Sometimes conventional wisdom can be, well, so conventional. That was the clear lesson coming from a recent gathering of illustrious and long-time Beltway movers and shakers who got together in celebration of Marty Plissner's 80th birthday. For those of you who don't know (and shame on you for it), Plissner was the longtime political director for CBS News. For years, he and wife Susan Morrison, a former television producer and political editor, ran one of the most prestigious social events in political geekdom – the Plissner-Morrison poll.
Starting in 1975, the couple began holding in informal parties a year before the presidential primary season and polled attendees about the prospects of the electoral year to come. As the years wore on, the list of notable insiders grew – as did the legend of the poll. It ended with the 1996 campaign, when Plissner began wrapping up his years at CBS News but was resurrected in part for a reunion last week. (Full disclosure here, in 1996 I was hired by and worked for Plissner and political editor Dotty Lynch at CBS News; my sort-of-editor, Dick Meyer, was hired by Plissner in 1985).
Most of the participants in this year's poll are longtime veterans of the survey and while I was unable to get firm numbers on the total votes cast (a couple dozen or more from first-hand accounts), I did manage to get a breakdown. Here's how the Plissner-Morrison insiders see the political landscape breaking down over the next two-and-a-half years:
A majority of the straw poll participants (55%) predicted that Democrats will take control of the House of Representatives in this year's midterm elections but only 20% believed Republicans will lose control of the U.S. Senate. When it comes to picking the GOP presidential nominee in 2008, Arizona Senator John McCain was the choice of most (55%), followed by Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (25%) and Virginia Senator George Allen (10%). These insiders see a two-way battle for the Democratic nod, with 70% tapping New York Senator Hillary Clinton and 25% picking 2004 Vice Presidential nominee John Edwards. In the '08 general, 40% pick the Republicans to win, 35% say the Dems will and 5% picked New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to win as an independent. A full 20% admitted to not knowing (such humility!).
And 50% believe the U.S. will still be in Iraq in 2010.
Hillary vs. McCain? Does it get more conventional than that? But remember, sometimes the conventional is also wise. In 1996, the last time this straw poll was conducted, Bob Dole was picked to be the GOP nominee. Of course, he was also picked to win the White House and we all know what happened there. We'll see how well this group fares the time around but, conventional or not, it doesn't get much wiser than the Plissner-Morrison crowd.