In the previous monthly ranking Hillary Clinton, for the first time, was catapulted to the number 2 position, behind Rudy Giuliani, and this month serves as a proof that this was no accident. She's there to stay, at least for now.
Of the eight members of the panel, five give Giuliani the highest mark in the monthly ranking (see tables), three panelists give top marks to both Clinton and Bloomberg (the candidate who ranks third), two panelists award the highest score to McCain and Richardson and one gives full marks to Biden.
Note: Some panelists awarded the same mark to more than one candidate, which is how we have so many "first place" candidates. Of these candidates, Biden is the only one who also get the lowest mark from no less than three panelists.
Number of times awarded highest score:
Giuliani 5 Clinton 3 Bloomberg 3 McCain 2 Richardson 2 Biden 1
Number of times awarded lowest score:
Giuliani 1 Clinton 0 Bloomberg 1 McCain 0 Richardson 0 Biden 3
And one more thing about the way this panel distributed the marks among the candidates: Giuliani is the candidate with smallest range of marks: His lowest score is 7 and his highest is 10. Clinton's range is from 5 to 9; Edwards between 2 and 8; Richardson between 4 and 9; Huckabee between 4 and 8; Obama between 2 and 7. But Joe Biden is the one candidate who gets the most remarkable spread of marks, ranging from 1 to 8.
Earlier this week, we compared the candidates' approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But here's an interesting fact: Three out of the five panelists who gave Giuliani the highest mark are also the three panelists who want less American involvement in the peace process. This puts a somewhat different perspective on our conclusion that "the panel wants a 'Clinton' but votes Giuliani." By and large this is true, but one should appreciate that those who want Giuliani the most also want a parallel desirable policy.
The new NIE report on Iran will present an interesting challenge to the candidates. In the last couple of months we rated a couple of debates and candidates based on their positions regarding dealing with Iran.
We praised Clinton for her position in the Philly debate. Some of the panelists thought that this was her best line of the night: "...I am not in favor of this rush for war, but I'm also not in favor of doing nothing. Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is in the forefront of that, as they are in the sponsorship of terrorism."
Will she say this again? After the NIE was released Clinton stated that, "The new declassified key judgments of the Iran NIE expose the latest effort by the Bush administration to distort intelligence to pursue its ideological ends. The assessment of the NIE vindicates the policy Senator Clinton will pursue as President: vigorous American-led diplomacy, close international cooperation, and effective economic pressure, with the prospect of carefully calibrated incentives if Iran addresses our concerns."
We also found that McCain's position on Iran faired better than Giuliani's. But McCain said all along that Iran presented great danger to the world. There's no doubt that [Iran is] moving forward with the acquisition of a nuclear weapon", he said. Will this change now?
And how about Edwards, the candidate that the panel voted The weakest Democratic candidate on Iran after a previous Democratic debate?
Edwards now feels vindicated. "The new National Intelligence Estimate shows that George Bush and Dick Cheney's rush to war with Iran is, in fact, a rush to war," he said (this conclusion is not exactly logical), and also that "This is exactly the reason that we must avoid radical steps like the Kyl-Lieberman bill declaring Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, which needlessly took us closer to war. And it's why I have proposed that we pursue a comprehensive diplomatic approach instead."
Next week, we will start testing the post-NIE waters of the presidential race. I called two of the panelists to ask how this will affect their judgment and the response was similar (but these are only two out of eight): The candidates that stick to their guns, and refuse to be convinced by the report, will be those most favorable to the Israel Factor.