More polls: Clinton and McCain rise nationally, but Nevada has tight races (plus g-e surveys with more good news for McCain)

Let's start by recognizing John McCain's incredibly strong poll numbers today. Combine this morning's poll diary with this one, and he leads in every single primary poll that has been released -- and there are six of them: He has big leads in two South Carolina polls, and is ahead in Michigan, in Nevada and in Florida (two polls there) -- and though some of these are by small margins he has barely campaigned at all in NV and FL for now. He is also surging in the national polls and looks very strong in the blue states of WA and OR in the general election (see below). It could all go very quickly if McCain wins Michigan tomorrow (and that's a big if; if Romney gets Michigan the GOP race could sink into further chaos).

And now let's see the details of those polls. First up, Nevada, which is the un-polled contest, the state that no pollster is delving into given that Nevada is holding caucuses, notoriously hard to survey (the only reason anyone tries Iowa is that there is a lot of previous experience in the state). But Research 2000 delved into it today and released the following survey:

  • In the Democratic race, it's a three way tie: Barack Obama gets 32%, followed by Hillary Clinton at 30% and John Edwards at 27%.
  • Among Republicans, it's 22% for McCain and 18% for Giuliani, followed by Huckabee at 16% and Romney at 15%.
There are two striking results in this poll. First, John Edwards is very much still in the race here, and you be sure that has much to do with the fact that this is a caucus. Though the big problem that Edwards is facing is that he has even less support from labor than he did in Iowa: The SEIU here is supporting Obama and so is the biggest labor group (the culinary workers' union).

The second striking result is Romney's coming in fourth. He is without a doubt the candidate who has spent the most resources and time in Nevada -- and he is likely to do so even more in the coming days now that he seems to have conceded South Carolina. The press seems to be treating Romney as the favorite in Nevada for that reason, but this poll suggests Romney does not have an advantage in these caucuses after all.

But as we said, look at the poll with a skeptical eye. The way pollsters can figure out who is a "likely voter" is by looking at whether they have caucuses before; but this is the first time Nevada has played a role like this in the nominating process, so most indicators that are available are muddied.

Meanwhile, Rasmussen released a primary poll from South Carolina in both parties:

  • In the Republican primary, McCain is pulling ahead, now leading 28% to 19% for Huckabee and 17% for Romney. Thompson is at 16%, a 4% rise in a few days -- almost all of it at Huckabee's expense (remember that Fox debate last Thursday?). Rudy is only at 5%.
  • In the Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton has cut the margin by more than half, trailing 38% to 33% "only" while she was down 12% last week. Obama is ahead by 23% among black voters and Clinton is up by 19% among white voters, with Edwards taking 31% of that group's vote, ahead of Obama as well -- which is further proof of how racialized the vote in this state is becoming. Note that this morning's PPP poll of SC showed no such tightening.
Clinton and McCain's rise in South Carolina are parallel to their surges in the latest national Gallup poll, that has McCain going up from 19% to 33% in a week, with Huckabee and Giuliani to 19% and 13% respectively. In the Democratic race, it was a 33-33 tie last week, with Edwards at 20%. Now, Clinton is ahead at 45% with Obama at 33% and Edwards at 13%. And before we dismiss national polls, don't forget that February 5th is pretty much a national primary day so these polls are going to become relevant very soon -- possibly for the first time in primary history.

Finally, SUSA released three general election polls today -- and they confirm that John McCain is the most electable of the Republicans, by far (just as in Saturday's CNN national poll that has McCain running about 15% better than his rivals):

  • In Missouri, first, John McCain defeats Clinton 50% to 44% and crushes Obama 51% to 40%. Huckabee also does very well, edging out Clinton 47% to 45% and Obama 51% to 41%.
  • Clinton and Obama both beat Giuliani (47-43 and 47-44) and Romney (49-42 and 48-43).

  • Oregon is even more striking. Compare the domination of Clinton and Obama against Giuliani (52-39 and 56-35), Romney (54-38 and 57-34) and Huckabee (54-40 and 55-38) and the stunning strength McCain displays, beating Clinton 49-45 and tying Obama 47-47.

  • Results in Washington are similar but less dramatic, though Clinton runs weaker than Obama. She loses 49-46 to McCain but Obama beats him 52-43. Neither trembles against Giuliani (51-38 and 57-35), Romney (54-38 and 63-32), and Huckabee (54-40 and 60-35).
Two observations on electability. First, among Democrats. As we have often noticed over the months, Clinton runs slightly better than her rival among traditionally red states and especially in the South, and while Missouri is not in the South it has trended Republican lately. On the other other, Obama is often found to poll better out West.

It is much easier to draw conclusions in the GOP race. McCain's strength is so consistent it is really difficult to doubt that he would be the strongest general election contender. What is striking is how well Huckabee runs in Missouri and how poorly he does in Washington and Oregon; not that it is very surprising given the difference in the reception Huckabee received in Iowa and New Hampshire. For now at least, Huckabee's base is the evangelical vote -- and that base is much stronger in the Midwest than in coastal states.

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