McCain has gone all in on Iraq, betting his entire campaign on the argument that he is better qualified than Obama and Clinton to lead on Iraq in particular and foreign policy in general. This bet goes against all Dem common wisdom that the GOP brand is sunk precisely because the Iraq War is unpopular.
So who has the winning hand? The new Dem Democracy Corps poll is revealing in this regard.
Like most other polls, the Democracy Corps poll does indicate that the generic GOP brand has fallen out of favor and more folks choose a generic Democrat over a generic Republican for President.
However, when the poll asks voters to choose between actual people for President, 12% of those who nominally support a generic Dem for President reject the real life Dem contenders Obama and Clinton in favor of the real life GOP nominee McCain, giving McCain a lead over both Obama and Clinton. The Democracy Corps pollsters call these swing voters "Wanna Ds."
Why the enormous shift?
1) Obama and Clinton have been tacking hard left to attract Dem base voters to win the nomination when Wanna Ds wanna center right candidate. 57% percent of the Wanna D's are self described moderate-conservative Democrats, while 29 percent are self-described independents. These are the Reagan Dems who have been trending to McCain for weeks now.
2) The Wanna Ds wanna candidate who is willing to use military force. By a "startling" (if you are a Dem) 33 percentage points, the Wanna Ds say they worry more that Clinton or Obama will be too reluctant to use military force abroad, than McCain being too willing to use military force abroad.
The Democracy Corps recommendation to attract these Reagan Dems back to the fold is not to answer their concerns about the Dem retreat and defeat strategy, but instead attempt to link McCain with the unpopular President Bush. The problem with this strategy is that their own polling indicates that a majority of the Wanna Ds think that McCain would "mostly bring a different approach than President Bush" on foreign policy.
The Wanna Ds are not mistaken. McCain has been offering a different approach from Mr. Bush for years now. McCain is even more of a hawk than Bush on foreign policy and is more willing to use military force to win the war. Bush is a Surge come lately.
The Dems are completely misreading the 2006 election results which is the source of their common wisdom about Iraq and the use of military power in foreign policy. The Dems won their bare majorities in Congress by running center-right candidates who appealed to the Wanna Ds. However, when they ran an Obama clone in Ned Lamont against a McCain clone in Joe Lieberman in the deep blue state of Connecticut, the Wanna Ds joined the GOP minority to elect Lieberman.
The Dems need to remember the lessons of 1980 and 2004, when the Dems ran candidates campaigning for negotiation with rather than use of military power against our enemies. In both elections, the Reagan Dems / Wanna Ds fled the Dem party and voted for the hawks Reagan and Bush.
McCain is betting that that same old scenario is playing out again in 2008. The polls so far indicate that he may have a winning hand.
UPDATE ONE: The GOP internal polling agrees with the Dem Democracy Corps polling about the shift of the Reagan Dems / Wanna Ds to McCain.
UPDATE TWO: The most recent AP/Ipsos poll, which traditionally overstates Dem support, shows that Obama's "ten point lead over McCain in February has completely disappeared in April. Even in this Dem slanted polling, McCain leads among men, married women and independents - the Reagan Dems / Wanna Ds.
UPDATE THREE: Margaret Carlson stumbles around for a reason why John McCain's Iraq appeal is so appealing. Carlson notes correctly that McCain is offering a message of optimism and victory, Obama and Clinton are offering a message of gloom and defeat (although she avoids using the D word) and notes that Americans hate to lose. Not bad for a Dem. Maybe she watched the opening scene from Patton.
Of course, Carlson cannot admit that McCain and the voters who keep giving him leads in the polls might be correct. Rather, Calson concludes that McCain is deluding the voters and we are too stupid to see what is happening. The old everyone who does not agree with me is deluded and stupid line. Who exactly is deluding themselves here?