Saturday, January 19, 2008

Photo Finish in South Carolina's GOP Primary

Today's South Carolina primary could clarify the race for the Republican presidential nomination. The Wall Street Journal has an analysis:
The muddled Republican race for president may grow a tad clearer as South Carolina votes Saturday, with both Sen. John McCain and Mike Huckabee competing to build on early wins and Fred Thompson needing a strong showing in his home region to survive.
Messrs. McCain and Huckabee have each claimed victory in an early state. But neither has been able to stake a firm claim on the nomination, and both need a second win to prove their campaigns have staying power. Whoever wins will have momentum going into Florida against Rudy Giuliani, who has bet his once front-running campaign on that state's Jan. 29 primary....

Republicans are caucusing in Nevada on Saturday, as well. In a state with a large Mormon population, Mitt Romney is expected to win, if only by default; none of his rivals campaigned there. A win in Nevada will allow Mr. Romney to claim momentum coming off his victory Tuesday in Michigan. But the real contest among Republicans this weekend is in South Carolina, where the race has been both ugly and complex.

Mr. Romney, whose Mormonism has hurt him in largely evangelical South Carolina, pulled out of the state despite having run more total TV ads than any of his rivals. Now at the top of the polls: Mr. McCain, the senator from Arizona, and Mr. Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor. A tracking poll released Friday by InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion found them tied with 26% of the vote, with each and everyone else far back.

One unknown: the weather, with rain, snow and chilly temperatures predicted. Lee Bandy, a 40-year veteran political columnist who now works for the InsiderAdvantage report, said that could help Mr. Huckabee. "His voters are more passionate and will turn out come hell or high water," Mr. Bandy predicted.

Mr. McCain himself addressed that concern Friday. "I understand the weather is going to be pretty chilly tomorrow, so you're probably going to have to put on an extra sweater and go out in the cold," he told a gathering at a hospital in Florence, S.C. "But I need your vote. I need it. And I'm asking for it."

Mr. McCain, who won New Hampshire, and Mr. Huckabee, who won Iowa, appeal to different segments of the electorate.

Mr. McCain, a Vietnam prisoner of war, is strongest among military families who are concentrated along the coast, the so-called Lowcountry, and he spent the final day of campaigning in Florence, Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head. He ended the day with a rally at the decommissioned aircraft carrier U.S.S. Yorktown.
The Washington Wire has more on McCain's Yorktown visit:

John McCain wrapped up his final day of campaigning in South Carolina with an evening rally on the decommissioned aircraft carrier U.S.S. Yorktown, outside of Charleston.

With a dozen boy scouts and a B-25 bomber as a backdrop, Mr. McCain hit on the major themes of his campaign the last few days, especially his appeal to the state’s large population of military voters. He talked about improving veterans’ health benefits, the Iraq war, cutting corporate taxes and his opposition to government spending.

“The president just signed into law a couple of weeks ago a spending bill with 9,200 earmarks worth $17 billion of your money,” he said. “It’s disgraceful.” He vowed to veto such bills as president.

Mr. McCain emphasized his commitment to appoint conservative Supreme Court judges. At a rally earlier in the day he called justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito “two of the finest judges … in the history of this country.” On the Yorktown, he told the crowd that as president he would “look for a clone of Justice Roberts. I’ll look all over the planet.”

The speech took place in a hangar below deck, ensuring no direct comparisons could be made with President Bush’s infamous 2003 “mission accomplished” speech, which took place on the deck of a carrier in San Diego. (In other aircraft carrier political history, 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry launched his campaign with a speech in front of the same U.S.S. Yorktown in Sept 2003.)

Also, unlike Mr. Bush, Mr. McCain didn’t arrive by plane. He and his wife, Cindy McCain, strode through the crowd to the stage. The theme to Rocky, Sylvester Stallone’s classic 1976 movie about an underdog boxer, played in the background. (It’s an inspiring tune. But as movie buffs note, Rocky loses in the end.)

McCain has repeatedly predicted a victory here over the past few days, even as his lead over Mike Huckabee in opinion polls has slipped. McCain campaign adviser Charlie Black told Washington Wire earlier in the day that the senator has a “comfortable but not overwhelming lead,” but implied the result will be close. “All we have to do is win by one vote,” he said.

Mr. McCain, meantime, understands the implications of tomorrow’s result. “South Carolina will most likely determine who the nominee is,” he said at a rally in Florence, S.C.
Although yesterday's FOX News poll had McCain leading Huckabee with a 7 percentage-point lead, this morning Zogby tracking poll on the S.C. race has Huckabee pulling up dead-even with McCain:

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has drawn into a statistical dead heat with Arizona Sen. John McCain here as voters began finalizing their decisions about whom to support in the Republican presidential primary election to be held today, a two-day Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby tracking poll of the race shows.

McCain slipped a bit while Huckabee enjoyed a surge in last-minute support. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney continued to gain ground, while former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson continued to slip. Renegade Republican Congressman Ron Paul and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani remained in the low single digits and non-factors in this state’s race.
Yesterday's McClatchy's poll also showed a virtually tie in the Palmetto State, with McCain leading Huck 27 to 23 percent, a result within the poll's margin of error.

Still, polling trends this week appear to favor the Arizona Senator, and from the buzz I've heard among cable news pundits, McCain's widely expected to win today.

Check out this McCain campaign ad, which
has been playing well in South Carolina:

I'll have more this afternoon. Go McCain!