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First Thoughts: The outsiders

The Outsiders: Per NBC/WSJ poll, Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie are more popular than any other politician… But the poll also shows they have their own shortcomings… On Hillary’s busy travel… On Biden getting no respect… Washington’s dysfunction continues as Senate GOP successfully filibusters two more Obama nominations… More on the NBC/WSJ poll: NON-Tea Party Republicans are breaking from the GOP… And Mitt Romney and Deval Patrick will appear on “Meet the Press.”

*** The Outsiders: The best way to view the new NBC/WSJ poll is as an indictment of all of Washington. For instance, 74% believe Congress is contributing to problems in Washington rather than solving them; 63% want to replace their own representative; and half think there will be another government shutdown. Given these views, it’s not surprising at all that the two most popular politicians surveyed in the poll -- Hillary Clinton (a fav/unfav of 46%-33%) and Chris Christie (33%-17%) -- currently have nothing to do with Washington right now. What’s more, they both are more than possibilities to run for president in 2016; they’re arguably the early front-runners, at least as the establishment is concerned. And they are waging proxy campaigns in this year’s marquee political races. Christie, of course, is running for re-election in New Jersey, hoping to run up big margins (a la George W. Bush in 1998) to serve as a potential argument for his electability in ’16. Clinton, meanwhile, finds that one of her family’s closest friends (Terry McAuliffe) is the front-runner in Virginia’s gubernatorial contest. And as we’ve contended before, Virginia probably reflects the center of American politics more than any other state in the country. Normally, the first off-year elections after a presidential contest are viewed as a first test to see which party has the advantage going into the midterms. But this year’s marquee off-year races in Virginia and New Jersey are bigger than 2014. Both have 2016 implications.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

*** Clinton and Christie are more popular than any other politician, yet they both have their own shortcomings in the NBC/WSJ poll: But our NBC/WSJ poll also shows that both Clinton and Christie have their own problems. For Clinton, her fav/unfav numbers (46%-33%) have declined somewhat since September (51%-31%), and the slight drop has occurred with Democrats and Republicans. Christie’s fav/unfav score (37%-17%) also is down from June (41%-12%), but that isn’t his biggest issue. His rating among Tea Party Republicans is just 39%-31% (versus Ted Cruz’s 68%-4% score with that group). Christie’s appeal is with all others -- non-Tea Party Republicans (42%-10%), independents (31%-18%), and even Democrats (30%-17%). So as we’ve said before, he has considerable crossover appeal. But who are dedicated Republican primary voters? GOP strategists would tell you than they’re more Tea Party Republicans than non-Tea Party Republicans. It is NOT helpful to any Republican who has to face off in a primary to be more popular with Democrats than with Tea Party Republicans, and that’s where Christie finds himself right now. On the other hand, it’s why Christie scares the living daylights out of many Democrats.

*** Hillary’s busy travel: Remember when Hillary Clinton said she was looking forward to some rest after her whirlwind travel as secretary of state? Well, that rest has certainly ended. Per NBC’s Sarah Blackwill, just look at all the cities where Clinton has either delivered speeches or attended fundraisers in the past 10 days – Buffalo, NY, Washington DC area, Minneapolis, New York City, Chicago, Beverly Hills, CA, and Hamiliton, NY. And today, Clinton will speak in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women. Just askin’, but does any other potential 2016 candidate have a busier schedule than Clinton. Then again, Ted Cruz is heading to South Carolina next week…

*** Getting no respect: This brings us to Vice President Joe Biden. As the New York Times reports, a new book notes that President Obama’s top aides “secretly considered replacing” Biden with Hillary Clinton on the ticket in 2012. But we stress the word “considered.” From the article: “The aides concluded that despite Mrs. Clinton’s popularity, the move would not offer a significant enough political boost to Mr. Obama to justify such a radical move.” Yet this brings us to a larger point about Biden: The guy (as the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza dubbed him in 2012) is the Rodney Dangerfield of American politics -- he gets no respect. That’s particularly true when it comes to any discussion about 2016. And this new book nugget will only reinforce that notion that Biden isn’t as feared or respected, even among the president’s closest confidantes. Of course, Biden is still the president’s most important Capitol Hill emissary, and that still gives the VP juice even if politically, many of the president’s former campaign aides have never truly seen him as a big asset.

*** Washington’s dysfunction continues: Your party was blamed by most Americans for shutting down the federal government for 16 days, causing economic damage to the country. The last two NBC/WSJ polls taken during and after the shutdown show the same party at all-time lows, and with the American public angrier at Washington than it has ever been. Given this environment, it’s a bit surprising that Senate Republicans decided to go down the filibuster path again on presidential nominees. But they did. They successfully filibustered two Obama nominations -- Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC) to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and Patricia Millett to sit on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals -- denying them up-or-down votes. In the case of Millett, Republicans didn’t object to her qualifications or her ideology but rather that the D.C. Circuit (which has vacancies to fill) has a small caseload. They also argued that Millett’s appointment would tip the ideological balance of the circuit. (Um, isn’t that the consequence of losing the last two presidential elections?) In the case of Watt, who became the first sitting member of Congress blocked for an executive appointment since 1843, the GOP argument was that a technocrat, not a politician, is needed to head up the FHFA, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But if a key member of the House Financial Services Committee isn’t qualified to head this group, isn’t that an indictment of Congress itself? (Yes, this somewhat of a rhetorical question!)

*** Non-Tea Party Republicans are breaking from the GOP: Our NBC/WSJ poll has shown that fewer respondents are identifying as Republicans. So who is leaving? Well, one set of numbers gives us a big clue. In a three-way generic congressional contest, the Democrat gets 35%, the third-party/independent candidate gets 30%, and the Republican candidate gets 28%. You might think that it’s Tea Party Republicans who are siding with the third-party/independent candidate. But you’d be wrong. The third-party support is coming mostly from self-identified independents and NON-Tea Party Republicans. In other words, it’s the NON-Tea Party folks who are splitting from the GOP. Here’s the data:

Among Democrats: 73% back the Dem candidate, 2% support a GOP candidate, 19% third party/indie

Among Republicans: 65% GOP candidate, 2% Dem, 28% third party/indie

Among Tea Party Republicans: 72% GOP candidate, 0% Dem, 25% third party/indie

Among NON-Tea Party Republicans: 58% GOP candidate, 5% Dem, 32% third party/indie

Independents: 13% GOP candidate, 12% Dem, 61% third party/indie

And if you dig even deeper into the demographics, you see that a lot of groups that usually lean GOP (but ONLY lean) are the ones most intrigued about bolting to a third-party candidate. A year ago, many Republican Party leaders were concerned about Tea Partiers leaving the party (it’s something Erick Erickson has threatened from time to time). But according to this polling data, the threat is from SOFTER more moderate Republicans. By the way, he wasn’t a MAJOR congressional candidate, but in North Carolina, Jason Thigpen, a moderate Republican challenging GOP Rep. Walter Jones, bolted his party and switched to the Dems, arguing it has become too beholden to the base. Thigpen appears to fit the profile of Republicans we see in our poll as open to a third party. 

*** Romney to appear on “Meet”: Finally, on “Meet the Press” this Sunday, NBC’s David Gregory will interview Mitt Romney, as well as Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

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