Friday, June 25, 2004
Prompted by the Harris poll showing a ten point lead for President Bush among likely voters I speculated that the Normandy commemoration, the G-8 Summit, the formation of the new government in Iraq, the unanimous UN Security Council resolution and Reagan's death had perhaps provided a turning point in the race. Since then we have seen the release of three major polls (ABC News/Wash Post, CNN/Gallup/USA Today, FOX News/Opinion Dynamics) two of which support the contention there has been real movement towards the President, one which does not.

ABC/WP's poll indicated a four point shift towards Kerry among registered voters. Their poll from May 20-23 had the race tied 46%-46%, this week's poll taken June 17-20 has Kerry ahead 48%-44%. However, Gallup's poll showed a seven point swing towards President Bush among likely voters. Their poll from June 5-8 showed Kerry ahead 50%-44%, while the poll taken June 21-23 has Bush ahead 49%-48%. The FOX News/Opinion Dynamics poll shows the same seven point move towards President Bush. Their poll from June 8-9 had the race tied at 42%, the new poll taken June 22-23 has Bush ahead 47%-40%.

From a time standpoint the the ABC/WP isn't the same type of apple-to-apple comparison, since their previous poll was taken May 20-23, as opposed to the FOX & Gallup polls which were both taken in early June. But the FOX & Gallup polls do provide strong evidence that Bush has gained support from the first week in June. From a results standpoint all three lead to slightly different conclusions as Gallup suggests the race is tied, ABC/WP gives Kerry a 4-8 point lead, while FOX shows Bush ahead 6-7 points.

With FOX reporting a seven point lead for Bush suddenly Harris' 10-point Bush lead doesn't seem like such an outlier. In fact, when you look at RCP's 3-way poll page, it is the ABC/Wash Post poll that stands out as the only poll in the last eight that doesn't show Bush ahead.

I said after Kerry captured the nomination that these polls were going to bounce around and it would be a mistake to get caught up in a blip one way or the other (barring one side being able to establish a five plus point lead for more than a week). And I think that is still good advice until we get through Kerry's VP selection, the Boston convention and then the 9/11 anniversary and the GOP convention in New York.

But if I were a Kerry strategist I would not be feeling too hot right now. The idea parroted by the NY Times earlier this week, that Bush's TV barrage was more or less ineffectual is pure spin. The Bush ad assault on Kerry has had exactly the intended effect. You can see it in the unfavorable ratings where Kerry, in the FOX poll, has a higher unfavorable rating at 43% compared to Bush's 41%. Gallup and ABC/WP didn't have favorability results, but even if they are 4-7 points worse for Bush, for Kerry to have such high unfavorables is bad news. [LATE UPDATE: Gallup did have an unfavorable number on Kerry, it is 35%, eight points better than FOX's number.] Bush's high unfavorables make some sense given the polarization in the country and the fact he has been President for 3 1/2 years. Kerry on the other hand is a relative newcomer to the national scene and it is very bad news for him to have a higher unfavorability rating than President Bush. And make no mistake about it those unfavorable numbers are a direct result of the Bush ad campaign.

Other bad news for Kerry is the President's job approval appears to have stabilized in the high 40's. And results from the National Annenberg Election Survey of 1431 adults taken June 8 - June 21 give President Bush a 52% job approval. These type of job approval numbers aren't going to get it done for the Democrats, Kerry is going to need to see the President's job approval fall below 45% to have a real shot at winning this fall.

With the economy continuing to chug along and job growth finally flowing through the business pipeline, Kerry is left hoping for utter chaos in Iraq. Like I said at the beginning of the week at some point the day after day coverage of how awful it is in Iraq reaches a saturation point where all the bad news effectively gets "priced in." So even if Iraq remains an unstable mess, the media's relentless negativism has in many ways prepared the public for the worst. Which means we may have seen the bottom in the President's job approval a couple of weeks ago, and if that is the case Kerry is in big trouble. J. McIntyre 7:48 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Thursday, June 24, 2004
Jack Ryan is toast. The Sun-Times reports Ryan is "reassessing" his candidacy and the Tribune says he is exploring an "exit strategy."

Eric Zorn, columnist for the Chicago Tribune, is all over the story with a round up on his blog. Particularly damning was this piece from John Gizzi and David Freddoso at Human Events:

Jack Ryan, the Illinois GOP's nominee for the seat of outgoing Sen. Pete Fitzgerald (R.-Ill.), saw his campaign implode Tuesday after the release of highly embarrassing papers from the divorce custody battle over his nine-year-old son.

This came as a surprise to the two of us, despite the fact that we had heard rumors about Ryan--which in retrospect were surprisingly accurate. That's because Ryan looked both of us straight in the eyes and lied to us in an off-the-record lunch two weeks ago.

We've gotten a lot of email on the Ryan story, and it varies from those who think Ryan ought to get out immediately to those who say, "what's the big deal, he was with his wife and didn't break any laws" to people warning us not to make the mistake of conflating public and private morality.

The core of this story, however, isn't about Ryan's private morality or what he did or didn't do with his wife. The issue is the way Ryan handled the disclosure of the information with members of his party and the press. It's just that simple.

Imagine how different things would be if Jack had publicly disclosed years ago that he and his wife had gone through a nasty divorce and that terrible false accusations had been tossed around during the custody fight for their son.

Would the story still be out there? Sure. Could it still be used in a whispering campaign against Jack? Of course. But it would never have become a real issue in the race because the story would already be "old news" by definition and Jack would already be on record denying the allegations.

So the next question is, would having the story out there have prevented Jack from winning the nomination? Hard to say, but my guess is "no." I'm sure even the rumor of that sort of behavior in his past - true or not - would have turned off some conservative primary voters, but I don't know that it would have made much of a difference.

I also don't think there is a reporter worth his or her salt who would have taken a he-said/she-said case like this from a contentious divorce file and gotten in Jack's face demanding to know if the allegations were true or not.

Even if a reporter had gone that route, the question would have been easily brushed aside with a "I addressed that issue years ago" and a referral to his denials in the divorce settlement. It's a dead end, the story goes nowhere.

The lesson here is nothing more than another affirmation that honesty really is the best policy. It's so cliche but so damn true. We've all learned the lesson at one point or another. Jack is just learning the really hard way. - T. Bevan 3:24 pm Link | Email | Send to a Friend


A formula by a Yale University economist that has correctly predicted five of the last six elections shows President Bush winning in the biggest landslide since Ronald Reagan's 49-state victory in 1984. It says Bush is a shoo-in.

The economist in question is Ray Fair and the model he uses is based on a few basic economic factors. Fair's model currently predicts Bush will win 58% of the popular vote this November. For posterity, however, it should be pointed out that the only election out of the last six where Fair's model failed to accurately predict the winner was.....1992. Maybe it's a Bush thing.

The rest of the article by Susan Page is, well, let's just call it debatable. Along with economic indicators - which Page claims give an advantage to Bush - Page looks at five other "measurements" for predicting the outcome of presidential contests: Presidential job approval (advantage Kerry), war time support (advantage Bush), the outcome in Ohio (advantage Kerry), Dem nominee being from the South (advantage Bush), and the height of candidates (advantage Kerry).

All in all, Page looks at six categories and gives Kerry the advantage in three and Bush the advantage in three. It's a perfect toss-up! Or is it?

For example, on the section regarding Presidential Job approval, Page works off the conventional wisdom that a 50% job approval is the "magic number" and then cites their latest USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup number for Bush's job approval (which she may have to do for contractual reasons) at 47% as proof Kerry has the advantage.

But beyond that single number (which is nearly a month old, btw) five of the last nine polls taken show Bush's job approval at 50% or higher. We currently have Bush's average job approval rating at 49.4%. In other words, it's a bit silly to be so literal with 50.0% as a definitive "magic number", especially when there is ample evidence that Bush is at or above that mark.

Then there is this tidbit from Page's section on the predictive value of winning Ohio:

From Abraham Lincoln to George W. Bush, no Republican has been elected president without carrying Ohio. In 2000, Bush won the state, but by just 3.5 percentage points and only after Al Gore abandoned campaign efforts there.

This time, Kerry leads in three of the last four statewide polls, though in two of them the margin was too small to be statistically significant. The latest survey, taken by the Los Angeles Times June 5-8, put Kerry at 46%, Bush at 45%.

That's a red flag for Bush. At best, he's even in the Buckeye State. (emphasis added)

Unless Page has access to different polls than we do (which is certainly possible) I would think this has to be a typo. Because if you look at the latest poll numbers we have for Ohio, the exact opposite is true. Three of the last four polls out of Ohio favor President Bush. The LA Times poll is the only exception, and we know that the methodology of that poll was deeply flawed at the national level and also produced some wacky state numbers as well.

(LATE UPDATE: ARG just released a poll out of Ohio showing Kerry up 6. Just as a point of reference, this is actually a one-point gain for President Bush from where he was in their poll last month. To be fair to Page, the new ARG number adds additional evidence to support her claim that Kerry has an advantage over Bush in Ohio and that, "at best", the President is running even with Kerry. However, given that the polling was conducted from Monday the 21st through last night, it's unlikely Page knew about it at the time she wrote her article.)

(LATE LATE UPDATE: Fox News now has a poll out from Ohio showing Bush up 4. Sweet vindication! Just kidding. What this shows is that no single poll is really definitive proof of anything, and I still contend that on balance Bush probably has a slight edge in Ohio.)

Regardless, I think Page mischaracterizes the race in Ohio. Bush has a small lead there, roughly comparable to his margin of victory in 2000. How Page can write this up giving the advantage to John Kerry is a little bizarre - unless you take into account that she needed to massage the facts a bit in order to fit the "indicators say Presidential race is a toss up" theme of her piece.

Because really, if you were to cite the fact that there is evidence Bush's job approval is right at or over the "magic" 50% mark, and you were to accurately state that Bush has a small advantage in Ohio, by Page's calculations the only thing John Kerry would have left as an advantage in the Presidential race is the fact he's six foot-four. Maybe that's the truth, but it sure wouldn't make a very good front page story for USA Today, now would it?

JUST SLIP OUT THE BACK, JACK: Make a new plan, Stan. You don't need to be coy, Roy, just listen to me.....

You can hear the Paul Simon theme music playing in the background of this story from today's Chicago Sun-Times whose title and opening line read: "Republicans Band Together Against Ryan. They just want him to go away."

It's looking grim, folks. Despite the results of this snap poll conducted by CBS News the other day which showed voters backing Ryan to stay in the race by a pretty large margin (62-35), things have gelled quickly against him.

Late yesterday Denny Hastert cancelled a fundraiser for Ryan in DC. Apparently, Ryan tried to call the Speaker to talk but Hastert did not take his call.

That came on the heels of an AP story (which sat underneath a picture of Ryan on Drudge's web site all day long) that had RNC spokesperson Mary Jo Arndt essentially cutting Ryan's legs off:

"I feel he betrayed all of us by implying there was nothing detrimental in the sealed records," Arndt said. "I don't think he was protecting his son; I think he was protecting his political aspirations."

You don't see quotes like this unless they've been authorized at the highest levels.

Lynn Sweet points out that Ryan made things worse for himself by releasing his divorce documents on Monday, against the wishes of the Bush-Cheney team and smack dab in the middle of their tour to promote Jim Edgar as the Chairman of the President's reelect effort in Illinois.

The coup de grace is that apparently Ryan had told Edgar on the phone the night before there was nothing embarrassing in his divorce files, and Edgar spent Monday defending Ryan at press conferences, only to have the bomb dropped on him by Ryan Monday night.

In other words, this whole thing has been handled about as poorly as you could possibly imagine. Ryan now faces a bleak choice: leave the race under a cloud of scandal or forge ahead with little or no institutional support behind him toward an almost certain defeat in November. - T. Bevan 8:24 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Wednesday, June 23 2004
DEMINT CRUSHES BEASLEY: Fifty-nine to forty-one. Though Beasley was the top vote getter in the GOP primary just two weeks ago at 37%, he wasn't able to expand his appeal much beyond his base of support.

Demint moves on to face Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum in November to replace the retiring Fritz Hollings.

IS THE FORK IN JACK RYAN?: Given the polls we've seen over the last three months, it's not like Jack Ryan was in any danger of winning the Illinois Senate race against Barack Obama in the first place.

Still, despite Ryan's repeated assertions yesterday that he's staying in to the end, the allegations by his ex-wife that he took her to sex clubs and wanted her to engage in sexual acts in front of other people puts his future as the Republican candidate for the US Senate in serious doubt.

If Ryan does step aside, it probably won't be because of the sex stuff, though the imagery of the potential US Senator from the state of Illinois visiting places that have cages and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling certainly isn't going to help him win the votes of social conservatives and suburban women around the state.

The bigger problem is that it looks like Ryan misled members of the Republican establishment - not to mention thousands of GOP primary voters - about the embarrassing nature of the allegations.

When you have people like the head of the Illinois Republican Party Judy Baar Topinka and former Governor Jim Edgar saying in print that you didn't tell them the whole story, you're in a bit of trouble. It becomes even more serious when one of the two major papers in the city essentially repeals the endorsement they gave you during the GOP primary and tells you to "hit the road", as the Chicago Sun-Times did to Ryan this morning.

Just weeks ago I wrote that I thought this race would be a high-minded debate about the issues by two extremely intelligent men. It certainly doesn't look like that right now, and the prospect it will ever become such a race is likely to be diminished as long as Ryan stays in with these salacious allegations hanging around.

But he might. Lynn Sweet does a nice job of running down the factors at play that will influence Ryan's decision. One of the things working in Ryan's favor is that the Republican bench in Illinois isn't very deep. There are very few people waiting in the wings that are able or willing to step in at this point and run any more of a credible (not to mention an almost completely self-financed) campaign against Obama. As a result, Jack is probably going to get a lot less pressure to step aside than he otherwise would have if a suitable replacement was standing on deck.

Jim Edgar is probably the only person who could really make this a competitive race again, but he's already said no to the job twice - including this past year - and it's hard to imagine him wanting to do it now. - T. Bevan 8:24 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Tuesday, June 22, 2004
Greg Palast bills himself as "best known in the USA for his reports on the theft of the election in Florida and the connections between the Bush family and the Bin ladins which form the basis for Michael Moore's latest film."

So it wasn't a surprise to see this piece of lame, divisive propaganda appearing under his byline in the SF Chronicle on Sunday alleging a racial conspiracy to disenfranchise black voters in 2000. Palast asserts that of the 1.9 million "spoiled" votes in the 2000 election, more than half (53% to be exact) were cast by African-Americans, even though they make up only 12% of the population nationally.

Palast writes:

While investigating the 2000 ballot count in Florida for BBC Television, I saw firsthand how the spoilage game was played -- with black voters the predetermined losers.

Florida's Gadsden County has the highest percentage of black voters in the state -- and the highest spoilage rate. One in 8 votes cast there in 2000 was never counted. Many voters wrote in "Al Gore." Optical reading machines rejected these because "Al" is a "stray mark."

By contrast, in neighboring Tallahassee, the capital, vote spoilage was nearly zip; every vote counted. The difference? In Tallahassee's white- majority county, voters placed their ballots directly into optical scanners. If they added a stray mark, they received another ballot with instructions to correct it.

In other words, in the white county, make a mistake and get another ballot; in the black county, make a mistake, your ballot is tossed.

The U.S. Civil Rights Commission looked into the smelly pile of spoiled ballots and concluded that, of the 179,855 ballots invalidated by Florida officials, 53 percent were cast by black voters. In Florida, a black citizen was 10 times as likely to have a vote rejected as a white voter...

This "no count," as the Civil Rights Commission calls it, is no accident. In Florida, for example, I discovered that technicians had warned Gov. Jeb Bush's office well in advance of November 2000 of the racial bend in the vote- count procedures.

Herein lies the problem. An apartheid vote-counting system is far from politically neutral. Given that more than 90 percent of the black electorate votes Democratic, had all the "spoiled" votes been tallied, Gore would have taken Florida in a walk, not to mention fattening his popular vote total nationwide. It's not surprising that the First Brother's team, informed of impending rejection of black ballots, looked away and whistled. (emphasis added)

Palast paints quite an ominous and reprehensible picture, especially with respect to Florida: an "apartheid vote-counting system" where votes from white-majority counties (think "Republican") are counted and votes from black-majority counties (think "Democrat") are deliberately trashed while a nefarious Republican Governor looks the other way.

There's only one thing wrong with Palast's picture, of course: it isn't even close to being true.

The first problem with Palast's assertion is that it rests on the flawed statistical analysis of the US Civil Rights Commission. For starters, there is no racial data on individual voters, so the percentage of "spoiled" African-American votes Palast cites with such certitude is really an estimate based on statistical regressions of voter registration.

Secondly, the Commission's report emphasized results from county-level analysis and focused solely on the 2000 election without taking into consideration any historical factors such as previous levels of spoilage, etc.

Indeed, the Commission's analysis is constructed to lead people to the same simple, misguided conclusion that Palast proffers: race was the driving factor behind higher rates of disqualified ballots in Florida counties with larger numbers of registered African-American voters.

This ignores a whole host of reasons that may have contributed to higher spoilage rates in certain counties including literacy rates, voter error and standard machine error (which can't possibly discriminate based on race).

Dr. John Lott conducted a precinct-level analysis of disqualified ballots in Florida for USA Today that took into account data from 1996 and 2000 as well as demographic information. Lott found that a rise in a county's black population over time did not result in a similar rise in the rate of ballot spoilage, suggesting that race was not the causal factor at work.

(Ironically, Lott also discovered that the group most affected by ballot disqualification in Florida in 2000 was not African-American Democrats, but African-American Republicans. Though obviously a smaller percentage of the black voting population, they were 50 times more likely to have their ballot thrown out in 2000. Go figure.)

Palast's ridiculous charge of a "apartheid vote-counting system" with partisan motivations also crumbles when one stops to point out the obvious: the officials in charge of the counties in Florida that experienced the highest rates of spoilage were Democrats, and in some cases African-American Democrats.

Abigail Thernstrom and Russell Redenbaugh wrote in a comprehensive dissent to the US Civil Rights Commission report:

The majority report lays the blame for the supposed “disenfranchisement” of black voters at the feet of state officials—particularly Governor Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Katherine Harris. In fact, however, elections in Florida are the responsibility of 67 county supervisors of election. And, interestingly, in all but one of the 25 counties with the highest spoilage rates, the election was supervised by a Democrat—the one exception being an official with no party affiliation.

The majority report argues that much of the spoiled ballot problem was due to voting technology. But elected Democratic Party officials decided on the type of machinery used, including the optical scanning system in Gadsden County, the state’s only majority-black county and the one with the highest spoilage rate.

No wonder Palast omitted these damning facts. They simply don't fit his fantasy that America is still a deeply racist and oppressive country, and that Jeb Bush and Republicans in Florida actively discriminated against African-Americans, creating a "Jim Crow spoilage rate" that allowed George Bush to steal his way into the Oval Office. - T. Bevan 10:56 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Monday, June 21 2004
The ABC News/Washington Post poll shows Kerry ahead by four points with Nader in the race (Kerry 48%, Bush 44%, Nader 6%) and ahead by a large eight points in the head to head (Kerry 53%, Bush 45%). So what gives, Harris has Bush up 10 points in one poll and ABC/Wash Post has Kerry up 8 in another?

The ABC/Wash Post poll is of registered voters, unlike Harris which is likely voters, which explains a couple of points of the discrepancy, but certainly not all of it. Let's see where the other new polls shake out in the next few days, but this poll from ABC/WP coupled with Rasmussen's result from earlier today which shows Kerry up 3, leans the balance of evidence, at least right now, toward the conclusion that the Harris poll is the outlier. Which means we probably have the same status quo race we've had for the last couple of months. J. McIntyre 7:47 pm Link | Email | Send to a Friend

BUSH UP 10?:
What to make of the new Harris Poll showing Bush with a ten-point lead among likely voters - Bush 51%, Kerry 41%, Nader 6%? The first rule of thumb is not to get too exercised about one poll, especially one that is dramatically at odds with all of the other major polls.

On one hand, Rasmussen's tracking poll has shown little change in the race. The last three weeks his poll has bounced around between Bush up 3 and Kerry up 2, and Sunday's number had Kerry ahead 46-45. (Late update: Monday's has Kerry ahead 47-44.)

On the other hand, Investor's Business Daily and the Pew Research polls taken at roughly the same time as Harris' poll showed Bush with 3 and 4 point leads. Pew's poll indicated a seven point swing towards Bush from their last survey in May.

I suspect some of this movement has to do with the good feeling towards Republicans surrounding the death of President Reagan. But even before Reagan's death, there was a feeling that the mood of the public in regards to Iraq, the 9/11 commission, the prison scandal, etc... had begun to swing back in the President's favor.

There is only so long the national press can write bad story after bad story describing how awful it is in Iraq, before at some point all the bad news gets "priced in," so to speak. Reagan's death coinciding with the Normandy commemoration, the G-8 Summit, the formation of the new government in Iraq and the unanimous UN Security Council resolution changed the daily drum beat that Iraq was an unmitigated disaster. And may, as time passes, prove to be an important turning point in the public's view toward the President's decision to invade Iraq.

It will be very interesting to see what the next batch of polls from the major firms show, but if they indicate anything close to what Harris is picking up, we may look back on the last three weeks as the period when Bush started to pull ahead.

However, if they are closer to what Rasmussen's poll is showing, it will indicate the race is maintaining more or less the status quo we have seen since Kerry clinched the nomination in March. J. McIntyre 8:56 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

It's not surprising that the press hasn't made a big deal over last week's comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin:

After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and before the start of the military operation in Iraq, intelligence repeatedly received information that the official services of the Saddam regime were preparing terrorist acts against military and civil targets on the territory of the United States and beyond.

The playbook for the press is simple. Anything that makes President Bush's decision to go to war with Iraq look foolish or misguided needs to be played up hard and repeatedly, and any information that would bolster Bush's argument for removing Saddam Hussein needs to be buried, or at a minimum downplayed.

So on top of all the other reasons why we went to war in Iraq, here you have the President of Russia, a country that had extremely close ties to Hussein's Iraq and opposed the U.S. attack, telling our government that Saddam's regime was "preparing terrorist acts against military and civil targets on the territory of the United States." What many in the press and, unfortunately a majority of the Democratics in Congress still don't fully get is that post 9/11, the threshold of proof for taking action has been dramatically lowered. Contrary to the what might be conventional wisdom in Washington, the American people WANT a leader who is willing to take action to remove threats preemptively.

The American people in their instinctive wisdom understand that sitting back and waiting for conclusive proof and complete agreement with France, Germany, China, et al is a prescription for the exact type of inaction we saw in the 1990's. Inaction that contibuted directly to what happened on September 11, 2001.

President Bush laid out the nation's new policy of preemption very clearly two years ago at West Point:

In defending the peace, we face a threat with no precedent. Enemies in the past needed great armies and great industrial capabilities to endanger the American people and our nation. The attacks of September the 11th required a few hundred thousand dollars in the hands of a few dozen evil and deluded men. All of the chaos and suffering they caused came at much less than the cost of a single tank. The dangers have not passed. This government and the American people are on watch, we are ready, because we know the terrorists have more money and more men and more plans.

The gravest danger to freedom lies at the perilous crossroads of radicalism and technology. When the spread of chemical and biological and nuclear weapons, along with ballistic missile technology -- when that occurs, even weak states and small groups could attain a catastrophic power to strike great nations. Our enemies have declared this very intention, and have been caught seeking these terrible weapons. They want the capability to blackmail us, or to harm us, or to harm our friends -- and we will oppose them with all our power.

For much of the last century, America's defense relied on the Cold War doctrines of deterrence and containment. In some cases, those strategies still apply. But new threats also require new thinking. Deterrence -- the promise of massive retaliation against nations -- means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend. Containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies.

We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping for the best. We cannot put our faith in the word of tyrants, who solemnly sign non-proliferation treaties, and then systemically break them. If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long.

That type of approach may repulse and incense liberals, but it sounds like just plain common sense to a majority of Americans, and it is the primary reason Kerry has always been, and will remain, an underdog in the election this fall. J. McIntyre 6:46 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

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