Wednesday, January 9, 2008

McCain is Likely GOP Nominee

Robert Novak argues that John McCain, with his win last night in New Hampshire, has all but wrapped up the GOP nomination:

During four final days of campaigning after the Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire's Republican primary was one-on-one between Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Because the winner would become the party's most likely nominee, McCain's decisive victory puts him in a commanding position after being counted out for much of the last year.

McCain won a majority of registered Republican voters here as well as New Hampshire independents who voted in the GOP primary (as he did in 2000 when he swamped George W. Bush). Romney's attacks on McCain's liberal immigration policies were popular with Republican voters, but did not resonate with McCain's independent base.

Diminished by losing in Iowa, Romney entered the final weekend in New Hampshire some five percentage points behind. His strategists hoped the immigration issue would erase that lead. In fact, accusing McCain of advocating amnesty for illegal aliens had no more impact in New Hampshire than it had in Iowa.

Romney's loss here was devastating. He planned to boost his modest national ratings with wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, where he led in spending, organization and polls.

At the beginning of December, Romney enjoyed twice as much New Hampshire support as McCain. The senator's local supporters attribute his comeback to the endorsement here of independent Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman. But what propelled McCain's victory was Romney's loss in Iowa to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. The onetime Baptist preacher relied on Iowa evangelicals, an asset lacking in New Hampshire.

The next two weeks are filled with promise for McCain and peril for Romney. Michigan, where Romney grew up (the son of Gov. George Romney), is the next primary, on Jan. 15. But McCain is popular in Michigan, where he defeated Bush in 2000. Another loss for Romney probably ends his candidacy.

South Carolina comes after that on Jan. 19, with Huckabee running in his first Southern primary. But there are substantially fewer evangelicals in South Carolina than Iowa. McCain's South Carolina campaign is led by Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has recruited much of the 2000 organization.

If McCain wins South Carolina, it will be up to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his late-starting, big-state strategy. Giuliani leads in Florida's Jan. 29 primary and the California, New York and New Jersey tests Feb. 5. But those leads may not survive McCain's surge.

McCain strength with New Hampshire's Republicans is significant.

Still, Novak's a bit more bullish than I am. We'll see how well the Arizona Senator does in upcoming contests. I'm fairly convinced it's a two-man race, McCain versus Huckabee, going forward.

Photo Credit: Time