State of the Race

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I have very little to say about the Democratic race. I was happy to see Hillary Clinton pull off a win in New Hampshire, because I think it's unfortunate when the momentum from one race pretty much decides a primary election, as happened with John Kerry in 2004. I also prefer her to Obama both because she would be a much better president and because I think she'd be easier for any GOP candidate to beat in the general election, and I really don't want the Democrats controlling both houses of Congress (which isn't likely to change in 2008) and the White House. When I agree with the Democrats, it's usually on things they can achieve with a Republican president even if a Republican isn't likely to initiate legislation on those issues. When I don't, a Democratic president isn't likely resist them, and even one that might isn't going to resist them enough. I think this would be worse with Barack Obama as president than it would be with Hillary Clinton. So I'm rooting for her to get the nomination for both reasons, but I have no idea what to make of the various theories about why she managed to pull it off in NH, and I'm not going to hazard a guess about where it's going to go in the remaining primaries and caucuses.

I do have some thoughts on the GOP race, though. I want to make one point about what people have been saying about Mitt Romney, and then I want to explain my reasons why I think almost any of the current candidates could win this thing. First, consider the following facts about Mitt Romney.

Fact 1: The general view until this week seems to have been that there are three tickets out of Iowa and two out of New Hampshire. That means those in the top three from IA and top two from NH go on. It's hard to know if the conventional wisdom here means that doing well in either if ok or if you need to do well in both. If it's the former, then the conventional wisdom says the GOP voters in these states have given tickets to continue for Huckabee, Romney, McCain, and Thompson (McCain and Thompson were virtually tied for third place in IA). If it's the latter, then the only two candidates who were in the top two in NH and the top three in IA are Romney and McCain. So the conventional wisdom, no matter which way you read it, does not rule out Mitt Romney, and on one reading he's one of the only two still in the race.

Fact 2: In terms of delegates, here is the GOP order according to this site: Romney (21), Huckabee (14), McCain (12), Thompson (8), Paul (4), Giuliani (1), Hunter (1).

Fact 3: The next primary is Michigan, where Romney and Huckabee were ahead in one of the last poll two polls, with McCain and then Giuliani falling behind them a bit, but McCain was ahead in a different poll, with Romney behind Huckabee. So Romney is probably in the top three there and maybe even in the lead, but it's hard to tell. After that are SC and NV. In SC, Huckabee was ahead in the last poll, but Romney and McCain were close enough to being tied for second place. In NV, Romney and Giuliani were tied in the last poll, with Huckabee third and no one else close. So he's doing at least as well in these states as he has been so far, and there's some chance that he'll score a win in one of them, perhaps even two. If he wins Michigan, the momentum effect could push him to do better in others. Nevada along may not be enough for that.

Fact 4: Romney won the Wyoming primary handily, even if hardly anyone is paying attention to it.

Fact 5: Romney came in second place in the other two elections so far, and in both cases it was a close enough second that he was closer to the winner than he was to the third-place candidate.

Fact 6: I've heard a lot of pundits saying Romney, having lost twice, is now pretty much out of the race. Even one of the above five claims should be sufficient for anyone of decent intelligence to see that such statements fly in the face of the facts.

This race is wide open, and Mitt Romney has a good chance of coming out well in it, as do Mike Huckabee, John McCain, and Rudy Giuliani. I don't see Ron Paul or Duncan Hunter doing any better from here on out than they already have, but I really could see any of the others winning the nomination, depending on how things go. Here's my reasoning with each candidate.

For Giuliani to win, he has to maintain enough of a presence in the early primaries and caucuses to be still in the lead by the time Florida rolls around, which has a lot of delegates and is winner-take-all. I don't think he absolutely needs to do better in Michigan, Nevada, and South Carolina than he did in IA, WY, and NH. But typically those who do badly in the first few will bleed supporters in later ones, who think the candidate is unviable. That's what happened to Howard Dean after Iowa in 2004. It could happen to Giuliani now. His plan is banking on it not happening. He could pull it off, but there's little he can do to control the one thing that his plan now rests on. That's not a good thing if you're Rudy Giuliani. And keep in mind that after SC there are still Louisiana and Hawaii to come before his beloved Florida that he's banking on to bring him back in. No one has polled those states yet, but LA at least is probably going to go for Huckabee.

John McCain needs to outshine Romney in a couple more races before Feb 5. Florida and Maine are the only ones in the bunch where he's polled better in the most recent polls, and Maine doesn't count because it was last polled in May, so we're not much better off with ME than we are with LA and HI. But his NH victory could give him a boost in the closer states, and he could end up ahead of Romney in MI, SC, or FL. I don't think MI will be as easy as the other two, and if Giuliani does well in FL I think McCain won't, since the same sorts of voters go for those two. I could see Hawaii going for him also, but I have no hard evidence for that.

Mike Huckabee will probably win SC and could do really well in MI and FL also. LA is probably his also. He'll probably be at least a contender in NV. I think he's standing stronger than any of the above candidates, in fact.

Mitt Romney has more delegates than anyone else, but some people are perceiving him as having lost the only two contests the media are talking about (rather than having achieved a ticket out according to the traditional wisdom of top three in IA and top two in NH). He could lose Michigan to Huckabee or McCain and still have more delegates than anyone else if it's close. But he might bleed supporters who see winning as all-or-nothing even when it's not. So that could hurt his momentum. He does have a really good chance of winning MI and NV. If he does, he might pull up from his lower polling in the states after that, and it would give him a good chance of continuing to do well. I don't think he needs to win any of these early states to continue on, since enough Feb 5 wins would be sufficient, but ideally he would, because continued second-place wins will in the minds of enough people lose his sense of viability, and I don't know how likely a good showing on Feb 5 will be unless he does better in at least two states before then.

At this point any of these candidates could tank as Howard Dean did. Those not doing as well could completely change, because states with very different demographics seem to have very different orderings for these candidates, and the few polls since Iowa, Wyoming, and New Hampshire haven't shown much change in the rankings in the forthcoming states. Things could go in various directions, and I could really see any of them getting the nomination. I could even see a condition similar to the division we have no continuing until very near the convention or even during it. This may be a year when the convention actually does select the candidate. That could be fun.

7 Comments

That's a very fair assessment, I think. Certainly humility demands at this point that no one declare the winner; it's still very much up in the air, and you're right that the conventional wisdom is not applicable to this GOP run.

It's actually sort of exciting (much more so than the Dems, in my opinion) to see what the outcome might be. If I felt more strongly about a candidate, I might even consider getting out for the IL primary, something I've never thought about before this election.

Actually, I wasn't trying to argue that the conventional wisdom isn't appropriate but was simply noting that the pundits claiming Romney to be out are actually at odds not just with the standings on many measures but are even at odds with the conventional wisdom of "three tickets out of IA and two out of NH".

I always vote in primaries, but I'm not at all sure who I'll vote for this time. It might depend on what the polling looks like in NY right beforehand.

I don't have strong feelings for McCain or Huckabee or for any other Republican at this point in the race. No one really stands out in my mind. The one Republican who seems to be sincere to me is Romney. I don't know why, but he seems to come across as trustworthy even if he did change to the right positions late into the presidential election, as you said before. And like you, I think he is electable to evangelicals, although with a tiny bit of hesitancy. But if Pat Robertson could endorse McCain in the past, why can't evangelicals go for a Mormon Mitt Romney?

Robertson endorsed Giuliani. Did he endorse McCain in 2000?

I think it's crazy to rule Romney out at this point, yes ... as much as I'd love to say otherwise. (I'm a Huckabee supporter and from NH ... I've seen about the worst of Gov. Romney.) He hasn't scored any "wins," but this isn't the college playoffs; it's the delegates that count. In terms of psychological momentum, Gov. Romney does need to finish well in Michigan, or else he will appear too weak. I think that Huckabee, Romney, and McCain are all still viable. We'll see.

Well I have at first been favoring Mitt, but now I have been reassessing that. He seems a bit of a politician. I don't buy the flip-flopping charges made, but I do get a very "car-salesman" vibe from him. McCain seems to have a good plan on foreign affairs, Huckabee seems to have a good stance on abortion, and Guilani (even though he is out it seems) seems to have the best strength of will, and personality of all the candidates. Also he seems the most financially conservative.

Yes you are right. I got my facts wrong. Robertson endorsed Giuliani, not McCain. Thanks.

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