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-----Two hundred and seventy three years ago, when this Presidential election cycle began, it was generally agreed that it would be the most wide-open election for President since at least 1952.
There is no sitting President or Vice President in either party to claim the title of "Nominee Presumptive." That has not happened since Harry Truman's Vice President, Alben Barkley, decided that, as he would be 75 years old shortly after election day, he would not run for election as President.
On the Democratic side, the closest thing to a sure bet has been Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) whose campaign has been based on the inevitability of her nomination and eventual election.
On the Republican side, the early favorite was Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) who, the theory went, was next-in-line among GOP primary voters because of his run in 2000.
The McCain campaign had to go into Chapter 11 in mid-year when the amount of money it could raise did not match the amount of money called for in the campaign plan, and ceded the title of front-runner to Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
The Clinton campaign was caught unawares by the ferocity of support for Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and has had to raise and spend enormous amounts of money to maintain its lead in the national polls.
Polls are now being released on an average of every 47 minutes. There is a basic principal that political pros use to read polls and that is to treat them like the scoring in Olympic figure skating competitions: You throw out the high and the low score (knowing that, back in the day, the East Germans and the French were cheating) and the remaining scores are probably pretty close to what actually happened on the ice.
Current research is extremely difficult to read on a poll-by-poll basis because you have to know if the pollster is testing all adults, registered voters, or likely voters, and whether the poll is looking at national results or the results within a specific state.
This week, a USAToday/Gallup poll was released and showed Hillary Clinton was still leading nationally but her support among Democrats had slid from 48% - tantalizingly close to the coveted 50% mark - down to only 39%. That is still a lead of 15 percentage points over Obama, but a long way from the 26 point lead she had enjoyed only two weeks previous.
On the GOP side, Rudy Giuliani's support nationally has gone from 34% in September to only 25% in this week's poll. Among the rest of the GOP field, Mike Huckabee has gone from essentially an asterisk to 16% in this poll putting him, according to Gallup "essentially in a tie" with former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN) and McCain at 15% and former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) at 12%.
[Reminder: I am a paid consultant to the Fred Thompson campaign.]Of more interest to the political pros are the state-by-state polls which are not conducted with the same regularity as the national polls.
On the D side, Clinton - who has been leading in Iowa as well as nationally - saw Obama leap frog over her in the most recent major poll which was conducted by the Des Moines Register. According to the Register Obama is now the choice of 28% of Iowa Dems while Clinton's national slide is mirrored in Iowa going from 29% in the previous poll to 25% in the survey release last Sunday.
Among Rs, Huckabee - who has spent about $12.73 total - has bulleted ahead of Romney - who may have spent some $8 MILLION in Iowa alone - by a span of five percentage points: 29% to 24%. In the previous Register poll, Huckabee was at 13% and Romney was at 29% meaning there has been a net change of 21 percentage points.
Does that mean Huckabee and Obama will emerge from Iowa on January 3 to march, with the "Big Mo" five days later, into the New Hampshire Primaries?
No. It is quite possible that John Edwards will make a late run in Iowa on the D side and Thompson (or even Ron Paul - remember where you read it first - may be the surprise of the Republican caucuses.
The only thing the Official Political Pundits have gotten correct about all this is: Even less than 30 days out from the Iowa Caucuses, no one knows what is going to happen.
On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the Gallup and Des Moines Register analyses of their polls; a Mullfoto which will put a smile on the face of 2nd Amendment fans everywhere, and a Catchy Caption of the Day.