The Republican race, post-Michigan: A chaotic ride, with even more undecision expected this Saturday

Mitt Romney got his early-state win. Most people expected it to come in Iowa or in New Hampshire, but Romney managed to lose both of those despite outspending the entire field and then came back to win the primary in the state he grew up in. While Romney's 9% victory is not really a come back given that he massively outpsend his opponents yet again and that he was never that far behind in the polls here, it is still a remarkable turn-around for a candidate that most people thought would be dead if he lost both IA and NH. And sure, Romney was fighting on home turf, but so McCain had many structural advantages favoring him -- he had won here in 2000, the primary was even more open than NH's and Democrats were not holding a competitive contest.

Romney can now go on to later contests, and remember that he is the only candidate with no money problem given that he looks perfectly comfortable funding his campaign with his own money. He cannot be considered the front-runner given that he is leading in no Feb. 5th state nor in Florida and South Carolina at this point, but he has the delegate lead for now.

McCain would have started a coronation march had he pulled off Michigan last night. Instead, he fell victim to his 2000 demons. Registered Republicans are not lining up behind him, and with some of the most important elections that are coming up closed primaries (for example in California), McCain has to improve his standing among the party's base. He cannot go on winning on the strength of the independent vote.

Now, the race turns to South Carolina and to Nevada which vote on Saturday. Most candidates are exclusively focused on South Carolina except Mitt Romney who is going to spend two days in Nevada and run some ads there. He was already the only candidate to haev spend time in the state, so he has to be considered the favorite in the state for now (today's ARG poll gives him a 7% lead). If he pulls Nevada off, Romney could spin a South Carolina defeat as inconsequential, perhaps keep his delegate lead and claim that he is the first candidate with three state wins (if you count Wyoming).

Most eyes will be turned to South Carolina, however, where the battle is already fierce. John McCain was leading in most polls this last few days with Huckabee running a strong second on the strength of the evangelical vote. South Carolina was McCain's undoing in 2000, but he has two huge advantages he did not have back then: (1) He is much stronger among registered Republicans, mainly because there is no establishment candidate the party's base can rally to like it did 8 years ago. (2) The GOP establishment and leadership hates Mike Huckabee much more than they do McCain, and the people who were fighting McCain then are now going after Huckabee.

Mitt Romney used to be stronger in South Carolina than he has been since McCain's rise. Now, Romney has started airing ads here again, and the big question is how much if any boost he will get from his first big win. Just as Thompson is rising in SC again and taking votes from Huckabee, Romney could take votes from McCain in the state, and things could tighten up even more than they already have. And the race is already becoming very nasty

And finally there is the Giuliani factor. Let's face it, the scenario that has played out in the early states was Giuliani's dream set-up: Three states, three victors, no momentum for anyone, nasty adwares between the other candidates, complete chaos and no front-runner. This was what Giuliani was hoping would happen for months now, and it was completely out of his control whether or not it would. Now, we will know if a big state strategy that shuns all early states can ever be viable. If Giuliani cannot pull it off under these conditions, no one probably ever will.

In the three first voting states, Giuliani came behind Ron Paul twice. In Iowa, he flirted with 4%; in Michigan, he was barely ahead of "uncommitted." He is completely out of the news cycle and, even if none of them looks like a front-runner, the other candidates are all benefiting from media exposure and some momentum. And a new poll from New Jersey taken by Monmouth University shows that Giuliani's argument that his lead in states like NY and NJ is "momentum-proof" is completely flawed: McCain leads Giuliani 29% to 25%, with Huckabee at 11%.

Rudy cannot count on his "home states" delivering for him in February. The good news for him is that he has 10 days between South Carolina and Florida (on the 29th). He has to get some momentum in those ten days, and I'm not sure if he has much left in him to make that happen.

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  • McCain surged because he was considered the front-runner and Republicans like that. Now that he lost Michigan, I think he loses South Carolina too. The race will become a Romney versus Huckabee showdown this Saturday.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 16 January, 2008 13:46  

  • Don't count McCain out of SC just yet. Mitt Romney is almost universally unloved outside of Michigan and Michigan is very different from South Carolina.

    Don't forget that Romney's lies couldn't penetrate Iowa or New Hampshire. Even saying that Michigan is his home state is a half-lie but enough of the demoralized voters there believed him. I sure hope he doesn't win anywhere else. He's so repulsive.

    By Anonymous Steve, At 16 January, 2008 15:09  

  • Don't forget Romney has hired the PR firm that were the paid attack dogs for Bush in SC in 2000. Watch for nasty mailers from them against McCain. Could help Huck. Would love to see Huck win in SC, with Romney a close second.

    By Anonymous stone621, At 16 January, 2008 15:50  

  • "Watch for nasty mailers from them against McCain."

    Haha, apparently McCain already beat them to post office:


    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 16 January, 2008 20:56  

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