Where they were then and where they are now
By: By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
By Douglas Cohn
and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON — A month or so ago in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., was wavering, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, R-N.Y., was holding, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was history, former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., was hailed as the welcome and necessary addition to a faltering field, and former Gov. Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., was “Who is he?”
Today, Romney is solidifying leads in Iowa and New Hampshire; Giuliani’s more liberal social views are beginning to negatively register with the Republican base, causing him to lose ground; McCain has had a resurgence, but appears to be facing a wall of resistance over his pro-war, pro-immigration views; Thompson has flopped and his campaign may not even survive until the first contest; and Huckabee is catching fire with religious conservatives.
That is where they were and where there are, but not where they will be, which is what makes politics so interesting. As the electorate starts to seriously focus on the candidates, flaws are revealed, concerns increase, and distinctions become clear. Romney’s strength in New Hampshire is explained away as a favorite son phenomenon because the state is heavily influenced by Boston media in neighboring Massachusetts where Romney served as governor. He and his former positions are well known to New Hampshire voters. It is those former pro-choice and other liberal positions that could hurt him. He has now changed his views, which may not be convincing to conservatives, and will be certain to alienate the all-important Independents, who can vote in the Republican primary. Iowa is another matter. Romney has drawn on his personal wealth to go all out there. We have seen this in prior years when Steve Forbes and H. Ross Perot were accused of trying to buy the election. It usually backfires.
Ideology matters more than money, and Romney will be hard-pressed to overcome flip-flopping that smacks of opportunism that portrays him as a liberal in Massachusetts and a conservative in Iowa. Giuliani is testing the principles of the religious right base of the party. He is the one Republican who polls competitively against potential Democratic candidates, which is why he continues to lead the Republican field. However, his support is on the wane as social conservatives continue to defect to alternate choices. At this stage, he is losing in Iowa and New Hampshire, and South Carolina Republicans are among the most socially conservative voters in the country. These early primary voters are probably more interested in sending a message than nominating a candidate. They will set the tone, reveal the blemishes, and leave it to later states to decide the issue, and in the end, Rudy’s “I can win and they can’t” message may prevail.
McCain has had a resurgence that is too little too late. He tilted right and gave up his base of Independents, and now it is too late to get them back. Thompson needs to resurrect his acting career on “Law and Order” where someone else is writing his script. Huckabee is the wild card. He is the one true religious right conservative in the field, which is why he is gaining. If Romney and McCain fade as we expect, the race is going to come down to Giuliani and Huckabee. Will the Republican base choose expediency over principle? Soon we will see.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate Inc.
Published in The Messenger on 11.23.07