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National Journal Political Insiders Poll

Q: Which issue will be more important in the 2008 presidential election—national security or the economy?

DEMOCRATS (81 votes)

                      Now             10/07
The economy           83 percent      35 percent
National security      6 percent      56 percent
Equally important;
depends (volunteered) 10 percent       9 percent


The economy

“Recessions have a way of capturing voters’ attention.”

“It is hard to be supportive of a jobs program for Iraq when you don’t have one yourself.”


“While the war in Iraq worries every voter, the recession affects every American.”

“The economy will be No. 1 unless we have a major international crisis, or a major terrorist incident in the Unites States. The winner of an Obama-versus-McCain election will be the candidate who learns how to connect with blue-collar voters on economic issues.”

“You don’t have to go very far to find someone who lost their home to foreclosure, or can’t afford to send their kids to college. The economic downturn has become very real and visual in voters’ minds. And there’s no sign of relief in the near future.”

“Everything seems to point to further economic troubles on the horizon—which will only lead to more job anxiety and a further financial crunch.”


“McCain is making a mistake to try to win on Iraq, and so are the Democrats. They both have losing arguments.”

“At the end of the day, the election will be largely decided in the Midwestern part of the country. And in many of those states, the economic anxiety is very high.”

“Not only is all politics local, all politics is also personal. And a lot more Americans are directly affected by the economy than by the war. Although, as Joe Stiglitz points out in his new book, the recession was prompted in part by the out-of-control spending required for Bush’s calamitous Iraq policy.”

National security

“The economy will be the issue people say is most important to them, but they will vote on who makes them feel safe. And, hence, national security will rule the day.”

Other responses

“The Democratic nominee will have to be credible on national security. And the Republican nominee will have to be credible on the economy.”

“Voters can walk and chew gum at the same time.”

REPUBLICANS (92 votes)

                       Now           10/07
The economy            79 percent    34 percent
National security      16 percent    59 percent
Equally important;
depends (volunteered)   4 percent     7 percent


The economy

“Economic insecurity is now pervasive.”

“Take issue with the methods if you want, but the nation has become safer, enough so that people feel the threat of worsening economic conditions more than they do the threat to our national security.”

“People look at the economy in terms of their take-home pay, home mortgage, pension, 401(k), gasoline prices, and the stock market. And if three or more are not performing, then they will vote with their pocketbooks in mind.”

“Today’s answer is the economy. One national security event in the United States or a major event abroad can change that priority instantly.”

“We will do our utmost to make this election about national security, but the economy may swamp our best efforts.”

“The war is still distant for most Americans—a fact that helps McCain. But inflation, gas prices, and falling home values are real for everyone.”

“It is hard to imagine the GOP benefiting enough from improvement in Iraq to outweigh the bread-and-butter issues that voters are now focused on and that impact their daily lives much more directly.”

“Unless there’s another terrorist attack, the economy is going to dominate the election. I worry that McCain will look like a fear-monger trying to convince people otherwise.”

National security

“The easy answer is the economy, which gets all the press lately. However, when push comes to shove in November, Hillary is right: People will decide who they want answering that 3 a.m. phone call. And it won’t be her: It will be John McCain.”

“Those opposed to order in Iraq see a golden opportunity to impact the presidential election. And as the violence increases, so does the issue.”


“It will depend on headlines between now and November, which are impossible to predict.”

Q: Should senior presidential campaign advisers take a leave of absence from their lobbying firms for the duration of the campaign?

DEMOCRATS (81 votes)

Yes                    80 percent
No                     16 percent
Depends (volunteered)   4 percent



“The new reality is clear. In the future, major presidential candidates will require all staffers who lobby to take a leave to work in their campaign. In the transparent new media world, a staffer’s lobbyist background is going to be exposed and become an issue otherwise.”

“They will have to if they go to the White House. We might as well find out who is serious about governing.”

“How could the self-styled ‘chief strategist’ of the Clinton campaign, Mark Penn, run a presidential campaign and be the CEO of one of the biggest PR firms in the country at the same time?”

“As a matter of rule, senior advisers should not have to take leave. However, as a matter of even semi-smart politics, they absolutely should.”

“Every client you represent can become a source of controversy for your candidate and can force them off message.”

“You can’t serve two masters without creating the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

“But one wishes that the candidates, all of them, would stop being hypocrites about this issue. One shouldn’t claim to be purer than Caesar’s wife when it’s so easy to check for lobbyist DNA. And no one in Washington is pure enough to pass this test.”

“On principle, senior advisers to major campaigns ought to devote their time and effort to one client—not several.”

“Absolutely yes. Since lobbyists can almost never control themselves, the campaigns need to control them. The same can be said for the campaign’s communications consultants.”

“In addition, the [lobbyist-adviser] should not have any profit-sharing arrangement with the company. Total separation is a must.”

“Lobbyists should not serve as senior campaign advisers, period. There’s bound to be an ethical conflict.”

“Wasn’t Penn making enough from the campaign?”

“Better yet, campaigns should refrain from using lobbyists as senior strategists.”

“Mark Penn showed less loyalty to Sen. Clinton’s campaign than Bill Clinton did to his marriage, by pushing a free-trade pact she opposed during her campaign. The Clintons’ strategic slogan should be, ‘It’s the campaign, stupid.’ ”

“Taking a leave of absence from a firm only to return [to it] a year later having blown in the ear of the new president for that year still reaches to the level of influence-peddling. There are more than enough—some would say too many—available, experienced top-level advisers for a candidate to choose from without running into this potentially embarrassing conflict-of-interest situation.”

“And if you don’t after this week, you are an idiot.”


“But they should not lobby against positions advocated by their candidate.”

“Many are able to balance the competing interests. When they are not able to, they should resign from the campaign.”

“But they should avoid participating in situations which would appear to be conflicts.”

“It should be disclosed publicly. And then let the voters decide.”

“They should, however, recuse themselves from individual clients that may present conflict issues.”

“But they have to exercise judgment based not on legalities but on optics—the optics that come with the heightened scrutiny of the 2008 election.”


“If you mean ‘chief strategist,’ like Mark Penn, yes, absolutely, without reservation. If you mean ‘pollster,’ no, because you are probably doing polls for others. But the presidential campaign should have a right to review other clients that the polling company has for potential conflicts. The reason for the latter is that a perceived conflict can become a major issue for a presidential campaign, and that probably is not true for other clients.”

“This is not a black-and-white matter. It depends on the circumstances, type of lobbying, and the candidate’s positions on lobbyists in government.”

REPUBLICANS (92 votes)

Yes                    80 percent
No                     17 percent
Depends (volunteered)   2 percent



“It is extraordinarily unprofessional not to do so. It’s simple: You can’t serve two employers, because there is bound to be conflict. When that happens in business, you recuse yourself. On a presidential campaign, it’s national news.”

“You need the people working on the campaign focused on the campaign. Outside work can become a distraction in more ways than one, as we’ve seen in recent days.”

“Failing to do so just feeds public cynicism about our political system.”

“They’re doing it with McCain’s campaign now. And that tells you they anticipate such things being an issue raised by Obama. The dumb thing is that Mark Penn had all the advance notice in the world [that] this was sensitive, yet went ahead anyway. You can’t cure ‘stupid.’ ”

“When a lobbyist-campaigner keeps his clients, the clear signal is that private gain is just as important as the election.”

“The safest route is to take a brief leave of absence. It will only help the adviser in the long run when he helps elect his candidate to the office.”

“Why introduce one more bull’s-eye for the media to aim at? In today’s 24-hour news cycle, you surely can’t hope to slip under their radar.”

“It should be asked why a candidate would accept anything less from a senior adviser during a campaign for president of the United States.”

“And they should receive no remuneration from their firms while on the campaign payroll, even if they are dollar-a-year [advisers]. Needs to be a bright line, so no one can misconstrue [anything].”

“Candidates have enough baggage of their own without ‘hired guns’ adding their own.”

“Advisers who remain with their lobbying firm help to ensure that the adviser—not the candidate—is well served.”

“It’s a conflict of interest for both the lobbyist and the candidate. It is Washington hubris and arrogance at its worst, and reinforces the image that this town is run by lobbyists—not those elected to serve.”

“As someone who has managed a campaign, served as an unpaid campaign adviser, and now lobbies, I firmly believe that there is an inherent conflict of interest, as well as a disturbing appearance of conflict of interest, that can be mitigated only by serving just one master at a time.”

“It is very hard to get the balance right, especially for those of us who think we can do everything—which is everyone here, right? The truth is that it exposes both the political and corporate client to unacceptable risk. And it is easy for everyone involved to pay the price.”

“More for optics rather than actual conflict. Advisers must remember the campaign is about the candidate, not about them.”

“If this becomes the standard, this town’s commitment to public service will truly be tested.”


“It is absurd that people who happen to be in the business of lobbying must sever their ties with their firms to participate in presidential politics when those in other professions are under no similar expectation.”

“One of the most unfairly demagogued issues in this campaign is how ‘lobbyists’ and ‘special interests’ are responsible for all things bad, evil, or wrong. That is bunk!”

“As someone who has worked on two presidential campaigns, both as an in-house staffer and as a volunteer adviser, there is an unspoken code of conduct: The nanosecond a senior adviser is even perceived as pushing a client issue, he or she loses the most valuable commodity in presidential campaigns: credibility.”

“The campaigns are altogether too jittery about their advisers. If they throw advisers under the bus this quickly instead of backing up their people, how will they treat administration officials or allies in times of need?”

“Having a functioning moral compass helps avoid the necessity for such an absence.”


“No absolute rule: Must be negotiated between campaign and consultant. How valuable is the counsel? Can the consultant risk forgoing existing business?”

National Journal Insiders

The participants in National Journal’s Political Insiders Poll were selected because of their campaign experience, insider knowledge, and ties to key voting blocs.

Democratic Political Insiders Karen Ackerman, Jill Alper, David Axelrod, Brad Bannon, Dave Beattie, Andy Bechhoefer, Cornell Belcher, Mitchell W. Berger, Mike Berman, Donna Brazile, Mark Brewer, Ed Bruley, George Bruno, Deb Callahan, Bonnie Campbell, Bill Carrick, Martin J. Chavez, Tony Coelho, Jim Craig, Jerry Crawford, Stephanie Cutter, Jeff Danielson, Jim Demers, Tad Devine, Debbie Dingell, Monica Dixon, Michael Donilon, Tom Donilon, Anita Dunn, Jeff Eller, Steve Elmendorf, Carter Eskew, Eric Eve, Vic Fazio, Scott Ferson, Gordon Fischer, Tina Flournoy, Don Foley, Don Fowler, Gina Glantz, Joe Grandmaison, Anna Greenberg, Stan Greenberg, Pat Griffin, Michael Gronstal, Marcia Hale, Paul Harstad, Laura Hartigan, Mike Henry, Leo Hindery, Jr., Harold Ickes, Marcus Jadotte, John Jameson, Steve Jarding, Jonathon Jones, Jim Jordan, Gale Kaufman, Shar Knutson, Kam Kuwata, Celinda Lake, David Lang, Sylvia Larsen, Jeff Link, Bill Lynch, Steve Marchand, Jim Margolis, Paul Maslin, Terry McAuliffe, Caroline McCarley, Susan McCue, Gerald McEntee, Tom McMahon, Phil McNamara, David Medina, Mark Mellman, John Merrigan, Steve Murphy, Janet Napolitano, David Nassar, Marcia Nichols, John Norris, Tom Ochs, Tom O’Donnell, Scott Parven, Jeffrey Peck, Debora Pignatelli, John Podesta, Tony Podesta, Bruce Reed, Mame Reiley, Steve Ricchetti, Susan Rice, Will Robinson, Steve Rosenthal, David Rudd, John Ryan, Wendy Sherman, Terry Shumaker, Bob Slagle, Erik Smith, Doug Sosnik, Darry Sragow, Karl Struble, Katrina Swett, Sarah Swisher, Eric Tabor, Jeffrey Trammell, Ed Turlington, Mike Veon, Rick Wiener, Bridgette Williams, and JoDee Winterhof, Jim Zogby.

GOP Political Insiders Dan Allen, Stan Anderson, Gary Andres, Saulius (Saul) Anuzis, Rich Ashooh, Whit Ayres, Brett Bader, Mitch Bainwol, Gary Bauer, David Beckwith, Wayne Berman, Charlie Black, Kirk Blalock, Carmine Boal, Jeff Boeyink, Ron Bonjean, Jeff Buley, Luke Byars, Nick Calio, Danny Carroll, Ron Christie, Jim Cicconi, Cesar Conda, Jake Corman, Greg Crist, Diane Crookham-Johnson, Fergus Cullen, Rick Davis, Mike Dennehy, Ken Duberstein, Steve Duprey, Debi Durham, Frank Fahrenkopf, John Feehery, Don Fierce, Carl Forti, Alex Gage, Sam Geduldig, Benjamin Ginsberg, David Girard-diCarlo, Bill Greener, Jonathan Grella, Lanny Griffith, Janet Mullins Grissom, Doug Gross, Todd Harris, Steve Hart, Christopher Healy, Ralph Hellmann, Chris Henick, Terry Holt, David Iannelli, Clark Judge, David Keating, David Kensinger, Bruce Keough, Bob Kjellander, Ed Kutler, Chris Lacivita, Jim Lake, Chuck Larson, Steve Lombardo, Joel Maiola, Gary Maloney, David Marin, Mary Matalin, Dan Mattoon, Bill McInturff, Mark McKinnon, Kyle McSlarrow, Ken Mehlman, Jim Merrill, Mike Murphy, Phil Musser, Ron Nehring, Terry Nelson, Neil Newhouse, David Norcross, Ziad Ojakli, Jack Oliver, Van B. Poole, Tom Rath, Scott Reed, David Rehr, Steve Roberts, Jason Roe, David Roederer, Ed Rogers, Dan Schnur, Russ Schriefer, Rich Schwarm, Brent Seaborn, Rick Shelby, Andrew Shore, Don Sipple, Robin Smith, Javier Soto, Fred Steeper, Bob Stevenson, Eric Tanenblatt, Heath Thompson, Jay Timmons, Warren Tompkins, Ted Van Der Meid, Dirk van Dongen, Jan van Lohuizen, Dick Wadhams, John Weaver, Tom Wilson, Dave Winston, Ginny Wolfe, and Fred Wszolek.

This article appears in the April 12, 2008 edition of National Journal Magazine Contents.

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