The State Of The 2008 Republican Race

As expected, the bounce Fred Thompson received after entering the race has worn off and the field seems to be going back to about the same place it has generally been in for the last few months.

Rudy is at roughly 30% in national polls, Fred is at about 20%, and both McCain and Romney are hovering at around 10%, with McCain running slightly ahead, and Huckabee in the rear in mid-single digits.

This brings us to a candidate by candidate breakdown.

Rudy Giuliani

At the moment, Rudy’s in the catbird’s seat. He is 10 points ahead of his nearest competitor in national polls, he has the most cash on hand, he’s performing well in debates, and he’s running an outstanding campaign.

However, I think Rudy is still going to have the same problem Howard Dean did in 2004: last minute buyer’s remorse. In Dean’s case, he kept saying remarkably stupid things in the run-up to the primaries and while that doesn’t appear to be a fault of Rudy’s, he is well to the left of most of the primary voters, he has an enormous amount of baggage, and the threats from James Dobson and Company to start a third party if Rudy is the nominee makes it very unlikely that he could actually win a general election.

If I’m right, Rudy will probably start to deflate in December. If I’m not, I suspect that the GOP is going to have one long, ugly 2008.

Fred Thompson

Fred hasn’t had an easy time of it since he debuted for a number of reasons: he has been a bit slow to get up to speed, pundits backing other candidates have worked hard to undermine him, he has moved away from the catering to the new media that helped generate excitement about his candidacy in the first place, and perhaps most importantly, it is almost impossible for him to live up to the hype that surrounded his candidacy in the run-up to his entry into the race.

On the other hand, the other candidates have had more trouble fund raising than expected and it’s entirely possible that Fred may catch up with Rudy in the cash-on-hand department by the time that the first primary rolls around. Moreover, because Fred has managed to stake out a position as the most reliably conservative top tier candidate, he can be expected to gain more than his fair share of supporters from each candidate who drops out of the race. What that means is that as the field is winnowed in January, Fred will probably gain strength relative to the other remaining candidates.

Still, Fred may be right in the thick of it, but he has a lot of work left to do to pull off a victory.

Mitt Romney

Mitt’s strategy is to win in Iowa and New Hampshire and then hope that victory gives him enough momentum to steamroll the other candidates all the way up to Super Tuesday in February.

The problem with this strategy is that Mitt is such a weak candidate outside of Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, & Florida that it seems likely that either Rudy, Fred, or both of them will capture other states before Super Tuesday and break his momentum.

In order to win, Mitt needs to be in a situation where voters feel like they can get on the bandwagon with him or throw their vote away on a loser. If the voters feel like they have a legitimate choice between Mitt, Fred, and Rudy, Mitt won’t win that battle anywhere other than a handful of states where he has spent enormous amounts of money and time already.

Mike Huckabee

Huckabee has gotten some traction based on his raw charisma and impeccable credentials as a social conservative, but he has no money and is in 5th place nationally. At this point, in order to have a chance, Huckabee probably needs to pull off an upset in Iowa or New Hampshire.

John McCain

He doesn’t have a lot of money and he’s not winning any key early states, but he is outpolling Romney nationally and isn’t out of it yet. To really have a shot of winning the nomination, McCain probably needs either Rudy, Fred, or Mitt to collapse and open up some room for him to move.

Ron Paul

Today, as I listened to Sean Hannity’s show, I heard a fantastic commercial for Ron Paul. It emphasized Paul’s military service, his time as a doctor, his love of small government, spending cuts, and his desire to keep health care private. Too bad whoever wrote the commercial didn’t advise him on how to run his campaign.

Anyway, Paul is a fringe candidate who isn’t capable of moving much higher than he already has under the best of circumstances. The only question of consequence now is whether he will run as a third party candidate or not, and his constant denials and preparation to run again for his congressional seat would lead one to think the answer to that question is “no.”

The Other 2nd Tier Candidates

Unfortunately, at least in some cases, they basically need to catch lightning in a bottle to pick up the name recognition, contributions, and supporters necessary to win at this point. Is it impossible? No, but like I said — lightning in a bottle.

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