GOP update: Nevada, Michigan and South Carolina -- all next week

Forgive me my focus on the GOP race these past 2-3 days, and keep in mind that Republicans have three major contests in the next seven days compared to only one for Democrats. The week to come could be decisive for Republicans and Michigan has become the key battleground for now.

South Carolina was supposed to be the defining state for any GOP nomination fight, the primary that no nominee has lost and that has broken so many presidential aspirations (starting with John McCain's in 2000). But South Carolina's influence has decreased this year because of Michigan's intrusion in the lead-up to the first Southern primary. The move to push Michigan forward was instigated by the state's Democrats, but it is the GOP fight that their decision has transformed.

With McCain and Romney spending most of their time in Michigan since New Hampshire's showdown, Huckabee and Thompson are traveling across South Carolina by themselves for now. But the national press is first and foremost covering Michigan, sensing that the state could either pretty much kill off Romney's hope and boost McCain's momentum -- perhaps to a point of no-return -- or suddenly revive a Romney campaign and throw the GOP contest in complete chaos.

I have already blogged about four polls today and they all showed varying results (two toss-ups, one Romney and one McCain lead, the latter coming from the least reliable poll). And now we get a fifth Michigan poll for the day that confirms that Romney could be saved come Tuesday (and the three polls that are the most reliable have him at -1, +5, +8) -- though the high number of undecideds means that anything could happen in the state:

  • MSNBC has Romney at 30%, followed by McCain at 22% and Huckabee at 17%. Thompson comes in at 7%, Giuliani at 6% and Ron Paul at 5%. Most of Romney's lead comes from registered Republicans, while he is led 38% to 18% among independents.
The Michigan campaign is being run, predictably, on the economy -- and all evidence points to that being Romney's strength. Since Thursday's debate, Romney has been pouncing on McCain's suggestion that Michigan will not recover the same jobs it lost and McCain responding that Romney's promises are opportunistic and that he himself would be "ashamed" to say such things. The immigration debate is also playing a big role on the trail and coming up in town hall events, and keep in mind that his push for immigration reform is one of the main reasons McCain is distrusted by conservative activists .

Huckabee's failure to rise higher in Michigan is a surprising development. The one thing the polls agree on is that Huckabee has lagged behind Romney and McCain and is not crossing 20%. Given that Michigan has a sizable evangelical population and that the state's economic crisis makes it ideally suited for Huckabee's everyday man populist message, one would expect to see him run stronger. One big factor explaining his third-place for now is simply that Huckabee is not devoting as much time and effort to the state right now, putting most of his eggs in South Carolina.

But it is McCain who is getting good news for now in the Palmetto State. Today, McCain was endorsed by The State, South Carolina's biggest newspaper (you can read the endorsement here). The State narrowed down the field to Huckabee and McCain but picked against the former due to his foreign policy inexperience. One of the most striking stories of this year's race is the quasi-unanimity of editorial boards in favor of McCain, even in Iowa where McCain barely set foot. He got most papers in New Hampshire and in the Boston area (Concord Monitor, Union Leader, Boston Globe and Boston Herald) and he is now also picking-up support from publications in Michigan and in South Carolina. Newspaper endorsements are never that important, but McCain has been moving to exploit them as he pretty much as a standard template ad now running in all primary states touting the support he has received from that state's papers.

Finally, the Nevada caucuses are next week as well -- and they are no doubt the forgotten story of the Republican contest. With Clinton and Obama now campaigning all out in the state (whose outcome is more in doubt that South Carolina's is at this point), the GOP candidates have not really visited the state. And this should allow Romney to get a much-need win here, as he is the only candidate (via the Washington Post) to have build an organization here.

Just as he prevailed in Wyoming, Romney could win Nevada -- under-the-radar and by default. But a win is a win, and Nevada could prove much more of a boost. First of all, Nevada Democrats are voting on the same day which puts the spotlight on the Republican results as well. Second, the election is the same day as South Carolina's primaries so the press will cover all results at once the next day. If he manages to pull off Michigan on Tuesday and stay in the race, Romney can thus use Nevada to offset a (probable) South Carolina loss and remain relevant heading to Florida.

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  • Romney did win Nevada but most headlines only mentioned Clinton's Nevada victory and McCain's win in South Carolina, leaving Romney out. It's remarkable that Romney has managed to stay in the Florida race under these conditions.

    By Anonymous Ron, At 27 January, 2008 20:17  

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