Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Big, Bruising Week Ahead for GOP in South Carolina

The Michigan primary results have left the GOP still scrambling to settle on a frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.

With the first Southern primary scheduled on Saturday, all eyes are turning to the Palmetto State for some relief from the suspense.
The New York Times has an analysis:

Fresh from a commanding primary victory in Michigan, Mitt Romney’s campaign rolled into South Carolina Wednesday morning, declaring he was committed to fighting hard in the state’s crowded Republican contest.

There had been some question about whether Mr. Romney would even compete here — a matter his advisers debated over the last few days — given how influential evangelicals are in the state’s Republican’s primary and the suspicions many harbor about Mr. Romney’s Mormon faith. Aides for Mr. Romney, who won Michigan on Tuesday night with nearly 40 percent of the vote, said he was now committed to “playing hard” in the Palmetto State.

The rest of the Republican field meanwhile had its sights on South Carolina already. On Wednesday, Senator John McCain of Arizona, who leads in the polls there, immediately began a sprint to the vote on Saturday, and picked up a key endorsement along the way. Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who has a reputation as a voice for fiscal discipline, announced his endorsement of Mr. McCain in Greenville on Wednesday afternoon.

Mr. Coburn called Mr. McCain a man “whose rudder is deep, whose principles are sound, and who has been tested, time and time again,” adding, “Our children are worth John McCain.”

Mr. McCain, for his part, pledged to crack down on pork barrel spending and to keep up a strong military, and he talked about his opposition to abortion, a big issue in South Carolina. “I’m proud of my pro-life record of 24 years in the United States Congress,” he said.

From there, Mr. McCain is expected to travel to Spartanburg and Lake Wylie. Mr. McCain is hoping to appeal to the many veterans in South Carolina and to military families with relatives serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also looking to sharpen his talk about the economy.

The campaign is dispatching Senator Joseph Lieberman to campaign for Mr. McCain in Florida, where Rudolph W. Giuliani has camped out to try to lock down support while the rest of the field has been competing in Michigan and South Carolina.

After losing on Tuesday night, Mike Huckabee and Mr. McCain each need a victory in South Carolina to keep their momentum from flagging. Mr. Romney finished with 38.9 percent of the vote, compared with 29.7 percent for Mr. McCain and 16.1 percent for Mr. Huckabee. Ron Paul, the antiwar congressman from Texas, came in fourth with 6.3 percent of the vote.

The outcome on Tuesday means three different Republican candidates have won each of the first three major contests. The race also moves to Nevada this weekend with no clear front-runner and two credible candidates, Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, and former Senator Fred D. Thompson of Tennessee, yet to seriously contest a state.
Thompson supporters this morning are bearing the ignominy of their candidate losing to Ron Paul in Michigan.

Meanwhile, Giuliani's completely off the radar, and
doubts are swirling that he can pull anything off in Florida:

Florida is crucial to his strategy, and a win in the Jan. 29 primary would give Giuliani momentum going into the Super Tuesday contests on Feb. 5. His campaign recently unveiled several new ads here and has moved dozens of staffers and volunteers into the state to help with absentee balloting.
South Carolina's pretty much coming down to Huckabee and McCain. The state's obviously key for both candidates, as the momentum from their respective wins in Iowa and New Hampshire fades.

Polling data shows
McCain edging the former Arkansas governer by a couple points.

McCain's flirted with permanent frontrunner status going into Michigan, and
some sectors of the GOP coalition are trying stem the Arizona Sentor's advance. In South Carolina a vicious attack advertisement has surfaced hammering McCain's integrity during his internment as a POW in Vietnam (see here and here).

Some analysts are dissecting the Michigan results for evidence of a McCain collapse, as well as the potential for the lower-tiered candidates to pull together and "take McCain out."

That might be wishful thinking,
according to Fred Barnes:

...McCain's loss in Michigan--a stage on which he trounced George W. Bush in 2000--is hardly fatal. Nor does victory make Romney the frontrunner. Not that he'd want to be so dubbed. Winning improves a candidate's poll numbers, but actual voters don't appear to be affected. They don't swoon. Momentum? Winning hasn't generated much of that in 2008.

This means Romney shouldn't expect a serious bump in South Carolina, which holds its primary on Saturday. In fact, he doesn't. Instead, Romney intends to concentrate on winning the Florida primary10 days later on January 29. However, if he doesn't finish in the top three in South Carolina--that's a distinct possibility--the press will surely gig him for it.

In case you hadn't noticed, the media loathes Romney and likes McCain. Reporters think Romney is a stiff and a phony. They give McCain credit for straight talk, though not as much credit as they gave him in 2000.

Anyway, this allows McCain to call reporters "jerks" and other playful names. They know he's joking. On Fox News yesterday, McCain said he needs not only "Republican, Democratic, libertarian, vegetarian" votes, but also "Trotskyites. I know there's still Trotskyites around because I travel with the media on the bus."

If Romney had said that, the press would have pilloried him.
I'll have more analysis this afternoon. See Memeorandum in the meanwhile.