Wednesday, January 9, 2008

McCain Victory Throws Open the Republican Race

John McCain's victory last night has thrown open the race for the GOP presidential nomination. The Los Angeles Times has an analysis:

John McCain's comeback victory in New Hampshire on Tuesday puts the Arizona senator back in contention in a Republican presidential race that still doesn't have a clear front-runner, but he faces a series of challenges.

McCain split registered Republicans with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and won decisively among independents who voted in the GOP primary, an exit poll showed. But he lost among one key group: Voters who consider themselves conservatives favored Romney.

That suggests McCain faces an uphill battle in states where the Republican electorate is more conservative than in New Hampshire.

"I don't think this makes him the national leader" among Republican candidates, said Whit Ayres, a GOP pollster. "I don't think there is a national leader. I think this keeps it completely wide open."

Political analysts said the next primary, in Michigan on Tuesday, will probably be a three-way contest among McCain, Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won last week's caucuses in Iowa but finished a distant third in New Hampshire.

After that, the Republicans head for South Carolina, where social conservatives are likely to play a major role in voting Jan. 19.

Florida, where independents cannot vote in party primaries, casts its ballots Jan. 29; polls show former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who finished well back in New Hampshire, in a leading position in Florida.

California and 20 other states hold Republican primaries and caucuses on Feb. 5, choosing almost half of the party's convention delegates in a single day.

That compressed schedule, combined with the fragmentation of support for the leading candidates, means that McCain faces determined competition from Romney, Huckabee and Giuliani.

The New York Times offers a more optimistic perspective:

After Senator John McCain’s victory here on Tuesday, the Republican field is more scrambled than ever, with the battleground now shifting to a series of states where each of the leading candidates believes he holds certain advantages.

The next showdown will be on Jan. 15 in Michigan, a vast state struggling with a recession and the loss of manufacturing jobs. It is where Mitt Romney was born and reared, and many still fondly remember his late father, George, a three-term governor. Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, will fly there on Wednesday afternoon, with his aides saying the state has become his fire wall.

But his campaign has clearly been crippled by a second loss, this time in a state where he even has a vacation home.

Mr. McCain, who will also go to Michigan on Wednesday, is looking to finish off Mr. Romney there. In 2000, Mr. McCain defeated George W. Bush in Michigan, largely on the strength of support from independents and Democrats who switched over to vote for him.

Already, the McCain campaign has seen a tremendous uptick in its fund-raising, going from $20,000 a day on the Internet to well over $100,000, and raising a million dollars this month alone.

A wild card is Mike Huckabee, who has surged to the lead in some national polls. He hopes to be competitive in Michigan but is looking more toward the Jan. 19 primary in South Carolina, a state with many evangelical Christians who are drawn to this former Baptist pastor.

Waiting in the wings is a weakened Rudolph W. Giuliani, who is now focused almost exclusively on a victory in Florida’s primary on Jan. 29 to slingshot him to the nationwide contests on Feb. 5.
I hate to say it, but it's as though the electoral momentum has left Giuliani on the sidelines (January 29 seems like eons in this lightning fast election cycle).

That leaves the top three candidates in serious competition.

McCain won the Michigan primary in 2000. He is current trailing Romney in Michigan opinion polls, but his New Hampshire momentum could change that. As Ann Marie Cox notes:

The six-day spread between today and the Michigan primary will make it difficult for Romney to overcome the impression that he has lost not just momentum, but any chance to beat the eventual Democratic nominee.

McCain will also have choice pickings on the Michigan independent vote, as the top Democrats are not contesting the state.

In South Carolina, McCain's expected to do well with the military vote, and is currently vying for second place in public opinion polls out of the Palmetto State.

McCain's going to have trouble with South Carolina's deep conservatives and evangelicals. Still, like the situation in Michigan, McCain could benefit from a snowball effect given the media and momentum from his New Hampshire comeback; and a win in Michigan could really make the McCain campaign unstoppable.

Photo Credit: Time