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“Neutral” Pollster Frank Luntz Spins For John McCain

Reported by Ellen - February 8, 2008 -

I second my blogmate Melanie’s observation that FOX News is beginning to warm up to John McCain. Now that Mitt Romney has dropped out and McCain is the presumptive Republican nominee, gone was Sean Hannity’s harsh rhetoric about McCain’s “class warfare” and “aligning himself with liberal Democrats against his conservative base.” In its place was an optimistic respect. But Republican pollster Frank Luntz, always presented as an independent on Hannity & Colmes, spun like a McCain spokesperson on his behalf when Alan Colmes brought up McCain’s not-so-straight talk about his own record. With video.

Luntz appeared on last night's (2/7/08) Hannity & Colmes ostensibly to analyze McCain’s speech that day to CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference). But Luntz sounded more like a cheerleader than a critic. “What a great way to open up the speech,” Luntz gushed to Hannity. Luntz deliberately boosted McCain further by asking for a clip of McCain invoking Ronald Reagan, saying how proud he was to have been a foot soldier in the “Reagan revolution” and “I am as proud of that association today as I was then.”

Hannity gasped with approval.

Luntz called McCain’s words “a great approach” that he knew would be important to the CPAC audience. But, Luntz cautioned, “Republicans should be a little bit nervous about it. While conservatives will react very favorably, and John McCain has a very good Reagan record, if you’ve got the Democrats focused on the future, you do not want the Republicans focused on the past.” That was pretty much it for Luntz' criticism of McCain.

Hannity was significantly less laudatory but he enumerated the parts of McCain’s speech that he liked. “Where does he go from here, Frank?” Hannity asked. It was pretty clear that he was giving McCain the benefit of the doubt.

Colmes took an entirely different tack for his portion of the discussion. He began by noting that McCain “claimed to have campaigned against ethanol subsidies in Iowa and actually that’s not what happened. He called it a vital, alternative energy source in Iowa. He bragged about his support for extending the president’s tax cuts but he didn’t support them. So he’s got some credibility issues, in terms of what he said today, doesn’t he?”

In fact, Colmes raised McCain’s credibility issues repeatedly during the program and each time, the Republican at hand ducked the question. Luntz evaded it by saying, “John McCain is regarded as a maverick and a reformer (funny, I can’t remember that being highlighted in previous attacks on discussions about McCain). And this is someone who has not taken the traditional, either Republican or conservative, points of view. It’s someone who has tremendous support. And, Alan, from your perspective, you’ve got to be nervous that McCain’s numbers among independents have increased by double digits.”

Colmes pressed the point. “He contradicted his own record, is what I’m saying.”

Luntz could have said that he didn’t know the details but that McCain’s “straight talk” would likely compensate or that if the public became aware that McCain wasn’t the straight talker he claimed to be, it could damage his credibility. But instead, Luntz dodged the question and spun as though he were on McCain’s payroll. “I’m just telling you the facts on the ground is John McCain was 10 points behind Hillary Clinton five weeks ago. Now he’s 3 or 4 points ahead and it’s primarily among independents that McCain has gained because they like the fact that he’s not as partisan.”

Actually, according to RealClearPolitics, the latest two polls show McCain and Clinton either tied or with Clinton a few points ahead.

Colmes continued, “(McCain) doesn’t want to be perceived as a flip-flopper I’m sure, though.” But oops, time was up, even though Colmes got significantly less time than Hannity.

Luntz never did answer the question.