Thursday, December 20, 2007

Numbers and Notes: The Comeback Kid?

The Republican race has taken some bizarre turns in recent weeks, none more bizarre than this week’s. First was the Huckabee surge – fueled by religion and heavy doses of it, the “Christian Leader (his characterization, not mine)” surged to the lead not just in Iowa but in South Carolina, with the national lead within reach. Then, when the rocks were lifted and some unpleasant worms crawled out (pardoning rapists and condoning dog-killing by his son), suddenly Rev. Huck was not all that hot. Meanwhile Mitt “I am too a Christian” Romney started to build a little momentum nationally, while losing it in Iowa and New Hampshire. Rudy was undone by the Judith Nathan hidden security charges scandal, which combined a doubleheader of no-no’s for the GOP – infidelity and misuse of funds (either-or is the traditional GOP stance on those two). The Giuliani campaign is taking on water at an ungodly rate and could be on the verge of sinking. Fred Thompson has successfully put everyone to sleep and his numbers have drifted down.
And then there’s John McCain, who was supposed to have driven off in the old “Straight Talk Express” by now. He is closing in on Romney in New Hampshire and amazingly, while he isn’t even campaigning in Iowa, his numbers there (according to Rasmussen) have doubled since the Register endorsement. This is an incredible move up, but as with all Iowa poll numbers, it’s hard to know whether it translates into actual caucus-goers, or whether people were searching for a name that didn’t repulse them when they were asked, but don’t really have enough enthusiasm to leave their homes for. According to Rasmussen, he’s closed to within 4 points of Mitt in NH, thought to be safe for Romney. The endorsements have clearly helped him, as Republicans are confused and anyone with a firm opinion, even Joe Lieberman, may be listened to. A key to NH may be the Democrats in Iowa, as many independent voters in NH are planning on voting in the Democratic primary, but may switch if it looks like the Dems are done. Look for McCain to have his Hillary ’08 cap on while watching returns on January 3rd.
Oddly, while Romney seems extremely vulnerable at this point, his path to the nomination is the clearest of all. He’s made some peace with the religious right – “If you get down on your knees and pray, you’ll have a friend in the White House” was as clear a signal as he could give – and the business GOP would be thrilled with him. The path was simple, win Iowa (or finish a close second to Huckabee), romp in NH, eliminating Thompson and McCain, watch Rudy founder in SC against Huckabee, then turn to February 5th basically head-to-head with an underfunded and disorganized Huckabee campaign. It still could happen, but he could just as easily lose Iowa to Huckabee, then lose NH to McCain, SC to Huckabee, and then find himself going into the big states without a win and with the “can a Mormon win this?” question being the key topic of discussion.
The other question would be “if not Romney, then who?” The key again may be the Democratic nomination. If it’s Hillary, the GOP may turn to the most likely winner, who, according to polls, is no longer Rudy, it’s McCain. They would have to swallow his immigration stance, and his opposition to torture (and we can assume his strong opposition to torturing illegal aliens, also not popular among the faithful), yet he is strongly anti-abortion and pro-war and that puts him ahead of Rudy that way.
Or this could just boil down to who loves Jesus more and illegal immigrants and “Islamofascists” less – hard to say what these people are thinking.
As Elizabeth Edwards said: “Republicans scare me.”

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