Is John McCain’s Support Collapsing In New Hampshire? (REVISED)

thius.jpgNOTE: We just did this post and a poll comes out that contradicts the news story that mentioned other polls. So we’ve done a rewrite, using the newer poll as well.

Arizona Senator John McCain may wooing the Republican party’s religious right and scoring points with the administration by his strong support of the Bush administration’s surge, escalation, or augmentation — but is or is not his support collapsing in the primary-important state of New Hampshire?

Two reports have come out. One says, McCain’s support is collapsing. The other doesn’t characterize his progress but shows him ahead — slightly — in the state. Are these polls contradictory, or do they both indicate red flag warning signs for McCain’s Presidential aspirations?

For instance the Boston-Herald-American reports:

For seven years, conventional wisdom has said that the state’s pivotal independent voters would line up behind maverick Sen. John McCain, as they did so famously in the 2000 GOP primary. But new polling data, to be released later this week, will suggest that might no longer be the case.

Manchester, N.H.-based American Research Group finds that McCain’s popularity among New Hampshire’s independent voters has collapsed.

“John McCain is tanking,� says ARG president Dick Bennett. “That’s the big thing [we’re finding]. In New Hampshire a year ago he got 49 percent among independent voters. That number’s way down, to 29 percent now.�

American Research Group, which is New Hampshire’s leading polling company and has been operating in the state since 1976, polled 1,200 likely Granite State voters in the survey.

Bennett says ARG is finding a similar trend in other states polled, including early primary battlegrounds like Iowa and Nevada. “We’re finding this everywhere,� he says.

The main reason isn’t hard to find: His hawkish stance on the Iraq war, which is tying him ever more closely to an unpopular president. “Independent support for McCain is evaporating because they view him as tied to Bush,� says Bennett.

On the other hand, Zogby shows McCain ahead — but definitely not by a landslide:

On the Republican side, maverick Sen. John McCain leads with 26% support, six points ahead of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in a race where the two with reputations for independence outdistance the field in a state where independence is a valued trait. In a distant third place is former Gov. Mitt Romney, who led neighboring Massachusetts for two terms before leaving office just over two weeks ago.

Even if you put aside apparent contradictions, it’s clear McCain, more than ever, will be walking an extremely shaky political tightrope.

Right now the Bush administration’s Iraq policy has begun to create ugly fissures in the GOP itself. Polls show most independent voters are unhappy with the war. McCain could conceivably still win the GOP nomination without a win in New Hampshire, but it points to a deeper problem for him: on many issues McCain is not TRUSTED by some Republicans as it is. To win this trust, he’ll likely have to take more “non-nuanced” stands that will burn some more bridges with independent voters.

Rightfully or wrongfully, McCain now has locked himself into a position where if he shifts much on the war he’ll be perceived as just another pandering pol. If he keeps his position, he is supporting a President whose popular support — and credibility — continues to decline (the recent about-face by the administration on warrantless wiretaps will not help Bush among some GOPers who went to bat for him). And it’s a long way until the primaries.

Some critics already contend that The Straight Talk Express went out of business when he started wooing Jerry Falwell. The danger for McCain is that by primary season many independent voters — and many Republicans — will conclude that The Straight Talk Express has been replaced by Finger In The Wind Airlines.