By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Last Republicans standing

It is with some amazement that I find myself thinking of Mitt Romney as one of the last two Republicans standing — and as the person who might at this point be the favorite to win the nomination. Yes, just last night I said that John McCain probably had a clearer path than anyone else. But I’ve been rethinking that.

First, let me deal with the also-rans, all of whom are pretty much done at this point.

  • Mike Huckabee. It ended last night for the good reverend. If he can’t ride the Confederate flag and his bizarre equation of homosexuality and bestiality to victory in South Carolina, he certainly can’t do it anywhere else.
  • Fred Thompson. Dead man walking or dead man withdrawing — it’s up to him.
  • Rudy Giuliani. Wasn’t he supposed to be running for president? Of the United States, not just Florida?
  • Ron Paul. He’ll keep getting whatever he’s getting.

So we’ve basically got a two-man race between McCain and Romney, which was pretty hard to imagine after Romney lost New Hampshire. I didn’t hear any squawking last October when Ryan Lizza wrote in the New Yorker that Romney’s only chance was to win Iowa and New Hampshire, then hope for momentum. He lost both, of course, and has won only one competitive state — Michigan. Yet he’s very much alive.

Consider that McCain has won two hard-fought primaries, New Hampshire and South Carolina, but has yet to win a plurality of Republicans anywhere. As Adam Nagourney observes in the New York Times today, many of the upcoming primaries are for Republicans only.

Consider, too, that conservatives have been split among Romney, Huckabee and Thompson. Not anymore.

Add to this Romney’s personal fortune and his willingness to say absolutely anything to get elected, and he may very well have the edge.

Finally, check out Jeff Jacoby’s column in today’s Globe. Jacoby, a conservative who’s been mocking Romney since 1994, is appalled at Romney’s attempt to don the cloak of Ronald Reagan.

Photo (cc) by Joe Crimmings. Some rights reserved.

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  1. mike_b1

    The primary season was set up in a way that unintentionally favored Romney. He spent a gazillion dollars in Iowa, has ties to Michigan and NH, and basically won Nevada on the Mormon vote — and those guys vote for their own at greater rates than blacks. I agree it’s a two-man race. I disagree that Romney stands any chance on surviving the real South.

  2. Peter Porcupine

    Well, I’m more of a Goldwater Republican myself, but as to what woyld Reagan say, per Mr. Jacoby? Reagan would say he bailed out Chrysler.Reporters like to follow a well-worn rut when doing political reporting. Romney has more delegates, more first place finishes, and more campaign funds than any other candidate and yet the Punditocracy keeps syaing he’ll have to drop out. Because he isn’t following their script. Of course, the front loaded primaries weren’t on their script either, and that is what is driving events. The reporters sound like Paul Harvey talking about what was, not is or will be.Why was all the media attendion on South Carolina, with 31 delegates, instead of Nevada with 34? Because that’s how the old script was written. I’m sorry that reporters loathe Mitt Romney (Why? He’s always been unfailingly polite with them…) but media can’t shape public opinion any more just like unions can’t deliver membership as voters any more either. Actual voters are choosing Mitt Romney – he’s gotten more votes than any other candiate, too. In fact, in Nevada, he got more votes by himself that all the Democratic candidates put together!McCain cannot win without independents to prop up his numbers in open primaries. In the closed primaries coming up, Mitt Romney will secure the nomination.

  3. Dan Kennedy

    PP: Not to give the media a pass, but the reason they’re ignoring delegates is that they understand the process pretty well. Victories lead to headlines lead to momentum. If it were possible to win the nomination by amassing the most delegates even while losing state after state, then your point would be valid. But it’s not.

  4. blahga the hutt

    I think in a race such as this, the delegate count is absolutely critical and the media ignores it at its peril. Romney had it right when he said the other day “I’m looking for delegates.” In a normal race, I would agree with Dan’s remark, but this is far from a normal election. It is entirely conceivable that we could see both parties go to the convention without a clear victory. If it does come to that, all the poofy, fluffy headlines will mean nothing.I would say it’s becoming a two person race in both parties with Romney/McCain and Clinton/Obama. Huckabee, Giuliani and Edwards can still play the kingmaker role though (assuming they stay in and I don’t see any of them bowing out anytime soon).Mat-

  5. Peter Porcupine

    DK: Wanna bet?WHY would having the most delegates going to the convention NOT get you the nomination? The ‘Big Mo’ script will get retired this year.

  6. Dan Kennedy

    You can’t win the most delegates without winning the most primaries and caucuses. What you’re looking at now is an artifact — it’s early, that’s all. That’s like saying Obama won Nevada yesterday because he beat Clinton in delegates, 13-12. Yeah, right.

  7. Tony

    The premise is a good one but I don’t quite agree. It is essentially a three-way on both sides still and will be until Feb. 5. Mike Huckabee [and to a lesser extent, John Edwards] cannot be counted out just yet. They will remain factors in the race. Do I think they have shots at the nomination? Very slim, admittedly. Nationally, Huckabee is still polling well in future states and while polls are just a snapshot, that is what we have. While there will be some consolidation around a leader, probably McCain, neither he nor Romney will have a lock on the nom. Let’s look at some of them: Over the past four weeks, Huckabee has led two polls in Florida, McCain has led two, and Giuliani has led in four. In all the polls, Romney has been bunched up with all the others at the top. A lot has changed in four weeks so let’s look a the two most recent: Insider Advantage from four days ago has it Giuliani 21, Romney/McCain 20, Huckabee 12; six days ago, Survey USA had it McCain 25, Giuliani 23, Huckabee and Romney 18. Or, essentially, it is still anyone’s state. There has not been much polling done in Feb. 5 states for Republicans but here are some: In California, there have been four done in the last month and McCain has led two and Giuliani has led in two. Here is the most recent from Rasmussen: McCain 24, Romney 17, Huckabee and Thompson at 13, and Giuliani at 11. Huckabee led the only poll done in Georgia back in December by six points over Giuliani with 23. Romney and McCain were at 10 and 11. There have been two polls from New Jersey in the last two weeks with Giuliani and McCain essentially tied. Huckabee and McCain are essentially tied in Oklahoma from a poll last week. Giuliani will probably win New York. McCain will win Arizona. Huckabee will win Arkansas. Romney will win Utah. Thompson, McCain, and Huckabee will probably split Tennessee up. I suspect that Huckabee will do well in other southern/midwestern states, including Alabama, Kansas, and Missouri. With so many delegates being spread out on Feb. 5 and at least three or four candidates in the top tier, I suspect that there will not be a clear nominee after those races. And, since Romney has infinite assets to draw on if he needs to, no, he cannot be ruled out.

  8. Christopher

    Huckabee needs a lifeline, he’s sinking fast and might just pull McCain down with him. Romney will knock Rudy out of the race.Thompson will stay in Florida to shake stuff up I think, I figured he’d call it quits by now but I guess he’s got a grudge against Huck and wants to keep him away from the controls.Huck is gone after Florida. He can’t carry it past that. Polls are useless and usually biased.

  9. Steve

    Mike said: He [Romney] basically won Nevada on the Mormon vote I thought that too, but it doesn’t seem to be the case:”even if you exclude all the Mormons who caucused in Nevada, Romney still would have had more than twice the support of the candidate who came in second, Ron Paul.”

  10. af

    Delegates or not, other than Michigan, Romney hasn’t been able to seal the deal in the states that grab voters attention. These are the states that create momentum, and provide the ability to compete and win in other states. Wyoming and Nevada won’t do it, especially when you look at who he beat in those states. At this point, it’s his money that’s kept him in this race.

  11. Anonymous

    I seem to recall another MA candidate whose money secured him the nomination. In fact, his picture was in her parlor, next to that of the Pope.

  12. Peter Porcupine

    AF – would you call second place in NH and Iowa non-competitive? With the delegates attached to boot?FL is the FIRST winner take all state. Second place there is the first place it doesn’t garner something. Romney will even have SC delegates – and Tancredo has pledged his delegates to Romney already. So even if Rudy TAKES FL, Mitt remains competitive.As far as ‘grabbing voter’s attention’ goes – I would say that it’s grabbing MEDIA’S attention that’s the greater problem. Why isn’t delegate rich Nevada considered ‘the gateway to the west’ as SC claims it is to the South? Other than the fact that Chris Wallace doesn’t want to go there?

  13. Christopher

    Romney does have momentum, he’s winning the middle of America, state by state, the Real American Voice.The independants and identity voters will be gone after Florida and the real conservative vote will be heard.It will be a tough battle for all, but Romney is always on message and encouraging people to do their best, not just that he has the best plan. Rudy and Huck are both on the downward spiral. No leadership from them. Romney did beat McCain in Michigan and the people of South Carolina had a grudge to see that McCain did win this time since his hotly debated lose of the state in 2000.

  14. mike_b1

    Christopher wrote: “Polls are useless and usually biased?” … “Romney’s winning the middle of America?” Admit it: You’re Homer Simpson. “Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything. 14% of people know that.”

  15. mike_b1

    Steve wrote: “even if you exclude all the Mormons who caucused in Nevada, Romney still would have had more than twice the support of the candidate who came in second, Ron Paul.That’s a misreading of what happened. A total of 44324 votes were cast in the Nevada Republican caucus. Romney received 22649, while the rest of the candidates combined received 21675. Mormons made up 25% (11081) of the GOP voters. More than 90% (9973) of Mormons voted Romney. So: 22649 – 9973 = 12676, or 28.6% of all non-Mormon votes cast. Despite being one of only two GOP candidates who even bothered to campaign there, Romney, in effect, was wiped out. Non-Mormon GOP voters chose someone else nearly 71% of the time. That’s stunning.

  16. Christopher

    Polls are useless. People will say anything on a poll, what they think sounds correct or it depends on how the question is given to them.Polls are useless to actually get any real ideas from. Actually doing something is what America needs, not another poll.And yes Romney is winning America, he’s going to win Florida because of his message and encouragement, not from sucker punches and snippets like Huck is throwing around. Rudy is changing message and McCain isn’t cut out for the job.

  17. Tony

    I totally forgot that some of the Republican races are winner-take-all. I may have to rescind some of my remarks. However, I still think Huckabee is not out of it yet.

  18. mike_b1

    Christopher, I’m going to say this and then I’m done with the topic:Polltakers are smarter than you. They know how to write questions (called “items”) to hone in on a specific response, and they know how to test the items to ensure subjects answer them the right way (read: they understand what the item is asking). And third-party polls are almost always accurate within the error of margin.(Actually, the GOP and Dem polls usually track closely, too; it’s just they fudge the numbers when they don’t like the findings. We find these facts out later, as for example when Bob Dole admitted he knew he would lose big to Clinton even though he was saying in the days before the election that the tide had swung his way).

  19. Christopher

    Mikewow, thanks for the lesson, I’d stick my thumb in my eye if it weren’t for you,I don’t know how to thank you for putting me in my place. I can’t make up my mind without checking with polls beforehand, you’ve convinced me that they are not useless.

  20. Peter Porcupine

    Mike – then you must be DELIGHTED that the Professionals at Rasmussen say that Romney is winning Florida - – I myself cannot believe this, it’s too good to be true…

  21. mike_b1

    pp, read the story:”Even though early voting has already begun, the race remains incredibly fluid. Just 54% of likely voters say they are “certain” of how they will vote. Six percent (6%) have not yet made up their mind and 12% say there’s a good chance they could change their mind.”Ignore that, and you have a NH situation all over again.Christopher, don’t mention it. I have a developmentally disabled younger sister. Dealing with her is good practice for addressing this forum.

  22. Christopher

    mike,wow, I will no longer have a conversation with you, if what you say is true you should really think about what you just said.that’s all I got to say.

  23. Anonymous

    It is still a five-man race in FL. Huckabee and Thompson (and McCain) detest Romney, probably for his David Finnigan imitation (chameleon) on every issue possible. Fred stays in for FL and takes some votes in the Panhandle region from the Mittster and Huck…votes that could otherwise go to Romney. Huck carrys the evangelicals, votes that could otherwise go to Romney. McCain and Rudy battle for the moderate vote. McCain and Rudy come out of it 1-2, or 2-1. Fred drops out, endorses McCain. Huck takes Mittster votes on Super Tuesday. Rudy, the one state wonder, is wounded. McCain and Mitt are the two left standing after Super Tuesday, and the party regulars (unlike the shrill rightists on the blogosphere) congeal behind McCain, and we are left with McCain – Thompson versus Hillary – Bayh.

  24. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 9:18: The good old days! Only it was Ray Flynn who was the “chameleon” — Dave Finnegan hung the label on him. Flynn probably won the election when he and Finnegan appeared in a mini-debate and Flynn said, “You called me a lizard!”

  25. mike_b1

    I spent three years working for an association that regularly lobbied on the Hill, and have met Evan Bayh on multiple occasions. He is an earnest, amiable man, with a long family history in Indiana politics. However, he comes across as a bit s…l…o…w.

  26. Peter Porcupine

    take-all, the 1-2 or 2-1 is HUGE.My feeling – from google groups there, et al, is that the economy is becoming the big issue. McCain stumping for tax cuts, after his votes and his rhetoric, makes ANY alleged flip of Mitt’s a mere bagatelle with the audience. He’s playing down Iraq and losing the vets in the process. Romney speaks the language of money and the economy much mre effectively than McCain – all Mitt has to ask when McCain pledges to do this or tha is wask – what’s been holding you up for 20 years?Lord, if Mitt wins this, he’ll have almost 100 delegates – @ 10% of what’s needed BEFORE Super Tuesday, and almost twice that of any other candidate.

  27. Christopher

    I’ve been saying for over a week that Romney has the message and attitude to win Flordia, he’s the only one with a message, Rudy is ‘hey look at me 9/11 mayor’, what leadership is that?Mitt is giving Americans a plan to actually cut Washington spending, free up tax money, and improve education and jobs. No other GOP canidate is saying that in a convincing way.

  28. Anonymous

    I only read Jeff Jacoby’s column because you asked me to, Dan. It’s not that I disagree with him politically and in every other way (I do), but the man is completely irrational. Re-read the three quotes that have Jeff in a twist and they come down to “so what?” How is favoring tax cuts for the lower and middle class a vote for big government? How?? Tax cuts are only desirable if they go to corporations and the executives who run them?? Washington is broken and we’re going to do something about it – again, that is a rallying cry for larger government in what way, Jeff?

  29. Suldog

    Well, the major interesting thing happening here is something none of you are addressing. The fact is that few of the “also-rans” will be dropping from the race – barring a complete depletion of funds – because whatever delegates they can gain will be extremely useful in pushing their own particular agendas at a brokered convention.Huckabee, Guiliani, Paul, Thompson – if the contest (as it appears now) is between McCain and Romney, and they are anywhere near each other in delegate count by convention, then every delegate delivered will be worth a favor.So, Lombardi is wrong when it comes to primaries. Winning isn’t the only thing. Expect the race to remain fluid, with many variables, for the duration.

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