When I was 8 years old, I predicted to my mom that Howard Metzenbaum would defeat George Voinovich in
A few weeks later Metzenbaum went on to win in a landslide.
Now, I’m not sharing the aforementioned story to brag. After all, I was only 8 and based my prediction on a ridiculously small amount of information. Rather, I shared this story it to illustrate to you that I’ve been offering unsolicited, ill-informed opinions about politics for nearly 20 years.
Back in March I took a look at the Democratic presidential candidates’ chances at winning their party’s nomination, and at the time I said that I “might” offer up a similar post about the Republicans a few months later. The reason I was so noncommittal back then was because there were a few key variables that I wanted defined. First, I needed to know who would actually be in the race (as it turns out, Fred Thompson did hop in and Newt Gingrich didn’t). Second, I wanted to see which candidate would start to rally the Religious Right (looks like that’s Mike Huckabee). So I guess if I’m ever going to analyze the GOP field before the voting starts, it’s now or never…
Despite the national polls showing five Republicans still running strong in a fluid field, in my estimation the GOP race has essentially been narrowed down to three candidates with a legitimate shot to win their party’s nomination: Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, and Rudy Giuliani. But before I go much further, I should probably explain why John McCain and Fred Thompson are long shots.
In Fred Thompson’s case, he is a textbook example as to why all of the serious presidential candidates start running two years before the first votes are cast in
1) About two years before
- Determine if you want to be president and if so, what experience and issues will you tout to rally people to your cause?
- Do the necessary polling to see if your perception lines up with reality (i.e., if polling shows that only 17% of the people in your own state are impressed with your experience, then you probably should reconsider a presidential bid).
- Go to the people who would campaign for you and only you, and see how much support they’re really going to offer. For instance, start with your spouse and gauge whether or not they’re on board 100%. If your spouse isn’t willing to sacrifice as much as you are to win, then it probably won’t work. Obviously, you then build out from here—talking to your kids and other close relatives and friends. Then go to your close professional/political relationships and see exactly who’s on board and how they can truly help. This is really the most important part, which is to find the core of your campaign, the inner circle of people who will stick with you no matter what; and this should be done about two years before
- Now that your inner circle of supporters is lined up, you start reaching out to other likely supporters, looking for money, advisors, potential endorsements, etc. At this early point, there are a lot of talented people in your party who would love the chance to be a part of a campaign but aren’t sure if they’ll get a chance. If you’re the first to ask them, then you’ve got a leg up. I am no expert on the nitty-gritty details of a presidential campaign, but it’s pretty obvious that most of the critical groundwork is set one to two years before the first votes are cast in the
- a) You’ve focus-grouped every issue from every angle, organized your campaign as best you can, and lined up enough support to be taken seriously. Now it’s time to officially announce your candidacy.
- Fund-raising goes into full swing. All of your preparation leading up to this point should begin to result in strong fundraising numbers within three to six months. If it doesn’t, then let’s face it, you’re not a frontrunner and need to re-evaluate either your message or your candidacy.
- Now it’s open political war. Not only are people paying attention to the debates in increasing numbers, but things really are heating up from a “skirmish” to a “war” mentality. At this point you must unleash both a strong ground attack and aerial assault. By “ground attack” I’m referring to precinct captains and others who are organizing and going door-to-door as well as making phone calls, etc. By “aerial assault” I’m referring to TV and radio ads. Two candidates might be neck and neck in the polls, but the one who has raised more money is likely to have the advantage at getting their message out effectively and organizing voters during those crucial last two days.
- In the final push, having big-name endorsers actually go out on the campaign trail can make a difference, so long as it’s somebody who is truly respected by the voters you’re trying to court. If you’ll recall, back in January 2004 Senator Ted Kennedy, who is respected nationally by most Democrats, campaigned long and hard for John Kerry in the few days leading up to the
caucuses. Furthermore, Kerry’s wife also campaigned vigorously in the few days leading up to the Iowa caucuses, visiting with voters in their homes and talking to them personally. In fact, Kerry, his wife, and Kennedy often campaigned separately in Iowa those last few days in order to cover more ground. Long story short, having a high-profile, respected person shake hands on your behalf with voters a day or so before voting takes place in a small (population) state can make a big difference. (Food for thought: You know Bill Clinton will be in Iowa on January 2. Will Oprah?) Iowa
By not following the conventional model outlined above, Thompson has put himself in a game of perpetual catch-up. Aside from being way behind in money and trying to ward off accusations of not having the required “fire in the belly,” one can only wonder how many thousands of Republicans working for Giuliani, Huckabee, McCain, Romney and others would have gladly worked for Thompson’s campaign had he only asked them first?
Okay, so how about McCain? There’s a poll out today showing him leading the GOP field nationally and running a strong campaign in
As much as McCain is respected both within the Republican Party and among Independents and Democrats, he is going to have great difficulty translating that widespread appeal into actually winning the GOP nomination. If one were to analyze the core values of the Republican Party (as difficult a task as that would be), McCain is just a little bit too much out of step on a few key issues to win the GOP nomination. In
All right, enough of the backgrounder stuff. Let’s examine the top contenders. In looking at what Huckabee, Romney, and Giuliani must each do to win, this GOP race is turning into a complicated game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Each candidate has strengths and weaknesses in attracting certain types of voters, so this race could be all about the match-ups and, as the elder George Bush coined the phrase during an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1980, “The Big Mo.”
First up, let’s look at the former governor of
Overall, Huckabee has run a great campaign. That I’m even writing about him here is evidence of that fact, especially considering where he started out this year in the polls. However, with his surge in the polls comes increased scrutiny from both his competitors and the media. The biggest hurdle he’ll face with GOP voters is what many could perceive as being “too liberal” while governor of
Huckabee has a great chance to win
Next up is the former governor of
Romney has raised a lot of money (and has much of his own to add), and he’s appealing to a wider spectrum of GOP voters than any of the other candidates, evidenced by the fact that he is the only one polling in the top two for each of the first five states to vote: Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, Nevada, and South Carolina. Although, Romney has not made the deepest inroads, which is why some national polls currently have him running fourth.
We can’t discuss Romney’s campaign without considering how his Mormon faith will impact Republican voters. As far as I can tell, most GOP voters will take Romney at his word when he says that he believes in the separation of church and state; although one negative for Romney’s campaign will be its inability to connect with the Religious Right on a deeply theological level.
Perhaps a bigger area where Romney will be attacked by his opponents is when he was running for office in
And then there’s former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has executive experience, a record of cleaning up crime and a high-profile name from his steady leadership in the aftermath of 9/11. Last year both Giuliani and McCain were considered the frontrunners, but naturally, the field has been changing.
Giuliani is a tough politician, which is a great asset both for dealing with public criticism as well as for formulating strategies to attack your opponents. Despite the fact that he’s not in step with much of the GOP on social issues, he’s been leading in the national polls for a long time and has been able to raise a lot of money. He will be a formidable candidate at least up until the eve of Super Tuesday (Feb. 5). In fact, if every state had to vote today, then Giuliani would win the nomination because he leads in many of the most populous states such as
But one curious thing about the Giuliani campaign is that not only has it been relatively absent in
And so the stage is set for Republicans to battle over the next five weeks, perhaps longer, for the soul of their party. Of the six contests before Super Tuesday, Romney could win all six. Huckabee could win five of six (it’s not looking good for him in
I have no idea who will win
So who do I think will win the nomination? My brain tells me to stay out of it, but my gut does have a feeling as to who has the best chance to win the GOP nomination.
Back in 1980 when a little-known candidate named George Bush scored a surprise victory in the GOP’s
So what about momentum? Is it real? Does it matter? Well, I don’t think that a state’s voters base their decision on how another state voted per se. But they do base it in part on how the media portrays the different campaigns. If you win a state, then the press is asking you, “Why did you win?” and they're asking your opponents, “Why did you lose?” In that sense, some (not all) of the press coverage turns to your favor. By winning a state, the perception is not just that your campaign did something well, but also that you the candidate did something right. On the flip side, if you start to lose too many states in a row in the early going, then a perception starts to build that you the candidate are doing something wrong.
Giuliani won’t win
As former Democratic frontrunner Howard Dean could tell you, getting that first primary (or caucus) victory is the toughest. If you don’t get one early on, then you’re not sure if you ever will. That’s why I think Romney has the best chance at the Republican nomination. Even if Huckabee wins