Republicans, again: Romney keeps hitting McCain in New Hampshire, and Novak reports on Iowa

With Mitt Romney tied up in Iowa, John McCain went back to New Hampshire today and had the state all by himself. And he got the endorsement of the Concord Monitor, the newspaper that had printed that first anti-Romney editorial last week blasting him for being a "phony candidate." McCain is truly emerging as the candidate of editorial boards across New Hampshire and he also carried the support of some in Iowa (like the Des Moines Register even though he has hardly been there at all) and in Boston (both the Globe and the Herald, in Romney's backyard).

But he was also welcome by a second attack ad prepared by the Romney campaign (watch it here). This time, the ad focuses exlusively on immigration, blaming McCain of voting to give undocumented immigrants social security and let them stay here indefinitly. Do not underestimate the impact of hitting McCain on immigration, however untouchable McCain looks to be at times. This is precisely the topic that made McCain completely collapse in the spring when the Senate was debating immigration reform. McCain was leading the effort to pass comprehensive reform and it angered the conservative base tremendously, making him stumble from his front-runner status and barely remain in the race by July 13th.

The risk for Romney is that McCain's strength in New Hampshire depends on independent voters and moderate Republicans who are a much larger share of the electorate than any other January state -- and how much can McCain be damaged by accusations of apostasy among that group of voters? On the other end, McCain clearly feels threatened enough to retaliate. And as I noted yesterday, his ad blasting Romney is much more negative and ad hominem than Romney's spots which stay focused on substance and policy.

Meanwhile, also in New Hampshire, Rudy supporter Steve Forbes declared that New Hampshire is not essential for Giuliani's strategy. We got that much when Giuliani decided to go quasi-dark in the state and move his operation out. But at this point, is there anything the Giuliani camp considers essential to their strategy? Anything, that is, besides Florida? Do they really believe that Florida voters will pay no attention whatsoever to what happens in the 26 days before they go to the polls?

As for Iowa, Robert Novak's latest column alludes to a poll that he reports has been conducted by a private gorup among 15,000 Iowa Republicans, making it an outsize survey. The results are strange and the survey is only being reported by Novak, so take it with a grain of salt. But since other outlets are now reporting it (via Novak), it is likely to influence the narrative of the day, so here it is:

  • Romney is in the lead again, only 30% to Huckabee's 26%. Everyone else is far behind, with McCain at 12% and Giuliani at 9%. And the reason the poll does not inspire much confidence in me: Thompson and Paul both come in at 1%, a very unlikely set of numbers.
The one interesting teaching of the poll is that John McCain is the top second choice preference, leading among Huck and Romney backers. This isn't that useful in the GOP race since there is no realignement phase or viability problem, but it still shows that McCain has much potential in the state. Was McCain's decision to completly skip Iowa until this week the big mistake of the cycle?

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