January 10, 2008
POLITICS: Here's Where I Think We Stand As of Now on the GOP Horse Race
Take this for what it's worth, but here with minimal spin is my distillation of the calendar, the polls and the CW as they stand.
1. There is no frontrunner. The winner of Michigan on Tuesday becomes the official frontrunner at least through Florida on the 29th. If it's McCain, he argues that he's a known, vetted national figure who has won 2 of 3 significant contests thus far. He then remains the frontrunner even if he doesn't win SC. If it's Huck, he argues that he has won 2 of 3 and is only now heading for his home region; he stays the frontrunner unless McCain somehow beats him in SC. If it's Mitt, he argues that he alone competed in all 4 contests thus far, won MI & WY, placed second in IA and NH, and has the money to go national on 2/5.
2. Rudy has to win FL outright or he is toast. He's gone too many contests without being competitive; only a first place showing in a big, contested state changes that dynamic. If Rudy wins FL, his February 5 strategy remains in play, though it is still a long shot. Best outcome for Rudy now is for McCain to win MI and Fred to at least make a strong showing in SC so that Rudy faces neither a re-energized Mitt on 2/5 nor a Huckernaut in FL.
3. Fred has to win SC outright or he is toast. Same dynamic as Rudy, plus Fred needs badly to keep Huck from locking down the South. Best outcome for Fred now is for Huck to finish third in MI.
4. There's no way that there are more than three tickets punched to survive 2/5, but I can easily see it remaining a 3-man race through March 4, when Ohio, Texas and three New England states vote (MA, RI & VT). My guess as of now is that the race ends there; I can't see anybody being ready to put the whole thing to bed by 2/5 (several of the candidates have likely wins that day in their home bases) and the primaries in between (LA & KS on 2/9, VA/MD/DC on 2/12, and WI/WA on 2/19) seem unlikely to be decisive for candidates who have survived that far. But God have mercy on us if we go past 3/4; besides Mississippi on 3/11, we then go six weeks until the next primary (Pennsylvania on April 22), by which time the D nominee will already be spending general election funds.
5. The hidden story here is money. Except Romney's own checkbook, none of these guys has the money to last beyond 2/5, and only Mitt and Rudy can even get that far without raising a lot of money this month; that's why they each need to leverage visible momentum to avoid getting KO'd. But the surprise at the end of the day may be that one of the candidates who ended up far off the money lead wins the nomination, which is a much bigger long term story than it has been so far.
I have no idea what the burn rate is, but apparently Romney raised 5 million since NH. McCain had taken a 3 million loan late in Dec, I think. Huckabee was in dire straights. In fact that Huck and Mac are taking shots at Mitt for spending so much is a bad sign for the GOP - the temptation to take a poison pill for Mac and Huck.
I think Rudy has pulled back his funds so he's positioned to run through Feb. 5 financially.
After NH, Romney raised $1.5 million that can be used during the primaries and an additional $3.5 million he could use in the general election. So 70% of that take was monopoly money.
And though he's worth upwards to a quarter billion, he's already spent well over $20 million of his own funds. That's like somebody worth a million - with house, retirement funds, savings etc - dropping $100k ...its gotta hurt!
So at this point, I think Mitt is planning his exit strategy. The founder of Bain Capital knows when to stop throwing good $$ after bad.
At this point Rudy may even want to see Mitt eke out a victory in Michigan. So nobody goes into SC with more the one W (Wyoming does not count).
Then you're right, Rudy needs someone to slow Huck down in South Carolina. Ideally Fred would win it, further delaying the first multi-win candidate. But at the very least someone needs to bang him up.
If they head into FL, with no clear front runner, and Rudy wins it -- he's right back in it. Don't count him out just yet.
Don't see why Rudy's 2/5 strategy is a "long shot", if he wins FL. More likely than not, given Rudy cleaning up in NY, NJ and probably CA on 2/5, Rudy would be the delegate leader after 2/5.
Agree with A.S. The big thing that took out Mitt was Huckabee in IA. That's a win for Guiliani. The longer things stay engaged the better for Rudy, because the leader board will be split.
If I were on Rudy's campaign team, I don't want McCain to take Michigan. Rudy and McCain appeal to the same segment of the party -- more concerned with small government and national security than the social issues. If McCain wins Michigan, a lot of Rudy supporters will look seriously at switching to McCain. I'd want Mitt to take Michigan. That way, there is still no clear front runner coming into Florida.
It seems to me that the big problem for Rudy is that his ability to raise more money is probably limited until he puts a win on the board. And there are only six days between Florida and Super Tuesday, which dodn't give him a lot of time to convert a victory into add campaigns in huge, expensive states.
My understanding is that Rudy has already placed his ad buys for 2/5, so he doesn't need to raise more money to stay competitive through then. But he has staffers forgoing their January salaries, from which I infer that he has no cash left to go further without regaining momentum.
Jerry makes a good point. People want to back a winner. Right now McCain is in a good position but isn't really a clear position to take the nomination. Conservatives would prefer Fred Thompson to the rest. However, we are not sending money to a guy with 4 or 5% in the latest polls. Fred needs to do something to gain traction before people will send money. To some extent that affects all the GOP candidates. With several guys still in the game and each having an argument for and against their nomination people are holding off contributing. The Dems have raised much more money because with two (okay, three) candidates left it is easy to believe your choice could emerge the victor.
McCain does not appeal to small government types. If anything he appeals to the big government types, yes recently he's gotten against earmarks, but that seems more motivated by a fight corruption. Even if he is against spending - he's clearly a major regulator.
As to your five points: 1. A Michigan victory will not make any of the candidates, with the possible exception of McCain, the frontrunner. Romney's polling data cross country is dismal, Huckabee still has powerful enemies in powerful Republican circles, 2. Rudy must win FL you're correct, 3 Fred ALREADY IS TOAST, even if he wins SC. 4-5 no comment.