Susan EstrichNote to our readers: Molly Ivins is on vacation and will return to this page shortly. In the meantime, please enjoy this column from Susan Estrich.

Turns out that being a winner has helped Nancy Pelosi in the eyes of the American people, which may be a lesson for her speakership. John Kerry, on the other hand, is losing friends fast, and Hillary now faces the problem that her husband is more likable than she is. Those are among the findings of a Quinnipiac University Polling Institute survey released this week, which creates a “thermometer reading” for national leaders as of the week after the Democrats’ victory in Congress.

According to the “thermometer readings,” the hottest guy in American politics is Rudolph Giuliani, at 64.2 on a scale of one to 100, voters having been asked to rate the warmth of their feelings for each of the leaders numerically, unless they didn’t know enough to have an opinion.

In the case of the former New York mayor best known for his leadership on 9/11, only 9 percent of the survey sample opted out because of lack of knowledge.

Numbers like these would be extremely good news for Giuliani if the Republican Party ran a national primary, or four regional primaries, instead of a complex marathon in which insiders and activists on the right exercise disproportionate influence.

Even so, as of now, there is no difference in Giuliani’s popularity between white Protestants and white born-again evangelical Christians, though many expect the latter will ultimately have difficulty with the New Yorker’s positions on abortion (pro-choice) and gay rights (supportive).

Running second on the warmth scale is the new kid on the block — speaking in terms of presidential politics — Barack Obama, who almost no one really knows enough about to evaluate, but only 41 percent admitted that. The rest gave him a score of 58.8, allowing him to nose out Sen. John McCain at 57.7, Condoleezza Rice at 56.1 and Bill Clinton at 55.8. (One percent of the sample said they didn’t know enough about the former president to form an opinion. It’s not clear where those people have been.)

Hillary doesn’t show up until ninth place, after Joe Lieberman and John Edwards. What’s striking is that with the exception of women, who rate them about the same, voters in every other group like Hillary by a margin of six to nine points less than her husband, whether you’re talking about men (36 to 27), white Protestants (41 to 35), white Catholics (33 to 27) or white born-again Christians (46 to 38). These are the percentages that put her in the very lowest category.

What’s wrong? How did Hillary come to be hated so much more than her husband when her greatest sin, in most people’s eyes, was standing by him?

That is a question the disparity in their popularity makes inevitable.

This is going to be one fun campaign.

But Hillary is beloved compared to John Kerry. According to those who know him, this is a message he will not get. He is about to do a book with Teresa. That will certainly change things.

To quote Borat: Not.

John Kerry comes in last on likability. In the last year, his numbers have been heading steadily in the wrong direction. The number who put him in the lowest category has grown steadily, to more than a third of the country. Overall, his “thermometer reading” is a paltry 39.6, 25 degrees lower than the former New York mayor.

While Kerry is falling, Pelosi is climbing. A week after the election, she is scoring 12 points higher than she was in early September, and two-thirds of the electorate says it knows enough about her to form an opinion.

If it is, as Peter Brown, the assistant director of the Quinnipiac Polling Institute, suggests, “because everyone loves a winner,” then Pelosi has to keep winning. She can’t afford ugly, losing inside fights like the Hoyer-Murtha battle or the brewing Harman-Hastings fight. Save it for big stuff.

What goes up can go down. Just ask John Kerry. He used to be a contender.


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