Thursday, January 31, 2008

Campaign Says McCain is "De Facto" Nominee

A top operative in John McCain's presidential team has suggested to Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post that the Arizona Senator is the "de facto" nominee (via Memeorandum):

In an internal memo for Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) presidential bid, campaign manager Rick Davis argued that his candidate stands in extremely strong position to rack up a decisive delegate victory over former governor Mitt Romney (Mass.) on Super Tuesday and, in doing so, lay claim to the GOP nomination.

"Senator McCain is tremendously well positioned to win the nomination of our party and will be the de facto nominee of the party following the February 5th Super Tuesday elections," writes Davis. "Governor Romney has a delegate problem the media will soon figure out."

The memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Fix, was distributed to McCain's national finance team this morning.

McCain's strength (and Romney's weakness), according to Davis, is centered on a series of "winner take all" states where whoever wins the popular vote is awarded all of the state's delegates. Second place in these states gets a candidate no delegates.

In the seven "winner take all" states set to vote next Tuesday -- New York, Missouri Arizona, New Jersey, Utah, Connecticut and Delaware -- McCain holds significant polling leads in five. No recent polling is available in Utah -- almost certainly a Romney state -- or Delaware, a likely McCain win.

Add up the delegates in the five states where McCain currently leads and he nets 279 of the 327 available delegates. Romney takes 33 for winning Utah. Delaware's 15 delegates remain a toss up, according to the McCain memo.

"Senator McCain's 20+ point leads in 'winner take all' states on Super Tuesday give him a tremendous advantage over Mitt Romney in the delegate race," writes Davis.

In states that award delegates either proportional to the total vote or to the winners of each congressional district, McCain also is in good shape, according to Davis.

In California, for example, where 170 delegates are at stake, Davis estimates that McCain will win 63 delegates to 44 for Romney, 22 for Giuliani and 19 for former governor Mike Huckabee (Ark.). In Georgia, the McCain campaign estimates that Huckabee will win the delegate fight with 21 followed by McCain at 12 and Romney at 10.

All told, the memo projects that McCain will walk away with 423 of the 1009 delegates up for grabs on Super Tuesday, while Romney is currently positioned to win only 143. Another 298 delegates are included in a toss up category.
We might be able to take this a media-generating (and self-interested) campaign memo, but the buzz is building that Romney may not spend heavily on advertising for Tuesday's half-national primary:

Mitt Romney plans to buy TV ads in California and other Super Tuesday states, contradicting earlier reports that he was avoiding a costly campaign on Feb. 5, when 21 states hold Republican primaries and caucuses.

As Romney seeks to topple John McCain’s momentum coming out of his win in the Florida primary and a host of big-name endorsements, top aides said Romney’s ad buys will be high-dollar.

The campaign will determine shortly which states it will target beyond California.

Romney’s advisers had given him several options, ranging from spending $1 million for ads to $7 million. It was not immediately clear how much money Romney was willing to spend - or whether the multimillionaire would dip into his own bank account again. He already has poured at least $40 million into his presidential campaign.

McCain aides said he, too, is preparing to run a high volume of commercials on national cable channels and in key states, but Romney will likely be the first GOP candidate on air in the Super Tuesday states, the broadest battleground of the primary season.

As that mega-contest looms, Romney and McCain clashed sharply at the Wednesday night debate in California, trading accusations on topics ranging from taxes to their positions on the Iraq war to conservative credentials.

Romney has been trying to cast himself as more conservative than McCain. He claimed the Arizona senator was outside the mainstream Wednesday night and even accused McCain of “dirty tricks” and old-style Washington politics for repeating a charge that Romney supports a timetable for troop withdrawal in Iraq. Romney insists that is not true.

The debate Wednesday night further defined the contest as a two-man race, but McCain is already leading in the polls in several delegate-rich Feb. 5 states, including California.

Mike Huckabee is also trying to stay competitive in the race. He and Ron Paul participated in Wednesday night’s debate alongside Romney and McCain.

Romney had indicated on Wednesday that his campaign was not trying to purchase television advertising time in any of the states on the Super Tuesday calendar. Instead, his plans called for campaigning in California and other primary states, while making organizational efforts primarily for caucus states.

That still holds, though Romney now will supplement his campaigning with advertising.
Romney may feel the tide's turning against him, especially with Calfornia Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's endorsment of Senator McCain today.