Bill McInturff made his 11th appearance at the Monitor Breakfast Wednesday. The witty, self-effacing McInturff is partner and cofounder of the polling firm Public Opinion Strategies (www.pos.org), a major player in Republican politics. Its clients include Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as well as some 50 members of Congress. In the 2000 presidential campaign, McInturff was an adviser to Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
The New York Times has called McInturff's firm "the leading Republican polling company." Working with Democratic pollster Peter Hart, McInturff is also codirector of the NBC News/Wall Street Journal National Poll. His firm has a wide variety of corporate clients and has done a lot of work in the field of healthcare reform.
Here are excerpts from McInturff's remarks at the hour-long session with reporters:
On President Bush's approval ratings:
"The fact that Bush is maintaining 80-84 percent approval of Republicans even in these very difficult times, I think is a terrific story."
On whether the President's approval ratings have bottomed out:
"Katrina had consequences, and it reshuffled the deck and it has reshuffled the deck where Bush has dropped a little bit. I think that arguably he should be able to stay in that 40-45 range. However, external events, whether they be positive, something happens positive around the world or positive here for him, or if they are like home heating [fuel prices], they could push those numbers down. He has such strong approval among Republicans that the kind of free fall that his dad went through, it is very hard for me to imagine that is ever going to happen."
On the growing importance of the immigration issue:
"In my party, it is becoming a really central issue to what people are saying they care about... The point I would make about the immigration data is that it splits both parties... You look at the immigration data and it divides both parties' caucuses, because it is an issue that divides less on partisanship and more on socioeconomic status where affluent, higher-income people have very different attitudes than people with lower levels of formal education and lower and middle income."
On the battle to succeed George Bush:
"We do not have a candidate who is the obvious next person in line. So the Republican nomination battle in 2008 is going to be very different and massively more interesting, because we are not going to start this race with the next person in line with 40 percent of the primary vote. It is going to be unstable. And as a consequence of that, what I am suggesting is that these divisions in the party are going to be much more slugged out in public. And we are going to have a much more contentious public-issue debate than we have had because we are going to have candidates who run across the range of the party that start with relatively equal standing."
On Senator McCain's standing with Republicans:
"His standing has gone up substantially among core Republicans. They were very pleased with his work for President Bush in 2004 and his outspoken support for the Iraq war and some of the stuff he is doing on spending.... He is in a much stronger position with Republicans today than he was when he left the race in 2000.... If there is a multiple-candidate field and you are dividing these different chunks of our party, you easily can win multicandidate primaries with the vote McCain can hold."
On interest in the 2006 elections:
"We have higher numbers now than ever before in terms of interest in elections, even exceeding the '94 election two days before the election. So the level of intensity of the American political debate is a terrific story."