Friday, January 04, 2008

Where Are They Now?

The conventional wisdom, of course, is that Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama were the big winners, and that Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton were the big losers last night in Iowa.

But is that really so?

To some extent, all of those who participated last night were winners in the sense that they participated, and put it on the line.

In American politics, we love a guy or gal who mixes it up. And in modern Republican politics, one of the enduring frustrations is that our political leaders often seem too willing to give up in a fight, especially a policy fight. Too many of them appear to always be looking for the compromise position that will end the fight, rather than slugging it out to a reasonable solution. When I hear a candidate say, "I'm the candidate who can work with Democrats," it gives me pause! That is the earned rap on John McCain, and is why he is often jokingly referred to as Senator McKennedy.

On the other hand, the frequent weakness of Democrats, is that they never stop fighting, including amongst themselves -- "even for an eggshell."

Quick quiz! Name the Democrat contender this year who said -- or ever implied even once -- "I can work with the Republicans." Still thinking? Forget it!

Lurking in the background of this years Presidential race, is the perception that a few of the Republican players simply gave themselves a bye in the early rounds. If you take it to a baseball analogy, they literally announced in advance that they would skip the first couple of innings! Rudy Giuliani, and to a somewhat more limited extent, John McCain fit into this category. Rudy's strategy is to win the nomination, by selectively marshalling his resources for only certain key geographic fights, and his campaign manager gets a little testy when challenged as to why this doesn't send a message that he really doesn't care about the places he is already foregoing.

But what does it say about his willingness to fight the good fight in the General Election? What does it say about a Republican candidate who is unwilling to compete in a primary or caucus that is either exclusively limited to Republicans, or heavily weighted by them? You have to have a strategy in the general that will give you a victory in the battleground states. But in the primary?

There is more than a bit of perceived arrogance in that attitude, and it is surely something that will linger into the General. In fact, to some extent it contradicts Rudy's main claim, which is that he is best positioned to beat the Democrat nominee in the fall, who he has said will be Hillary Clinton.

Well, not in Iowa, you won't, Rudy! Nor in New Hampshire -- which actually has a small piece of coastline. They were both states that were competitive in 2004. Why should someone who wants to the the President of the United States not at least take a shot at a showing in all of the States? Rudy is being so selective, he even risks being derisively tagged as the "bi-coastal" candidate.

So, neither Romney nor Clinton were losers last night in their willingness to fight.

Who will win in New Hampshire on either side, is very much up for grabs.

As to the history of the "carry-over" effect -- Iowa to New Hampshire -- there is simply no real pattern there, except in the case of sitting Presidents running for re-election.

Remember former President Bush having the "big mo" coming out of Iowa in 1980? Ronald Reagan won in New Hampshire and the primary race was all but over. Remember eight years later in 1988 when Bob Dole won in Iowa, and then lost to Vice President George Bush in New Hampshire by eight and a half points a few days later? Dole left New Hampshire an angry man . . . "Stop lying about my record!" . . . and lost the race.

The Romney campaign now points out that no one has failed to obtain at least 18 points in Iowa and go on to win the nomination and the Presidency. Some will say that is splitting hairs a bit, but there is that factor of being willing to put up a convincing fight, even in defeat, that will factor into the overall primary campaign, and to some extent affect the general.

As for former governor Mike Huckabee, he had a very impressive but very focused victory, with the bulk of his caucus-goers being evangelical Christian participants. Last night on CNN Bill Schneider noted that Huckabee attracted only 14% of the non-evangelical participants in Iowa last night.

Here is from the AP story.
More than half of GOP voters said they were born again or evangelical Christians, and nearly half of them supported Huckabee, according to entrance interviews by The Associated Press and the television networks. Romney led among non-evangelical voters by 2-to-1 or more.

And from the CNN analytical coverage:
In Iowa, entrance polls of caucus-goers showed that 3 out of every 5 Republicans were self-described born again or evangelical Christians. Huckabee beat Romney by better than 2-to-1 in this voting bloc. Among the rest of Iowa's Republican electorate, however, Huckabee finished a distant fourth behind Romney, McCain and Fred Thompson.

In New Hampshire, social conservatives are not as influential. This potentially opens the door for Romney to regain the upper hand or for McCain to repeat his 2000 victory.

The Arizona senator will find himself in a two-front battle: against Romney for the hearts and souls of GOP voters and against Obama for the state's unpredictable and sizable independent electorate.

So, does John McCain go through this weekend boasting, "I'm the guy who can work with Democrats," in order to try to fight for those independent voters with Obama?

Or, is he now the guy between Mount Monadnock and a hard place?

Looks like it's time to head north and get a closer view!

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At 7:13 PM, January 07, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

These are a few personal observations about last night’s FOX News Republican debate in New Hampshire.

I had the honor of working on the Dole ‘96 Presidential campaign, liked him as a candidate and wanted to see him win. Then, as now, voters were looking for change. Unfortunately, much of Dole’s strength—i.e.: his trusted seasoned experience--was offset by the facts: Dole was a war hero elder statesman, someone who reminded you of your grandfather or an uncle and Clinton looked like a young rock star, shiny and new, filled with raw, unbridled energy, optimism and positive enthusiasm. There was no way to build a campaign to change the impact of those differences or the minds of voters looking for something new and fresh.

I see a similarity in the tealeaves that, if Mitt does not take New Hampshire tomorrow, could easily morph themselves into a McCain/Obama match-up in November. I fear this match-up will most likely result in a similar outcome. That’s why I’m suggesting it’s important to show support for Mitt Romney now, especially the immigration groups. His position on illegal immigration shows a firm understanding and appreciation of the issue and commitment to hold firm against the kind of amnesty John McCain proposed in his bill last summer.

The Presidential Primary schedule is so compressed this year, if groups remain on the sidelines too long, I fear the Republican campaign will be over before it begins. It’s time to publicly support Mitt Romney as the one viable Republican candidate who has a strong position on controlling illegal immigration, securing the borders as well as having the necessary resources to compete in a Presidential election.


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