Is It Down To A Two Man Race For The Presidency On The GOP Side? No, it’s Not.

Fred Barnes wrote a piece for the Weekly Standard saying that the GOP race in 2008 is already down to Mitt and Rudy,

At this point, with the first voting just nine weeks away, only two candidates–Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney–have credible scenarios. In that sense, the Republican campaign has become a two-man race, Rudy vs. Mitt. John McCain and Fred Thompson may not like this. They have scenarios, too, but theirs aren’t terribly credible.

This means just what you think it does. More likely than not, the Republican nominee will be Giuliani or Romney. I remember the old Ken Murray television show in the 1950s that would cut to Hollywood and Vine, where, it was said, “anything can happen and usually does.” That’s true of politics as well. Still, the best bet is Rudy or Mitt.

There are three things to keep in mind when evaluating the presidential race in 2008. First, national polls don’t matter at all. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and John Kerry polled at 13 percent or less nationally before the primaries, then locked up the Democratic nomination a few weeks later. State polls provide a better clue of what may happen. Second, the primaries are a dynamic process. Win in the early states and you have a far greater chance of capturing the later primaries–and the nomination. Third, money is more important than ever in 2008. If a long shot like McCain or Thompson or even Mike Huckabee wins in Iowa (January 3) or New Hampshire (January 8) or South Carolina (January 19), there won’t be enough time for him to raise the funds needed to compete effectively in Florida on January 29 and the 20-plus primaries on February 5. Television ads are expensive, but necessary.

Is he right? No, not at all — which is not to say that either Rudy or Mitt couldn’t win. Both of them certainly could, but any calculation that doesn’t, at a minimum, involve Fred Thompson, is seriously flawed. Let me tell you why…

First off, Romney is looking strong in Iowa and probably has a lock on New Hampshire, which neighbors Massachusetts. He’s also strong in Michigan, which is another early primary state. But, to pull off a victory, he needs to go on a rampage throughout January and basically stomp Thompson and Rudy into the ground, ideally by winning every single state. If this happens, Mitt’s mediocre numbers across the country won’t matter much because everyone will jump on his bandwagon.

However, that seems unlikely to happen.

Although the state is still in flux, it seems likely that Thompson will be able to break Romney’s momentum by winning in South Carolina and Rudy looks very strong in Florida and is beating Mitt in Michigan.

Additionally, if — as I expect — Rudy’s numbers tumble a bit in December and Fred’s numbers rise, we could be looking a situation where we have a three way dance going into Super Tuesday on Feb. 5, where the candidates’ broad strength across a region, as opposed to their campaigning in key states, is going to be more important.

That would be good news for Fred Thompson, who has managed to claim the mantle of “conservative alternative” in the race, because as the other candidates drop out, he would be likely to claim a disproportionate share of their former supporters.

Moreover, Barnes’ claim that Thompson wouldn’t have the money to compete if he did win South Carolina doesn’t make much sense. At the end of the third quarter, Mitt only had 2.1 million dollars more cash on hand than Thompson while Rudy had a 2.3 million dollar advantage over Romney. Given that Thompson was raising money at the end of the third quarter at a much higher clip than either of them, it’s entirely possible that he will have more money than any other Republican candidate at crunch time.

Then there’s Huckabee and McCain.

Huckabee needs to pull off an upset victory in Iowa, which is unlikely but possible, and then use the fund raising, publicity, and momentum from that win to get in the game in the other states. That would be difficult given his lack of fund raising and weak numbers, but isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

On the other hand, McCain is like an NFL team that doesn’t control its own destiny and needs other teams to fall apart to make the playoffs. In McCain’s case, he’s not on track to win any of the early primary states and he has no money. In order for him to win, he basically needs to overperform in the early states while the other top tier contenders collapse. Then, if on Super Tuesday, it were to be viewed as a two man race, between McCain and Romney or McCain and Rudy, he might have a chance to pull off a victory. But again, for this unlikely scenario to happen, McCain needs a lot of other candidates to fold.

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