the force the Democrats' netroots have turned into, but angering an influential group of conservatives may not be the best follow up to Romney's Ames Straw Poll victory. — David Miller


Truth Be Told: Sometimes a poll is so far off-base that the pollster wonders whether respondents were lying. And there have even been organized campaigns to get people to lie while taking surveys. But is lying actually all that common in polls? Not really, says CBS News director of surveys Kathy Frankovic in this week's Poll Positions. But there's more to it than that: While not engaging in outright deception, people have been known to stretch the truth with pollsters, suffer from foggy memories, or even base their answers on popular sentiment instead of their own actions. To learn more about how and why voters sometimes give less-than-accurate information to pollsters, read this week's column.


Editor's note: Pure Horserace is a daily update of political news as interpreted by the political observers at CBSNews.com. Click here to sign up for the e-mail version.

By Vaughn Ververs and David Miller
  • David Miller

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