The State Of The Race Post South Carolina/Nevada
In Nevada, Mitt Romney crushed all opposition and Ron Paul edged out John McCain for 2nd place.
In South Carolina, which was more hotly contested and was treated as the more important of the two primaries, John McCain won, Mike Huckabee finished just behind in 2nd place, and Fred Thompson edged out Mitt Romney for a distant 3rd place.
Here’s the fall-out.
Fred really needed to win South Carolina to get enough momentum to have a decent shot to win on Super Tuesday and a close 2nd place finish to at least stay in the hunt. He didn’t get either and thus, whether he officially drops out or not, he won’t capture the nomination.
South Carolina was a dream killer for Mike Huckabee as well. A win in SC would have given Huckabee a decent chance to win Florida and a boost in his national numbers.
Unfortunately, a 2nd place finish doesn’t quite cut it. Pre-South Carolina, Huckabee was in 2nd place nationally, but well behind McCain and his numbers also seemed to be slipping a bit in Florida. His loss in South Carolina may cause his numbers to dip even further.
Is Huckabee out of it? No, but the points Fred Thompson took out of his hide in South Carolina were probably the difference between victory and defeat in that state and ultimately, could be the undoing of his candidacy.
Rudy Giuliani has put up pathetic numbers in every state so far and his national numbers have dropped significantly, so his entire campaign is now riding on winning Florida.
On the upside, Rudy has spent far more time and money in Florida than any of the other candidates and if he wins, he should get enough of a boost to put him in contention for the nomination.
On the other hand, Florida is essentially a 4 way dance between Rudy, McCain, Mitt, and Huckabee — and Mitt and McCain are coming off of wins in Nevada and South Carolina respectively. Moreover, pre-South Carolina, McCain was polling slightly, but consistently, ahead of Rudy in Florida.
That means the odds are probably against Rudy, but they’re not insurmountable.
Mitt Romney has now won Michigan and Nevada. He’s also in the hunt in Florida. Moreover, if Fred Thompson drops out, you have to think a large chunk of his support would move over to the most conservative candidate remaining in the race, which is generally considered to be Mitt Romney.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that Mitt is significantly behind John McCain nationally and in the key Feb 5 states that have been polled, Mitt is behind McCain in all of them. This underscores a key weakness for Mitt: he has run an exceptional campaign, but for whatever reason, people tend not to like him very much. That is something he has been able to overcome, to a certain degree at least, in the early states through superior organization. That won’t work for him on Feb 5, which will be more about poll numbers than skill at campaigning.
Mitt’s dream scenario at this point would be for Fred to drop out and have most of his supporters move over to Rudy. Then next, Mitt would get a boost after winning Florida, Rudy would finish in 2nd place and stay in to bleed off moderate voters from McCain and Johnny Mac would lose steam after being pummeled by talk radio and finishing out of the top two slots.
Still despite the fact that Mitt has done pretty well in primaries overall, it feels like a real uphill struggle for him to make headway.
PS: In Nevada, Mitt captured more than 90% of the Mormon vote which is ironic if you think about the way Republicans have been told that it would be bigoted to take his religion into consideration. Apparently the Mormons in Nevada didn’t pay any attention to that message because they obviously took Mitt’s religion into consideration before they voted for him.
At this point, John McCain is definitely the front runner. He captured conservative South Carolina and pre-South Carolina, he had a small but significant polling edge in Florida. He also had a significant lead in the national polling, and a lead in large Super Tuesday states like California, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. At this point, McCain is probably the only candidate who could come in 3rd place or lower in Florida and still have a good chance to pull out the nomination.
Is McCain still stoppable? Yes, but he has a better chance to capture the nomination than the rest of the field combined at this point.