Top pollster to Republicans: don’t rush the comeback

Bill McInturff was the featured guest at Thursday’s Monitor Breakfast.

Robert Frazier

Republicans should not try to rush their comeback after losing the presidency, says Bill McInturff, the lead pollster for John McCain’s campaign.

“My point to Republicans is we have a long time,” said Mr. McInturff, a partner in the polling firm Public Opinion Strategies. The New York Times called his firm “the leading Republican polling company.”

With two years until the next congressional elections and four years until the next presidential race, “Comeback doesn’t have to start the first day, the day after the swearing in,” McInturff said.

Don't interrupt the mood

Speaking to reporters at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast, McInturff noted the strong support that President-elect Obama has among all voters, not just Democrats. “In terms of what Americans are looking for, again they are very, very committed to wanting a successful presidency. And as a party, I would be pretty temperate over the first three to five months to make sure that mood is not being interrupted by the appearance of what we are doing.”

He argued that Republicans should wait to see if Democrats, enjoying their control of the White House and both houses of Congress, do themselves in. “We have talked about rope. People tend to take the rope. And you should let them have it for a while and just wait if there is an over step,” he said.

Embarrassing words on tape

McInturff said he sees little impact on the Obama presidency from the controversy surrounding Illinois Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich, accused of trying to sell the US Senate seat that Obama vacated.

“If it contributes to having a special election compared to a (gubernatorial) appointment, I think that would be helpful,” McInturff said. “This is not going to have much consequence on the president-elect. It could have consequence for others on the staff.”

He emphasized that, “I do not think anybody connected to the president-elect did anything illegal, had any illegal conversation, did anything that is actionable. However, like everyone else, in a private conversation in politics that has been taped, it is probably going to be somewhat embarrassing” for Obama staff members.

While noting that he was not especially close with McCain running mate Sarah Palin, McInturff came away impressed with her political potential. Half of those who voted in the Republican caucuses in Iowa in 2008 were religious conservatives. Alaska Governor Palin “is a candidate, for example, that I would think would be well suited to doing very well in Iowa” in 2012. He added that “like most governors, she has a very strong political instinct and she is a very sharp and calculating person.”

Choosing the unknown future

One key factor in McCain’s defeat was the impact of a highly unpopular White House incumbent. “People had substantial and serious concerns about whether [Obama] was really ready to be president,” McInturff said. “You give Americans a choice between a proven failure and the unknown future, and they will pick the unknown future, whatever their doubts or concerns. They will say I don’t know for sure but I know that didn’t work and I will try something new.”

While the incumbency factor was beyond the campaign’s control, McInturff admitted there were things he wished the McCain team had done differently. “I think a legitimate criticism of the campaign is that, you know, I am not sure that we did as well as I might have liked conveying what exactly would be different in these four years” of a potential McCain presidency.

The Republican Party needs to shore up its standing with younger voters, moderates, Latinos, and independents if it wants a chance of reclaiming the White House, McInturff said. "If you can't win the center, you can't win an election."

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