Independents Voting in Early Contests May Shift Race to Bill Richardson

David Weigel of Reason, also guest posting at The Economist, noticed the same trend I discussed a couple of days ago. Bill Richardson is slowly moving up in the polls, and this is largely due to the support of independents. As I previously noted, when the latest Iowa poll results are broken down, Richardson leads among independents who plan to vote in the Democratic caucuses. Weigel both notes this trend, and discusses the influence of independents in the early states:

THE Politico‘s Ben Smith points to a clutch of new Democratic primary polls by American Research Group that show Barack Obama gaining in New Hampshire and South Carolina, and John Edwards falling a little bit everywhere. The only candidate gaining in both of those states and Iowa: Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico.

That’s been going on for a while. Pollster.com, which tracks the primaries and averages all the surveys, has noticed Mr Richardson gaining everywhere. In Iowa he’s gone from negligible numbers to the low teens, near Mr Obama. In New Hampshire he’s moving past Mr Edwards into third place.

But the internal numbers in that Smith-featured poll are fascinating: Mr Richardson’s making the biggest gains with independents. In South Carolina only 1% of Democrats support Mr Richardson, but 9% of independents do. In New Hampshire it’s 6% of Democrats and, again, 9% of independents. The Iowa poll’s the real blockbuster: Mr Richardson has an outright lead with 25% of the independent vote. That’s what’s pushing him into the first tier.

The Iowa and New Hampshire numbers matter; those are both states where independents can show up to the caucus or primary and signal their intention to vote Democratic. When I reported from New Hampshire in June, Ray Buckley, the state’s Democratic chairman, crowed that two-thirds of independents are planning to vote in his party’s primary. Nearly half (44%) of New Hampshire voters are registered independent. If Mr Buckley is right, there’ll be as many independents voting in Mr Richardson’s race as there will be Democrats.

As is typical of many libertarians, Weigel is skeptical that Richardson’s pro-market stance is what is making him attractive to Democrats. He discusses his post at The Economist back at Reason and writes, “He’s less ambitious about tax hikes than the rest of the Democrats and he calls himself a ‘market-oriented Democrat,’ but that shouldn’t necessarily excite Democrats.” Instead Weigel speculates in The Economist that Richardson’s success is due to him having “the most extreme Iraq pullout plan in the race—all troops out of the country, no permanent bases.”

I believe Richardson’s increasing success is due to his positions on both economic issues as well as Iraq. If Iraq was the only consideration, Obama, who generally comes in second with Democratic voting independents, would be the winner for his initial opposition to the war. The key here is that us independents may have voted Democratic in recent years but do not agree with the party on all issues. While our views do vary, for the most part we are opposed to the war, opposed to the abuses of power by the Bush administration, socially liberal, but are more skeptical of big government economic policies. Therefore Richardson is leading and John Edwards only receiving negligible support among us.

Looking at these trends in the polls, and considering that Richardson has considerable room to increase his support as he becomes better known, Richardson is well positioned to pull an upset. The influence of independents in Iowa and New Hampshire could greatly help Richardson and Obama while hurting Clinton and Edwards. Richardson remains a long shot, as John Kerry appeared to be in the summer and fall of 2004, but cannot be counted out. If we look at the realities of the race as opposed to polls at this moment, Richardson has moved ahead of Edwards and is solidly in third place in terms of chances to win the nomination. An win in Iowa, as some predict, or New Hampshire due to the predicted turn out among independents, could totally change the nature of the race.

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4 Comments

  1. 1
    Howard Wolfson, Jr. says:

    Then why isn’t Edwards attacking Richardson?

  2. 2
    Albert A. says:

    Because there isn’t anything to attack about Richardson!

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    There’s something to attack about every politician, especially as political attacks aren’t necessarily based upon fact.

    Actually it would be great if Edwards attacked Richardson in an honest manner and started a real debate as to the differences in their ideas. This could have a considerable influence on the direction of the party–wheter it heads in a populist/class warfare or libertarian-leaning free market direction.

    As for why Edwards isn’t attacking, there are a number of possibiliies. His campaign has been quite ineptly run, and possibly they don’t realize that Richardson poses such a threat. Possibly they figure that it is still most important to knock off the two strongest front runners, and then worry about Richardson if he remains a threat. Possibly they think that attacking Richardson would actually improve Richardson’s stature further as a top tier candidate.

  4. 4
    Stephen Cassidy says:

    For those that think the race is over – HRC has won and Richardson is just running for Vice President: Richardson is polling in Iowa at the same level John Kerry was the summer of 2003 (and far ahead of where Edwards was four years ago who finished a surprising second). Remember, almost half of the Iowa caucus voters in 2004 didn’t choose a candidate until less than a month before the election. In New Hampshire, Richardson is at 12%, only 3 points behind Edwards in the latest poll.

    Richardson was the only Democrat aside from Obama to show an increase in donations in the 2Q over the 1Q 2007. He has strong organizations in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. He has enough money on hand to run competitive races in each of those states. HRC and Obama can’t risk spending all their money on the early caucus/primary states or they’ll have nothing for Super Tuesday on February 5th.

    The only governor competing for the Democratic nomination, Richardson is uniquely positioned to win in November 2008. Over the past 30 years four governors have won the presidency. In the entire history of our nation, only two senators have accomplished that feat.

    The dominant issue in the campaign for Democrats is the Iraq War. Of the top four Democratic candidates Richardson has the only crystal clear, unambiguous approach that most Democrats favor – a total withdraw of our forces. Richardson understands the path the U.S. must take to get out of Iraq. For the Senators our withdrawal will be a long and slow march. The intervention will continue for years to come if one of them is elected President. See http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/12/us/politics/12dems.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

    Once Democrats in Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire focus on the race and this particular issue, Richardson’s poll numbers will further improve.

    Richardson is one of four persons in America that will be the Democratic nominee for President. Richardson is a master at retail politics. The more voters get to know him, the more support he generates.

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