GOP Candidate Poll Shifts; Still Too Early

Turning our eyes to the 2008 presidential campaign, we find that newly announced Republican candidate Fred Thompson has gotten a minor bump in polls, while down and outer John McCain may be seeing some sparks of life after his campaign was doomed to failure not long ago.

And as the sportscasters put it, that’s why they play the game.

Following a rather lackluster announcement that he is running for the highest office in the land, Fred Thompson has seen a small 3 point bump in the polls.  Perhaps this is cause for “Fredheads” to cheer, but I wouldn’t be too quick with the celebration as of yet.

For one, 3 points, especially when the frontrunner is leading you by a double digit margin, is definitely not something to write home about.  This is particularly true when something as earth shattering as a widely anticipated official announcement occurs.  I liken it to the 5 point bump that Kerry got following the Democratic Convention in 04.  Five points may sound nice, but not so much when you think that that was one of the smallest bumps following a convention ever.

So too does Fred’s numbers look at this point.  Though he breaks the 20% ceiling by announcing his candidacy, I don’t see it as a particularly hopeful achievement for the Thompson campaign.  For one, primary voting takes place only a few months from now, and while Thompson’s numbers might be up, in order to compete with the rest of the field, his organization has to be there, and news reports seeping from the campaign have shown anything but a strong and tight organization.

Further, his announcement is perhaps the last bit of free and easy press Thompson’s likely to get for the rest of the primary season.  From here on in, he’s going to have to test his words and ideas directly against the competition, no small feat.  He’s going to have to perform in debates, and make frequent campaign stops to New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina.  The debates will probably be the most harrowing as his mere having to share the spotlight alone is likely to diminish the aura surrounding the candidacy.

But his ideas are going to be out there which may not necessarily favor the Republican hopeful as well.  Thus far, speaking engagements for the former Tennessee senator and lobbyist have been met with largely luke warm reception, leading one to believe that he needs to crank it up a notch, or he’s done.

Further, back when Thompson’s campaign was still in the “testing the water” phase earlier this summer, I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine over at the Newshoggers, Fester.  We were speculating the possible success of the Thompson campaign, and I remember making a simple assertion at the time I think is now extremely relevent.

Do not watch the immediate polls following the announcement.  He will obviously get some kind of a bump, but the true indicator of whether or not he will be able to go the distance will be his numbers a month to a month and a half out, and polling data directly following his first debate or two.  That’s the important stuff to watch for.

Considering his post announcement bump was merely a blip, that really puts pressure on Thompson to get out there and knock socks off, something he could still do, but will be harder given the circumstances.

Now on to McCain.  While Thompson’s 3 point bump is insignificant in Fredland, McCain’s 4 point bump is actually cause for celebration in McCainland, though not much.  Maybe a quick smile and fist pump and then it’s back to work because that is what is doing it for the McCain camp.

What people often times forget is that McCain’s 2000 presidential bid had some serious troubles as well, but after restructuring his organization, and with more than just a little hard work, McCain came back, and the fate of the 2000 Republican Nomination came down to South Carolina where McCain fell largely due to some pretty foul character assassination in regards to his adopted Bangledeshi daughter Bridget.

The point is this, people thought him down and out as he failed to raise revenue for his campaign, and the immigration issue was literally burying him alive.  But with the defeat of the immigration bill, that particular burden only barely weighs down on the campaign, while the big issue now for him is Iraq, one that he is particularly strong on.  On top of that, given his history, McCain has arguably more credibility on the issue than any other rival in the GOP field today (yes Rudy, that means you too).

His campaign stripped down to a skeleton crew, McCain seems ready to really dig in and do the hard work, as evidenced by his most recent showing at the debates.  While Huckabee and Ron Paul may have stolen some of the spotlight, what is widely regaded as one of McCain’s best performances seems to have translated into a four point bump; even better for him, this bump seems to come almost directly at the cost of Mitt Romney whom McCain bumped from the number three spot in the process.

Simply put, McCain may not have a shot, but as I said way back in June, he’s a tough SOB, and he’s going to hobble on until there’s simply no breath in him before he calls it quits.  Someone with that kind of determination should never be counted out too early.

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