If we have learned one thing this year in American politics, it's that there is no such thing as an inevitable President. In my last column, I outlined my thoughts about the Democratic presidential candidates - now, the Republicans.
Rudy Giuliani: I believe Rudy had a flawed strategy right from the outset. The whole idea was that his name recognition and national numbers would turn him into the inevitable candidate and that he needn't spend time in or worry about Iowa or New Hampshire because his national numbers would just automatically lift him up. If for some reason they didn't, he would be a sure shot to win in Florida, and then proceed into the big states on February 5, where he would be automatically have the money on hand to be able to compete in the television markets of New York and California and umpteen other states.
I always thought that was a mistake, because Iowa is extremely important, and a loss there, particularly an embarrassing loss, would produce several days of negative stories. The primary system is all about momentum and I think everyone is beginning to see that. He can still win the nomination, but even he has begun to see that he might end up in fourth- or even fifth-place in Iowa, third- or fourth-place in New Hampshire. Now, he's even down in Florida, because someone else - Mike Huckabee - has gained momentum in Iowa and built on it nationally.
Mitt Romney: Romney, interestingly, had the exact opposite strategy of Rudy: to spend a lot of money in the early states and build a compelling lead, so he'd roll in Iowa and New Hampshire, and then carry that momentum with him. And for a while it looked like that was working. He can still win the nomination. I suspect he will end up doing well in Iowa and he continues to lead in New Hampshire and is among the leaders in South Carolina and Florida. What he did not count on was Mike Huckabee.
Mike Huckabee: In addition to Huckabee's numbers going up dramatically in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida, we've also seen a dramatic decrease in the numbers of undecideds among Republicans. Translated: Many conservatives have told us they were unhappy with the field of candidates and were looking for a conservative leader and winner. Frankly, they hadn't considered Huckabee because he just didn't look like he had a chance. You combine his strong numbers with conservatives and respectable showing among independents and moderates, because he appears to be so affable and rational, and the Republicans right now are experiencing a Mike Huckabee "boomlet." The key question, is, however, are these just Huckabee's few days in the sun, at a time of the year when daylight is at its shortest?
John McCain: Talk about a little boomlet. John McCain seems to be getting his now, too. His candidacy bottomed out several months ago for a number of reasons, including internal campaign disputes and overspending, as well as a redefinition of McCain that undefined the John McCain of 2000: the war hero, the maverick, the straight-talker. But for those Republicans who want to believe that the surge in Iraq is working, that issue is less on the table, no longer hurting McCain, and he's very much back to being the maverick warrior. McCain's numbers in Iowa are disastrous, because he never campaigned there and he opposes ethanol subsidies. But he may just do better than expected, moving into third or fourth place, then on to New Hampshire where he runs a respectable second for now. His biggest problem is he has no money.
Fred Thompson: I've never seen the point of his candidacy. I still don't get it. There are some who suggest that he's caught some fire and he could come in second or third place in Iowa, as Huckabee or Romney fades. But right now, his candidacy has all the qualities of Baltic Avenue in a Republican sea of St. Charles Places. (Note: If Thompson wins the nomination, my comments here are for entertainment purposes only.)
Ron Paul: He's going to do better than anyone expects. Look to Paul to climb into the double-digits in Iowa. Why? He's different, he stands out. He's against the war and he has the one in four Republicans who oppose the war all to himself. Libertarianism is hot, especially among free-market Republicans and 20-somethings. And he's an appealing sort of father figure. He's his own brand. All he needs to do is beat a couple of big names in Iowa, then New Hampshire is friendlier territory. After all, the state motto is "Live Free or Die."
Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter, and Alan Keyes are also running and they have no chance.
There is a real possibility that there
will be no clarity on the Republican side after February 5. The
best-laid plans of front-loaders may have backfired. Figure out
that mixed metaphor.