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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Old John McCain's New Inevitability

(Editor's Note: At the conclusion of the South Carolina primaries, it became clear to me that we have reached the point of no return in the nomination process for both parties. The nominees are about to be decided. In fact, one week from today, we'll see that a Clinton vs. McCain general election is inevitable. Yesterday, I explained how the Democratic nomination would play out. Today, the Republicans...)

Republicans

The carousel of favorites has come full circle. Following President Bush's second inauguration in 2005, John McCain was considered the favorite for the Republican nomination in 2008. It was his to win, indeed he was the inevitable favorite for 2008 dating back to his runner up performance against Governor Bush back in 2000.

Early in 2007, however, a lackadaisical McCain campaign lost the lead to an aggressive Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani held the lead in national polls for about ten months, though for a time during the summer, Giuliani shared that lead with unofficial candidate Fred Thompson, who yesterday dropped out after months of futility when his potential energy from that summer was promptly dissipated upon his September declaration.

Aside from the summer's temporary shared lead with Thompson, Giuliani held a double-digit lead for most months of 2007, but Mitt Romney was up big in Iowa and New Hampshire, leading many to believe that those two wins would realign the national polls. For a time, many considered Mitt Romney, despite his wishy-washiness on key conservative issues, was the candidate most likely to rally conservatives against Giuliani's socially moderate platform, and Romney was dubbed the favorite.

Then, however, a conservative southern governor came to the limelight, much to the delight of desperate social conservatives. In late November, Mike Huckabee took over some leads in Iowa polls. By December, he was the national poll leader for the GOP. Then he won Iowa. All of a sudden, it was Mike Huckabee who was the favorite.

His appeal in the Midwest and Deep South, however, did not translate into popularity in the larger states nor the liberal northeast corridor. John McCain took New Hampshire, and used that to spring board to a South Carolina win last Saturday. It was this win that has set up the rest of the Republican Primary.

John McCain has four crucial assets that make it very easy for Republican voters to run, not walk, to him as the primaries head into Phase 2.

1. The Media. Horse race coverage will be crucial beginning with this week's Florida polls, and through the Florida Primary, and up through Super Tuesday. No candidate in the Republican Party is a friend of the media as much as John McCain. He has a history with nearly every anchor and commentator, and can therefore most effectively spin good results into momentum, not to mention more easily withstand pitfalls.

2. Florida. As McCain currently has the momentum in horse-race coverage, Florida is his last road block, if you can even call it that, to victory on Super Tuesday. He was already narrowing leading Florida before South Carolina. We have yet to see a poll to be taken since Saturday, but it is fully expected that McCain will extend that lead. With the momentum of South Carolina, and with Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani struggling of late, it comes down to McCain and Romney, which indeed are the two candidates the entire nomination will come down to. If Super Tuesday were held today, McCain would win a small plurality of the votes. However, after he wins Florida, he might win a majority.

3. Frontloaded Super Tuesday. As mentioned ad nauseum on this blog, this year's Super Tuesday is as super as ever. Whomever is envisioned as the favorite going into Super Tuesday will win Super Tuesday. Whomever is the winner on Super Tuesday will win the nomination. Cue the transitive property (or something): Since McCain will be envisioned as the winner after his Florida win, he will win Super Tuesday. Since he will win Super Tuesday, he will be the nominee.

4. General election strength. In a general election that will see both parties digging in deep, knowing how important it will be to hold all states from the 2004 election, it is the middle ground that is more valuable than ever. Which Republican candidate appeals to independents and moderate like John McCain? None.

4a. Beating Hillary Clinton. The Republicans will soon see Hillary Clinton as the nominee. Republicans hate Hillary Clinton. Republicans do not want Hillary Clinton to be President. Republicans will do anything it takes to keep Hillary Clinton from being President, even if that means voting for one half of McCain-Feingold. John McCain has the best chance of taking the winnable middle ground, which capitalizes on Clinton's unfavorability weakness. Romney, Huckabee, and Giuliani all run the risk of being polarizing candidates, which nullifies the Republican advantage in a campaign against Clinton. The sooner Republicans realize that John McCain stands the best chance of beating Hillary Clinton, the sooner they do that it takes to nominate John McCain.

These four reasons, individually, make a great case for McCain winning the Republican nomination. As an amalgamation, they are too overpowering too ignore.

It is inevitable. John McCain will be the Republican nominee.

5 comments:

Frankenstein said...

I suspect you're right about the primary results, and I now wish the elections themselves were over, too, because I just cant' wait to see what happens next. I'd be mighty surprised if either HIllary or John solves any of the country's big problems. HIllary will make it look like she solved them, but they'll only look solved. McCain will imagine that problems can be solved with a military strike.

Anonymous said...

Any idea who would be their VP? Hilary will run with Obama, right?

Darren said...

Great analysis. I can't see McCain taking Lieberman as the VP only because I have doubts about Lieberman's ability to draw voters away from Hilary in the NE. If NE independents aren't going to vote for Hilary, they're going with McCain. He doesn't need Lieberman for that. He needs someone like Mike Bloomberg to take NY from Clinton. But it's an unlikely scenario. Another, rather unlikely vp choice would be Governor Jodi Rell of CT. She's popular in CT, at least as far as Republican Governors go AND she's a woman. The great advantage that McCain has in an election against Hilary, is that he does not have to pander to the South. They will vote for him simply, as the blog pointed out, because of their hatred for Hilary. If he does decide to go with a southerner, I think he might go with Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida.

Clinton and Obama will not be running mates. Obama won't want to end up like John Edwards in 2004. For those two to be fighting as they are and then suddenly come together as partners will seem very calculating and possibly alienating to independents. She already has a strong Latino contingent of support, so I would rule Richardson out, even though before I thought he might be a good choice. Edwards has a decent chance of winning the south for her, or at least some southern votes. Mark Warner wants to run for the open Senate seat due to John Warner's retirement. Evan Bayh from Indiana is a good choice, but two senators might not bode well for her. She needs someone with executive experience. Wes Clark is an option since he's a military man. I think Obama could be her best choice, but it's going to take some big time back room deals to appease him.

IC said...

Frank, I agree with you. This campaign has gone from the Most Exciting Ever to the Most Predictable Ever. The only saving grace will be that both sides really need to appeal to the middle, so it'll be a nice liberal vs. conservative debate. It could be educational, if boring.

Anon, I have a colum coming next week about VP candidates.

Darren, thanks for your thoughts. We agree on some. Only some. Check back in.

The Dude said...

Jodi Rell for VP? Why not just get John Roland or R.Kelly?

This thing could still get interesting if a third party gets invloved, espcially a Ross Perot-esque candidate transfixed on the awful economy. A Bloomberg or a Trump would be awesome. My dark horse would be the great Robert Kraft.

Remember,

"20 bucks and a Lunchable can motivate a whole lot of activism"
-The Boondocks

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