David Brooks has an interesting column in Tuesday's New York Times. His contention is that, with the new NIE assessment that Iran is not currently a nuclear threat, and the calmer atmosphere in Iraq recently, that the war and terrorism may no longer be the key issues concerning voters. As a result, domestic issues should come to the forefront, a situation that may favor Huckabee and Obama over Rudy and Hillary, in Mr. Brooks' opinion.
"When Wall Street Journal/NBC pollsters asked voters what qualities they were looking for in the next leader, their top three choices were: the ability to work well with leaders of other countries; having strong moral and family values; bringing unity to the country."
He goes on to explain why this favors Obama and Huckabee:
"It’s clear that voters are not only exhausted by the war, they are exhausted by the war over the war. On the Democratic side, Obama captured the mood exactly with his Jefferson-Jackson Day speech of a few weeks ago. In that speech, he asked voters to reject fear, partisanship and textbook politics. He asked them to vote instead on the basis of their aspirations for a new era of national unity. As a result, Obama has pulled ahead in Iowa and approached parity in New Hampshire.
The tragedy of the Republican race is that Mitt Romney and Giuliani, who could have offered a new kind of Republicanism, opted to run as conventional Bush-era Republicans. Now Huckabee has emerged as the fresh alternative. Huckabee is socially conservative, but not a partisan culture warrior. He’s a pragmatic gubernatorial Republican, not a rigid creature of the beltway interest groups."
The latest New York Times/CBS poll shows that none of the Republican candidates are viewed favorably by a majority of Republican voters, and most voters have not made up their mind yet. Huckabee has come from nowhere to now be in close contention with Rudy Guiliani and Mitt Romney.
Among Democrats, however, Hillary Clinton is still strong nationally, with Obama and Edwards seen as less electable, and according to this poll, Clinton is seen as more able to unite the country, contrary to the opinion cited in Mr. Brooks' column.
The NY Times poll also does not support the idea that Iraq is not still highly important:
"More people cite the Iraq war as the most important issue facing the country than cite any other matter, and though 38 percent say the dispatch of extra troops to Iraq this year is working, a majority continue to say that undertaking the war was a mistake."
The economy is another key issue for voters and most feel the country is going in the wrong direction.
So what's going to happen in 2008? We just don't know. Voters are obviously divided on their priorities and anything can still happen to shift them one way or another between now and election day.
One thing that may seem comforting to Democrats: Democratic voters tend to view the Democratic candidates more favorably than the Republican voters do theirs.
"Mrs. Clinton is viewed favorably by 68 percent of Democrats, followed by Mr. Obama, viewed favorably by 54 percent. Mr. Edwards is viewed favorably by 36 percent.
On the Republican side, in contrast, Mr. Giuliani is viewed favorably most frequently, and that is by only 41 percent. Senator John McCain is viewed favorably by 37 percent, and Mr. Romney by 36 percent. Mr. Huckabee is viewed favorably by 30 percent, and 60 percent say they do not know enough about him to offer an opinion, suggesting that he may be vulnerable to the kind of attacks that his opponents have already been mounting against him.
Seventy-six percent of Republican respondents say they could still change their minds about whom to support, compared with 23 percent who say their decision is firm. Among Democrats, 59 percent say they may change their minds, as against 40 percent who say they have made their decision."
No matter what happens, it looks like it's going to be a long year.