There's some strange analysis of the 2008 presidential race in a new AP story by Ron Fournier.
First, a Democratic consultant I've never heard of claims that John McCain will be the "heavy favorite" in the Republican primaries -- an implausible claim given how much he's disliked by establishment conservatives:
If you want to be the next president, it's time to start running -- unless your name is Hillary Rodham Clinton or John McCain. They can wait. And wait, as front-runners tend to do. "They're 800-pound gorillas," says Democratic consultant Jeff Link of Iowa. "They're well-known, well-liked and will be heavy favorites in their respective parties."
Later, Fournier claims that McCain is "favored by a majority of Democrats and independents":
McCain has the opposite problem. He is favored by a majority of Democrats and independents who would vote in a general election, but his support among Republicans is less than ideal.
But, while it's true that McCain has high favorability ratings among Democrats and independents, the most recent trial heat that breaks down support for McCain by party -- the Quinnipiac University Poll from March 2-7, 2005 -- shows that Democrats would vote for Hillary Clinton over McCain in a 2008 race 73%-15%, and independent support of McCain also fars short of a majority (44%-34%). Meanwhile, Republicans would vote for McCain 79%-7%.
This raises an interesting question -- why is John McCain so well-liked by Democrats? I went back and looked at his favorability ratings over time. Here's a plot of the major polls that have consistently asked voters whether they have a favorable impression of him:
As you can see, McCain spiked upward in popularity at the time he made his run in the 2000 presidential primaries, and has barely declined since -- even though he has generally been a strong defender of President Bush.
The reason, I think, is that Democratic politicians don't criticize McCain (some even ask him to be their vice presidential nominee). He's more or less the only partisan politician who Democrats and Republicans generally praise. As a result, the public likes him across the board -- the Quinnipiac poll shows his favorabe ratings as 37% favorable, 8% unfavorable among Republicans; 31% favorable, 8% unfavorable among Democrats; and 40% favorable, 9% unfavorable among independents.
But this will inevitably change if McCain runs in 2008. The reason is that he's never received significant Democratic criticism. He was defeated in 2000 before the Democrats felt the need to open up on him, and since then they all praise him because they want to look bipartisan and co-sponsor bills with him in Congress. But he won't get the Republican nomination unless he starts unloading on the Democrats, and if he does get nominated (which I think is unlikely), things will turn around really quickly. Pretty soon Democrats will start pointing out that he's a pro-life, ultra-hawkish, government-cutting conservative, and his favorability profile will start to look like most other Republicans. And even though McCain's numbers look great today, few Democrats would actually vote for him -- if he's only getting 15% against Hillary Clinton right now, imagine what he'd draw against a more moderate Democrat like John Edwards at the end of a vicious presidential campaign.
This is how partisan politics works. Why Ron Fournier and Jeff Link can't figure it out is beyond me.
Note: The Economist has a good column on McCain in this week's issue (subscribers only). I'll update this post with a quote once I can pull it up in Nexis.