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We Pick Presidents: An Exclusive NewsChannel 15 interview with pollster John Zogby

February 2, 2007

John Zogby, CEO of Zogby International, is one of America’s most recognized and respected pollsters. NewsChannel 15’s Jim Heath interviewed Zogby for a preview of South Carolina’s 2008 presidential primary. Portions of the interview can be seen in Heaths two part special report “We Pick Presidents.” Part One airs February 15th at 11 pm & Part Two on February 19th at 6 pm on NewsChannel 15.Jim Heath: John Zogby, you recently released a survey identifying past presidents with current candidates. Who turned out most like Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, and did that surprise you?

John Zogby: Well, it’s Hillary. And, one could argue it’s surprising because it’s a credible female candidate, so we really have no frame of reference. On the other hand, Hillary is known for saying what she means and meaning what she says, and being aggressive in terms of the federal role in our lives. So in that sense, even though you have two diametrically opposed presidents ideologically, in terms of force of personality, Hillary is right up there with them.

Heath: Is Hillary at all like her husband Bill in personality?

Zogby: No. They are two different people. It’s interesting, I’ve always said there are two political playbooks in this country. Playbook one is Bill and Hillary Clinton and playbook two are we mortals. They’re very good at what they do, but they are very different people. Bill has a natural means of bonding with people and a completely different formative period. From a broken family, single mom, the south, some poverty. Hillary growing up middle class, Chicago, suburbs, Wellesley. The fact of the matter is they’re both extremely smart and they both have their own charm. Bill’s is very well known, but those of us who live in New York and have seen Hillary’s campaigns we have come to realize a combination of that intelligence, that force of intellect, together with a strong personal charm make her a very strong candidate.

Heath: Will Bill Clinton be a positive or negative for her?

Zogby: Oh, he’s always a net positive. He’s very popular. In addition to his personal popularity, and not just among Democrats, remember anybody who posted 60 or 62 percent performance ratings had some real cross over appeal. In addition to that, he also represents eight years of peace and prosperity. And that’s not a bad record to run on. There will always be issues about that relationship, that marriage. But, quite frankly, what more can possibly be said about that? I think it’s probably all been aired.

Heath: Why didn’t John McCain poll like a military president, say Eisenhower, or a maverick president like Teddy Roosevelt?

Zogby: Well, the interesting thing is he is both. But, he’s gone through a process of redefining himself, trying to appeal to the right-wing base of the Party, and appeal to Bush supporters. And in the process of redefining himself, he has undefined John McCain. He is no longer, really, what made him. We know very well from our polling what made him in ’99 and 2000, and most of the years since. That was, he was a figure of legend, POW for five years, went through a personal hell. But secondly, he was also a maverick within the Party. Now, as he moves to the mainstream, he really is no longer the John McCain that most people knew.

Heath: And Rudy Giuliani is listed as most like Abraham Lincoln. Why?

Zogby: They both defined leadership, redefined leadership. Lincoln was not a nationally known figure, he had only served two years in Congress, but it was that crisis leadership.  And anyone who reads anything about Lincoln can’t help but walk away being so impressed that this was a great president. He was our greatest president. This is a great man who defined leadership during America’s worst crisis. Rudy redefined executive leadership in America’s second worst crisis on 9/11.

Heath: Did it surprise you that Barack Obama was more like JFK than John Edwards?

Zogby: Not at all. Obama is very hot right now. Edwards is hot, under the radar. In Iowa and New Hampshire and he’s not to be underestimated. But Obama right now is the ‘flavor of a couple of months’ and he may be the flavor of the year. But it’s oratory. Two different kinds of orators. Obama much more in the northern tradition, the booming voice, the level of articulation. John Edwards much more in the Bobby Kennedy tradition in terms of message, and probably the Bill Clinton in terms of that bonding with common people.

Heath: Let’s have a reality check for a minute. Will the lesser known candidates be out of luck next year because of all the heavyweights in the race?

Zogby: At least for now.  They’re out of luck. It’s hard to make some noise when it’s all Hillary, all Obama, to some degree all Edwards. For that matter, Rudy, Romney, and McCain on the Republican side. However, if experience becomes an issue, and it probably will, then look for Biden, look for a Richardson, look for Wes Clark, look for even Al Gore to rise to the forefront. On the Republican side, who is going to represent the right? Right now there are reservations about the ‘Big Three’. And the placeholder at least for now for the right is Newt Gingrich. Whether he actually runs is an open question. Mike Huckabee, or possibly Sam Brownback from Kansas, somebody is going to wear that label.

Heath: How important will the South Carolina primary be for both Democrat and Republican candidates?

Zogby: South Carolina is very important. The south is important to both parties in terms of the nomination, and the general election. Especially for Republicans. It is also the first southern primary. The first non-Iowa, non-New Hampshire primary. And so it’s important for Democrats for African American votes and for southern votes. It’s important for Republicans because it’s like Frank Sinatra said about New York, for Republicans ‘if you can make it there, then you can make it anywhere’ throughout the south.

Heath: And when you look at South Carolina, do you still see the great divide between upstate voters and coastal and lowcountry voters?

Zogby: You know it’s interesting, it’s a tale of two distinct states, but that tale is changing. South Carolina is developing, seeing a heavy influx of, to be sure, on the eastern side, but also upstate as well. New industry, new northerners, mid-westerners, are coming in. You’re not going to have the radical dichotomy in 2008 that you had in 2000.

Heath: Last question. Is it possible that a candidate can win the nomination anymore without being media savvy?

Zogby: It’s very hard to see that. We had two very good resumes winning the Democratic nomination in 2000 and 2004, neither of who were the best media savvy candidates and then actually ended up being savaged by the media and the other side, Al Gore and John Kerry. And so to a great degree nothing is left to chance anymore when it comes to marketing and politics. The presidential race starting today is a daily Super Bowl. And in addition to media savvy, we’re talking about YouTube and MySpace, there is very little room for saying the off color word or the wrong emotion. We’re almost at the point where we’re looking for media savvy plus perfection.

Zogby International has been tracking public opinion since 1984. You can find the stories that include Zogby on our website, http://www.WPDE.com/politics, immediately after they air on February 15th and 19th.

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