Consultant Power

So Joe Biden's pollster, Celinda Lake, did some push polling about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, then leaked it to The Washington Post which produced this story:

Conventional wisdom dictates that Democratic voters are thrilled with their choices for president, bursting at the seams to rally behind Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) or whoever gets the party's nod next year.

A recent survey by Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, however, showed Clinton and Obama trailing former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R) in the 31 Democratic-held House districts regarded as most imperiled in 2008, and even potentially serving as a drag on those lawmakers' reelection chances. [...]

"Some people say [your Democratic incumbent] is a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton and will support her liberal agenda of big government and higher taxes if she becomes president," the poll stated, before asking respondents whether they would still vote for their incumbent or choose a Republican candidate.

Whether the question named Clinton or Obama, the Democratic incumbent's lead shrank to an average of six points: 47 percent to 41 percent with Clinton leading the ticket, 44 percent to 38 percent with Obama as the nominee.

But now here's the catch: the Post writers don't identify Lake as Biden's pollster, or even characterize the poll as the push-poll it was. This prompts some of the usual media criticism from Atrios, which is spot-on, but also limited in perspective.

After all, Washington Post aside, why did Lake do this? Surely she didn't do it because she thinks she's going to put Joe Biden in the White House. Surely she knows she'll lose, and she'll continue to make a living as a public opinion consultant for Democratic candidates and progressive non-profit groups. Thus, she must realize that her future depends, in large part, on obtaining good will from progressive circles. Under the circumstances, her willingness to engage in dirty pool against the front-runners is remarkable. You have tons of reports of unions who favor John Edwards on the merits but who don't want to alienate Hillary Clinton by saying so publicly. But then you have -- frequently -- pollsters and other sorts of consultants who don't seem to fear the wrath of elected officials at all.

It tells you a lot about the actual structure of power in Washington. Above a certain level, the consultants aren't afraid of anyone.