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Clinton and Obama Camps Both Cheered by Polls

Will winter-weather voting bode well for Clinton? (AP).

DES MOINES -- Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama found good news overnight in the latest polls that continue to cascade down on Campaign 2008, and their campaigns moved quickly Wednesday morning to spin the Democratic race in their directions.

The good news for Obama came in a new University of New Hampshire survey for CNN and WMUR-TV. Long seen as a Clinton stronghold, New Hampshire has suddenly become a second competitive battleground in the Democratic nomination contest. The new poll showed Clinton now in a statistical tie with Obama, 31 percent to 30 percent.

The good news for Clinton came in a Washington Post-ABC News national poll, which showed Clinton with the biggest lead of the year over Obama and the other Democrats in the race, and an earlier AP/IPSOS poll that also showed her with a big lead. In the Post-ABC poll, Clinton was at 53 percent to 23 percent for Obama and 10 percent for John Edwards among likely voters.

Clinton's campaign reacted by sending out an e-mail with a memo from chief strategist Mark Penn, touting the New York senator's national margins, and a shifting issue terrain (less concern about Iraq, more about domestic issues) that he said plays to her strengths. Obama's campaign sent out an e-mail highlighting the New Hampshire results and a story warning of an imminent Clinton attack.

At this point in the campaign, with Iowa's caucuses 22 days away and the New Hampshire primary five days after that, national polls historically have been far less valuable indicators of the state of play than are polls in the earliest states. Penn has argued for months that this year might be different.

The reason that state polls carry more weight now is that the electorates in places like Iowa and New Hampshire are far ahead of voters elsewhere in taking a measure of the candidates. They have seen and heard the candidates in person, absorbed the considerable amount of coverage that local television stations and newspapers have devoted to the races in their states and watched the wall-to-wall ads the candidates are running on the local news.

National polls at this stage generally reflect an electorate that is weeks if not months behind voters in the early states and whose views of the race likely will be changed rapidly by the results in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

But the Clinton campaign has argued that, because of the new calendar and the fact that almost two dozen states will hold contests on Feb. 5, long-standing national perceptions of the candidates could be more important than in past campaigns.

"They are indicative of her support across Feb. 5th states and she is quite different from other candiates in the primary race," Penn wrote in an e-mail message Wednesday. "She has deep support in the big states based on years of knowing her and that is ultimately hard to overcome."

The Obama campaign has the opposite view. In their analysis, Obama has faced a major hurdle because most voters don't really know him. They have said for months that the longer he had to introduce himself, the more voters would like him. His strength in Iowa and now his growing strength in New Hampshire, they say, confirms their approach.

"National polls, and most importantly polls in Feb 5 states, will likely look much different after New Hampshire," David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager said in an email. "We believe Senator Clinton's support is very thin -- as is evidenced in some of the early states now -- and if she is unable to win both Iowa and New Hampshire her support levels will erode quickly. We are also the best organized in Feb 5 states, allowing us to take advantage of a shifting national dynamic."

They said for months they were not concerned about Clinton's lead in national polls. Earlier, when he appeared to be struggling in New Hampshire and was making only slow progress in Iowa, their assertions sounded like excuses. Now, they are quick to say, gently, we told you so.

Nothing in the way the Clinton campaign is operating, however, suggests anything other than concern about the state of the race right now, regardless of national polls. If anything, the Penn memo was designed as a way to reassure nervous Clinton supporters that, regardless of the fact that she in a very difficult fight in Iowa and New Hampshire, they should not despair about the longer-term prospects for her nomination.

Here in Iowa, advisers to the leading candidates discount even state polls of potential caucus-goers. They are focused on their own numbers. Each night they are calling thousands of Iowans. They are canvassing door-to-door, sizing up people who have said they will support their candidate to determine whether that person will actually turn out on the night of Jan. 3, particularly if the weather is bad.

The Clinton camp in particular doubts some of what has shown up in public polls, particularly her apparent erosion among women voters. The Obama campaign clearly senses even more forward motion for their candidate than the dead-heat polls indicate -- and other signs on the ground here support that view.

There will be many more polls in the next few weeks measuring attitudes here, in other early states and nationally. They will offer one view of where things stand. But the best measure will be to watch the candidates -- listen to what they say and whether they are positive or negative, watch where they spend their time and take their advisers' interpretations with a dose of skepticism.

The voters are soon to speak and there's never been a campaign in which their entry into the process, after months and months of inside chatter and analysis and predictions, hasn't changed things. Often in dramatic ways

--Dan Balz

By Post Editor  |  December 12, 2007; 4:15 PM ET
Categories:  A_Blog , B_Blog , Dan Balz's Take  
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