Gerald F. Seib’s Wall St. Journal column makes the case that the 45 percent of NH voters who are Independents are kingmakers. Nut graphs:
These independents, able under New Hampshire rules to vote for either party in the nation’s first primary on Jan. 8, may represent the most important group of voters in the land. They are likely to determine, among other things, whether John McCain’s candidacy can be revived, whether Barack Obama can sustain whatever momentum he gets out of Iowa’s caucuses, whether Mitt Romney actually is best-positioned to win the Republican nomination and whether Mike Huckabee’s rise in Iowa will turn out to be just a flash in the pan.
…Here’s why: Under New Hampshire’s rules, undeclared voters can show up on primary day and choose a party in which to vote. In essence, they can simply move to whichever primary looks more interesting or important.
Also in the WSJ, Jackie Calmes and Michael M. Phillips have a stats and quotes roundup making a persuasive case that the economy is now a/the top issue of concern to Americans heading into the holidays and the last month before primary mania grips the nation. Calmes and Phillips explain:
Fifty-two percent of Americans say the economy and health care are most important to them in choosing a president, compared with 34% who cite terrorism and social and moral issues, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. That is the reverse of the percentages recorded just before the 2004 election. The poll also shows that voters see health care eclipsing the Iraq war for the first time as the issue most urgently requiring a new approach.
Edwards followers can take some heart from E. J. Dionne’s WaPo op-ed, limning a victory scenario for the N.C. populist going into his home stretch. Dionne’s key insight on how Edwards can outflank Clinton and Obama:
The Edwards campaign has a theory of how he can beat both of them. As Trippi sees it, Clinton has relied on support from less affluent voters, particularly women, who are especially engaged on economic questions.
Trippi argued in an interview that some of these soft Clinton voters could eventually move to Edwards because his message of economic populism and his background as a mill worker’s son will trump Clinton’s arguments that are based on her experience. Trippi claims to see “lots of potential” among “blue-collar women who are currently leaning her way.”
Dionne also quotes what may be Edwards’ most resonant and defining one-liner. “Standing before a large American flag, the former North Carolina senator insists that the country shouldn’t ‘trade a crowd of corporate Republicans for a crowd of corporate Democrats.'”