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FOX News Republican Forum: Frank Luntz Does Campaign Commercial For Mitt Romney

Reported by Ellen - January 7, 2008 -

Now that Republican candidate, and friend of Roger Ailes, Rudy Giuliani is invisible in the polling for the early primary states, the question is who will be Fox’s next favorite best friend. Judging from last night’s (January 6th) follow-up to the Fox sponsored debate (and not NH Republican sponsored as the state party withdrew its support after Ron Paul was excluded from the debate), the answer is Mitt Romney.

The debate itself was standard republican fare with discussion focused on taxes, national security, and immigration. Not surprisingly all the candidates vied with one another to be the king of all past and future tax cuts. Not surprisingly Ronald Reagan’s name was frequently invoked. Not surprisingly Islamic terrorism was referenced. John McCain, in answering a question about how he will be a change agent replied that he was an agent of the surge which, according to McCain, was one of the most significant changes in American history. Not surprisingly there were few specifics on health care or the present situation in Iraq and Pakistan. While the candidates were speaking, the chyrons were almost tabloid in their “lingo:” “Negative campaigning, who is dishing more dirt?” and “Who is best able to beef up national security?” Unlike the somewhat contentious tone of the previous night’s republican debate, this one was mellow and smiley faced.

The follow-up to the debate consisted of Brit Hume and his “all star” panel of Fred Barnes, Nina Easton, Bill Kristol, and Mort Kondracke in between Frank Luntz segments. Supposedly neutral pollster, Frank Luntz, spoke before his focus group of registered republicans (although according to Rasmussen, independents will make up 27% of the NH republican primary voters) in Merrimac, New Hampshire. What was really amusing was the constant parade of Ron Paul signs parading back and forth outside the window of the restaurant. One of the signs said “Fox News Unfair.” In questioning the group as to their voting preference, the majority of the group (the majority of whom were middle aged or older) picked Romney and gave glowing testimonials of why they prefer him. Without mentioning the substance of the question, Luntz asked the group if Huckabee flubbed the first question and a resounding yes was heard. Luntz asked “who thinks Mike Huckabee has too much religion?” and spoke to those who raised their hands. No questions were asked about the other candidates. Luntz concluded that Mitt Romney had a “good night.”

After “Campaign” Carl Cameron, standing outside the debate venue, said that most New Hampshire residents were watching Fox (Comment: not mentioned was Ron Paul’s televised open forum held on a New Hampshire public access station) and that if Romney wants to win, it is important for him to demonstrate the kind of ability that he displayed in the debate, the discussion went to the panel. Fred Barnes felt that Romney was “pretty close to total command” and that his debate performance was “terrific.” Not surprisingly, Barnes (who loves the Iraq war) said that the surge is working and, as noted by McCain, represented a “major change.” Easton and Kristol were fairly neutral in their assessment and Kondracke, to his credit, said that only Huckabee seems to understand that 70% of the country is unhappy with the economy.

Back to Luntz who displayed graphs generated by his dial meters. Without showing the graphs on the other candidates, Luntz stated that Romney had “the best responses.” He showed reaction to Romney's comments about Washington needing change and noted that when Romney talked about illegal immigration, he received the highest ratings. He concluded that Romney “hit a home run.”

Comment: Short of wearing a Romney for President tee-shirt, Luntz was not very subtle in his cheerleading for Romney. In what seems to be standard Fox operating procedure, Huckabee was dissed. And in not including Ron Paul in the Fox debate (not even mentioning his and Duncan Hunter’s name) those who watched it didn’t get to hear those annoying comments about the price of the war in Iraq and other inconvenient truths which indicate some fissure in the Republican party. With the exception of some Huckabee populism (feared and loathed by the Republican “beltway”) it was all very Republican talking points. It was all very Fox.

Addendum: Despite Mitt Romney’s “home run,” today’s (January 7, 2008) Marist poll shows that he is behind McCain 35% to 31%.

Guest blogged by Priscilla