Friday, November 23, 2007

Giuliani Softening May Help Romney, Huckabee

The prospects in the race for the Republican presidential nomination are not as solid as in the Democratic, where it's become fairly evident that the nominee is going to either be Sen. Hillary Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama.

On the Republican side, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has, in national polls, been in a consistent lead. But troubles have been piling up for him, and his support seems softer than either Clinton's or Obama's. It banks almost entirely on name identification and identification with 9-11. But it is not present in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire nearly as much as Clinton or Obama support in the Democratic ranks.

Look at those early states, and it seems likely that either former Gov. Mitt Romney or former Gov. Mike Huckabee will come out on top among the GOP candidates in Iowa, and that Romney may hold a commanding lead in New Hampshire. The winner in those states will carry momentum forward, and Giuliani support may then diminish sharply in the big states such as California that vote Feb. 5.

What has gone wrong with the Giuliani candidacy? I think his very unconventionality -- three marriages, one of them following an adulterous relationship, issues positions on abortion, gay rights and guns somewhat out of accord with the GOP mainstream, the scandal over his former police commissioner Bernard Kerik -- all these have begun to hurt Giuliani. Doubts about him have been sowed skillfully by opponents and the press.

Sen. Eugene McCarthy once said, "Nothing so powerfully concentrates the mind as an election or a hanging." He probably got that quote from someone else. But the point is that as an election approaches, voters begin to think more seriously about their choices, and they often return to old loyalties. They listen to the scuttlebutt. Maybe, they don't pay much attention to scandals that surface in the last week, but they become more aware of what has been said all along.

Some observers believe that Republican voters will be swayed in this case by visions of who is most electable, and Giuliani will benefit by continuing to run better in the poll match-ups against Clinton or Obama. In a year, when Republican prospects do not appear all that bright, they argue electability will trump the negative personal factors with many voters. (Doubts about whether she can be elected may be hurting Clinton compared to Obama in that race).

Meanwhile, Giuliani has been subject to withering ridicule in many quarters beyond just the New York Times, and you can expect Romney, Huckabee and even Sen. John McCain or former Sen. Fred Thompson in their campaign advertising in the next six weeks to try to capitalize on suggestions that the former mayor is somehow too strange or even too strident for the Presidency.

I think also that Giuliani may have made a mistake not campaigning harder in the early states to challenge the Romney lead. He is advertising some in Iowa and New Hampshire now, but not all that heavily, and, so far, not very provocatively.

(The Boston Globe has an article today speculating that many New Hampshire Republicans and Independents who voted in the Republican primary in the past will cross over and vote in the Democratic this time, which is legal to do in New Hampshire. That could hurt such relative independents as Giuliani too).

Something always could happen to change the prospects over the holidays, like a big terrorist attack. But I don't think this is going to happen. After all, if Osama bin Laden and his sympathizers really wanted to attack the U.S. homeland again, I reason they they would have managed it by now. They seem, for the moment, to be focusing most of all on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

No, I think it's unlikely that something will pull Giuliani's chestnuts out of the fire, so I expect Romney and Huckabee to get a leg up in the important early voting. Huckabee, however, in my view, would not prove a viable candidate in the general election, and he may become subject to growing doubts like Giuliani. So I think, for the moment, Romney must be considered to have a decent chance of success in the Republican race. We'll see.

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