rasmussen011308dems.JPGIn the wake of Barack Obama’s non-win over Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, the punditti have been making various wailing noises over how awful it is that they were so wrong and all that. But for all the hubbub over the New Hampshire pre-primary polls and how accurate or inaccurate they were, it’s rather interesting that some polls that may have more import have got comparatively minimal coverage.

I speak of the CNN and Rasmussen polls that provide national head-to-head match-ups of presidential candidates. And for months now — at least, until CNN left off a couple of candidates this time around –both of these polls have been saying similar things about the strengths and weaknesses of the major candidates, things that aren’t being told to us in the evening TV news or on the cable gabfests.

Here are the current Rasmussen head-to-head match-ups for the various Republican candidates against the Democrats:

ras011308gopmatchup.JPG

A few things should be immediately apparent:

1) McCain is by far the GOP’s strongest candidate in the general election. (Rudy would be stronger, but he’s not going to make it past South Carolina, much less to the nomination.) He trounces Hillary 49% to 38%, and beats Obama 46% to 43%. In fact, the only Democrat who beats him is none other than John Edwards, who decisively beats McCain 46% to 39%.

This is why it’s a good idea for Michigan Democrats to engage once again in the time-honored tradition of crossover primary voting to vote for Romney and deny McCain a win in the Michigan primary: It blunts McCain’s momentum, and convinces Romney to stay in the race at least through the South Carolina primary, which is a good thing as Romney will force McCain to spend money he doesn’t have on him to spend. (And if Romney does win the nomination, he’s much easier to beat, money or no money.)

2) John Edwards is by far the Democrats’ strongest candidate in the general election. He is the only one who is not beaten outright by any Republican candidate: He ties with Giuliani at 44% each, but easily beats McCain, Thompson, Romney, and Huckabee, the latter two by double-digit margins.

3) Hillary Clinton is the weakest Democratic candidate in the general election. She loses to every single Republican except Fred Thompson, Tom Tancredo, and Ron Paul, and none of those gents is going to get the Republican nomination for president.

4) Barack Obama is in between Edwards and Hillary Clinton in strength in the general election. He does much better against Rudy Giuliani than either Edwards or Clinton, beaing Giuliani 37% to 47%, yet against every other Republican, especially McCain and Romney, Edwards is the Democrat that does the best.

Of course, this is just one pollster, and though Rasmussen is probably the best of the lot, it behooves us to look at other polls to see if similar patterns obtain. Luckily for us, CNN has been doing nationwide head-to-head polling as well, and in their December polling, the same patterns manifest: Edwards is the strongest Dem, Hillary is the weakest, Obama is somewhere in between — and John McCain is the GOP’s strongest player. CNN’s current January polling is somewhat kinder to Clinton, but it’s also missing Edwards, so there’s no way to see if the patterns still hold with him in the mix.

The upshot of all this: If Hillary’s the Democratic nominee, we could very easily lose to any likely GOP nominee. If Obama’s the nominee, he does OK so long as he doesn’t face McCain. But if Edwards is the nominee, we’re sitting pretty. Which, I suspect, is one reason why Big Media hates John Edwards so much and does everything it can to destroy him. (Speaking of which: KingOneEye at DailyKos pointed out this morning how the NYT is ignoring a key result of its own poll on the race — namely, that as more people get to know him, Edwards’ favorability rating keeps going up.)