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RUSH: Headline from Susan Page in USA Today: ‘Edwards Gains Support as He Remains in the Race.’ He indeed got a bump out of the announcement, the press conference he had last week with his wife. ‘Americans by 2-to-1 support the decision by former North Carolina senator John Edwards to stay in the Democratic presidential race even though his wife, Elizabeth, has been diagnosed with a recurrence of breast cancer.’ By the way, it’s now moved to her hip as well as one of her ribs. ‘A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds that more than a third of those surveyed believe that Edwards eventually will be forced to withdraw from the campaign because of her illness. The telephone poll of 1,007 adults was taken Friday through Sunday. … The questions about the Edwardses were asked of half the sample and have a margin of error of +/-5 percentage points. The error margin for the full sample is +/-3 percentage points. John Edwards got a boost in the horse race of Democratic contenders in the new poll. He was the preferred candidate of 14% of the respondents who identified themselves as Democrats or independents who lean to the Democratic Party. That’s up from 9% in a USA TODAY Poll three weeks ago.’

So he got a bump of 5%. ‘He ranks fourth, behind New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, at 35%; Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, at 22%, and former vice president Al Gore, at 17%,’ even though he’s not in the race. On the Republican side it’s also interesting. Fred Thompson comes in third even though he hasn’t announced. McCain’s plunge seems to have leveled off. It looks like Thompson’s numbers in the poll are coming from Giuliani, if it’s to be believed. ‘Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, who isn’t affiliated with any presidential candidate, says the ‘bump’ Edwards got is understandable. ‘In the crucible of crisis, people make judgments about a candidate’s character, and there’s a lot here in which people can make important judgments about Edwards,’ he says. ‘By the same token, the poll reaffirms the fundamental fact that … it is unlikely to decide the outcome of the nomination battle,” meaning the press conference that Edwards and his wife had last week.

Now, I have people sending me these polls. Every time they come out, I get everybody and their uncle and their grandmother sending me these polls with their take on it. I don’t know what’s with me, but polling numbers right now — I said this even last year, in November after the election — polls taken this far out really can’t mean anything if the election’s not for who knows how many months. The primaries are still nine months away, the first primary is. But the one thing that argues against my instinct on this is that both parties have moved their primary schedules way up. So all these large states that used to go in May and June like California, perhaps Florida, are going to go in January-February, and there is this thing called Super-Duper Tuesday, and it is possible that both parties’ nominees will be chosen by a year from now, in March.

Now, New Hampshire and Iowa are still important in that people that don’t do well there have a bigger mountain to climb. Remember, Iowa is what killed Dean, given the expectations that he had. He went in there and got zip after all this hullabaloo about his Internet fund-raising and all this. That stuff still matters, and the polling data now does matter in the sense that it can affect fund-raising and a number of other things, which was interesting yesterday. McCain announced that they’re going to come up short of their goals by the reporting date of March 31st. Everybody has to report first quarter fund-raising totaled by March 31st to the Federal Election Commission, and you have to look at fund-raising as one of the early primaries, not a poll but you look at it as an early primary. If McCain is not going to meet his goals. One part can say, ‘Well, he’s running behind.’ The goals may have been too high, too. So these things are all relative.

But the bottom line is the only thing the polls tell me is that something’s unsettled. I’m talking about on the Republican side, and maybe even the Democrats. Dick Morris — now, I like Dick Morris, and sometimes this stuff makes a whole lot of sense, and other times I can’t figure it out. He’s got a piece out today, ‘The Political A-Team Falters.’ If you believe this and if you’re the Hillary camp, this is scary, because he says that her camp is blowing it. She just set a fund-raising record out in Beverly Hills. She dwarfed the amount of money that Obama raised when he we went out there. He got $1.3 million and she got $2.6 million in a fund-raiser at Beverly Hills at Ron Burkle’s place. So here after that successful fund-raising trip, here comes this piece about how her A-Team, Clinton, Inc., is screwing up. I don’t know that I see that, but Morris does.

Let me finish the thought about what argues against my instincts that this polling stuff right now is irrelevant. It’s not totally irrelevant, because it does mean something. When you can have a guy like Fred Thompson who hasn’t even announced move into third place, and when you can have Gore who hasn’t even announced move into third place on the Democrat side, it has to tell you something. On the Republican side, what it tells me is that there’s just not a whole lot of oomph out there for anybody. If anybody can come along unannounced and maybe float the possibility of running, and everybody goes, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah! Rah, rah! Fred Dalton Thompson! Yeah, yeah,’ it tells me that a lot of people are like me: not really fired up about anybody particularly, yet.

All three of these candidates have their big-time supporters, and they’re all out there fund-raising, and they do have supporters, but in terms of movement-wide or party-wide, there doesn’t seem to be anybody around whom the whole Republican caucus, meaning conservative voters in this country, are rallying around right now, which is something in and of itself. Like I said yesterday, it’s sort of like the buffet at Denny’s — do they have a buffet at Denny’s? They don’t have a buffet as Denny’s. Well, imagine they had a buffet at Denny’s and everything on the menu was in the buffet. You’d like some of it but you don’t want all of it. There’s something for everybody there, but the total package isn’t. So that’s what the polling tells me.

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