A Post-Michigan State Of The Race Report

After his victory in New Hampshire, John McCain was poised to blow the race wide open. He was ahead in SC and virtually tied for the top slot in Nevada and Florida. Had he captured Michigan, the momentum he would have gained would have probably given him enough momentum to win all 3 states and sweep through Super Tuesday.

However, Mitt Romney, who was on the brink of being declared DOA after losing Iowa and New Hampshire and having his national numbers tumble, came through with a must-have win in Michigan.

With that in mind, here’s a little breakdown of how things are looking for the top 5 contenders after the Michigan primary…

Fred Thompson: After Iowa, Fred bypassed the other states (where he did very poorly) and went to South Carolina. It’s a Southern state where they love conservatives. Fred has been in the state almost non-stop since Iowa. He’s had the money to run ads and there have been reports of surging support for him there. However, the latest polls of South Carolina, which are both pre-Michigan, have him in 4th place.

That is very bad news because if Fred is going to remain viable, he has to do well in South Carolina. If he has a poor finish there, his supporters will start to write him off and his national numbers, which are sitting at around 11%-12% will plunge into single digits, which would guarantee a poor showing on Super Tuesday — if he decided to stay in that long.

In other words, it’s do or die time for Fred and if he can’t finish at least in 2nd place in South Carolina, it may be the end of the road for him.

PS: Early on, a lot of Fred’s socially conservative support moved over to Huckabee, but I think Fred’s support is now mostly comprised of rock ribbed movement conservatives.

So, if Fred were to drop out, Huckabee might benefit a bit, but I suspect most of his supporters would move over to Mitt Romney, the pseudo-conservative in the race and Rudy Giuliani, the moderate candidate who has been beaten up the least over the last month or so.

Rudy Giuliani: Rudy had a novel strategy: he’d skip the early states, count on the other candidates to split the vote and keep anyone from getting too much momentum, and then Rudy would win Florida and use his outstanding national poll numbers to sweep through Super Tuesday and leave the other candidates in the dust.

Three different candidates have won the first three states, which plays into Rudy’s strategy perfectly, but his national numbers have tanked and the latest pre-Michigan numbers essentially have a 4 way tie for first in Florida between Rudy, McCain, Mitt, and Huckabee.

Is Rudy done? No. In fact, if he does win Florida, you could see his national numbers surge again and he could conceivably make his whole strategy work exactly as he planned it out.

After all, the conservative press has been mercilessly flogging Huckabee for a month and McCain for about a week. So, since Rudy is the middle-of-the-road candidate who has managed to escape criticism, he may benefit from that.

However, Florida is a must win state for Rudy. He has bombed in all the previous states and has bet his entire campaign on winning Florida. Given that he has put so much on the line in that state and that his national numbers have dropped so much, Florida is a victory-or-death state for Rudy’s campaign.

Mike Huckabee: After winning Iowa, Huckabee has only managed to put together two third place showings in New Hampshire and Michigan. However, he has been in 2nd place in South Carolina, is right in the thick of it in Florida, and has excellent national numbers.

At this point, it’s all balanced on a knife’s edge for Huckabee. If he does well or better yet, wins Florida and/or South Carolina, he could get a boost to his national numbers which would allow him to clean-up on Super Tuesday.

On the other hand, if he finishes 3rd or 4th in those states, which is also possible, he could just as easily see his national numbers drop significantly as he’s written off as a limited candidate whose appeal doesn’t stretch beyond social conservatives.

Mitt Romney: Overall, Mitt Romney has run the strongest campaign so far with 2nd place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire to go along with his first place finish in Michigan. On the other hand, his early strategy was to pour resources and time into those three states, win them all, and slingshot to the nomination.

So, how do things stand for Mitt, now? It depends on how much of a bounce he gets from Michigan. If he gets a decent bump, he could go on to win Nevada (where he’s neck-and-neck with McCain) and do well or maybe, just maybe, win South Carolina where he’s in third place.

I thought Mitt might be considering dropping out of the race if he lost Michigan, but this win has breathed new life into his campaign and has given him a real shot at capturing the nomination.

PS: The Romney campaign tells me they are now running ads in South Carolina, so rumors that Mitt might just skip the state and move on to Florida are apparently unfounded.

John McCain: Had McCain won last night, it probably would have clinched the nomination for him, but he’s still looking fairly strong post-Michigan. Pre-Michigan, he was winning South Carolina, duking it out for the top slot in Nevada with Romney, and in the mix for the top slot in Florida. Plus, he has strong national numbers.

On the other hand, if McCain loses SC and Nevada, his momentum may be stopped for good since the conservative press is finally turning their attention to him. On the other hand, victories in those states would help him a great deal and if Rudy loses Florida and drops out, it would help McCain immensely because they draw from the same pool of moderate voters. That means the lion’s share of Rudy’s support would probably move over to McCain.

Additionally, the mainstream media is pushing hard for McCain and at the moment, McCain is putting up far better head-to-head numbers against the Democrats than any of the other Republican candidates. That’s a big advantage for him and it gives him a little bit of an edge over the rest of the field.

Summary: It has been a really bizarre primary season. We have five candidates in contention. Three of them, Huckabee, McCain, and Giuliani, aren’t well liked by conservatives. Then there’s Mitt Romney, who is considered to be more conservative than the other three candidates, but probably can’t win a general election. Last but not least, the most conservative guy in the batch, a guy who has done very well in the debates, who is probably the only candidate in the group who could excite conservatives in 2008, is running in 4th place in South Carolina, the state that’s supposed to carry conservatives on its back.

At the moment, it’s almost impossible to say who’s going to come out on top, but after we see how things play out in South Carolina and Nevada, we should have a better idea of whether Fred’s going to stick around, whether Huckabee is for real, and whether McCain or Romney can put together enough momentum to clean up on Super Tuesday.

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