Republicans: McCain is on fire, Romney needs to win tomorrow

The situation among Republicans is getting clearer, as three New Hampshire polls released this afternoon have Romney sinking fast in New Hampshire and McCain taking the lead -- and this only a day after the first poll showed McCain ahead of Romney:

  • First, the daily tracking poll of Suffolk came out with improved McCain numbers, as the Senator is ahead 32% to 23% (it was 31-25 yesterday), with Giuliani falling to 11%.
  • Second, Franklin Pierce released its poll with McCain at 37%, Romney at 31% and Giuliani at 10%.
  • Last but not least comes the UNH survey that is perhaps the most trusted NH pollster. Here there is a tie for first place: Romney and McCain both get 29% and Giuliani once again is stuck at 10%, with Huckabee at 8%.

  • And Pew released a national poll today which has McCain in front of Giuliani and Huckabee, 22% to 20% and 17%. This would not be particularly interesting given how useless national polls are at this point, but McCain had not had a lead in any reputable poll (Rasmussen gave him a 1% lead last week) for at least 8 or 9 month. And what a time to surge!
This unthinkable development two weeks ago puts the Romney campaign in its worst situation yet. Even when it started trailing in Iowa it maintained a healthy lead in New Hampshire. Naturally, Romney has to win one of the two early-states to stay alive -- and with McCain rising in NH it looks very unlikely at this point that Romney can pull of a win on the 8th if he loses in Iowa. And couple that with the possibility that McCain gets third-place tomorrow night without hardly campaigning in the state, and it becomes evident that the caucuses could bury Mitt Romney.

To make matters worse, the NH newspapers are continuing their anti-Romney crusade. Today, the New Hampshire Union-Leader which was one of the first papers to get behind McCain blasted Romney for the second time in two weeks in a front-page editorial. Newspaper endorsements usually don't matter that much, but newspapers also usually don't bother blasting a candidate again and again, and McCain has been using these editorials in ads and on the trail. And it's hard for Romney to make himself heard when the press systematically discredits him.

So a lot will be decided tomorrow night, and Romney might have more at stake than any other candidate; at this point, it cannot even be said that a NH win would be insured by an Iowa victory. At least, Romney has to be satisfied that he was able to climb back in Iowa. He had fallen behind a seemingly insurmountable lead against Huckabee but a month of steady pounding and of negative stories about the former Arkansas Governor leveled things again, and most polls now show a dead heat with the majority registering a tiny Romney lead (for all it's worth, Bob Novak just predicted that Romney would win tomorrow).

And we will also hopefully be able to measure tomorrow what impact if any Huckabee's infamous press conference of Monday had on the choices of Iowa voters. Huckabee has been pounded ever since in the national media, and things might have just gotten worse for the candidate. TPM is reporting that the negative ad against Romney that Huckabee announced he would not run to much fanfare is running after all on some Iowa televisions. This revelation might come too late to impact the voting tomorrow, but if confirmed it would severely discredit Huckabee's campaign and questions about this could follow him to later states.

One other interesting story in the GOP race: One of the big questions facing John McCain, of course, is his age. He is now 71, and he would be the oldest person inaugurated president if he wins next November. There had already been speculation that McCain could try to address this by pledging to only run for one-term, and he took the first step towards that today by opening the door to that possibility while taking questions from voters at a town hall. Naturally, this could also serve to bring his age in even more focus, as some voters might think that even one term is too much at such an advanced age. And does this not open the risk of lame-duck status coming much faster?

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