They aren't Hillary Clinton, nor are they Ron Paul. The two words that will haunt the early primary states are "brokered convention", and we may be heading towards it. At Heading Right, I review the McClatchy analysis of what looks to be a Rudy Giuliani slide. Jim Geraghty points to a Gallup quote arguing that Mike Huckabee's ascent has plateaued after two weeks of hard pushbacks by a number of campaigns. Meanwhile, John McCain rises in New Hampshire, while Romney has treaded water.
Republican primary voters have sent a very clear message: they have not found their candidate. After a remarkable full-year, full-court press, the top five candidates remain bunched together closely enough to have a serious shot at winning at least one of the early states. No one has broken out of the pack on either a national or state-to-state basis, and all of them have serious obstacles to uniting the conservative coalition, fair or unfair.
What happens if Huckabee wins Iowa, McCain wins or comes close in New Hampshire, Romney wins South Carolina, and Rudy can't close the deal in Florida? The other large states would normally take cues from early momentum, but instead, they will have no clear bandwagon on which to jump.
Rudy can expect to win in New York and California, but McCain may have some draw in the latter. McCain can expect to pick up Arizona and New Mexico, at least, and possibly Colorado. Fred will compete in Tennessee and could pick up a win. Huckabee could take Alabama and Georgia. Romney will win Utah and maybe Colorado. Six Midwestern states will go to the polls on that date, and they could go in any direction, individually or as a bloc.
In other words, absent some magic momentum in the next two weeks, this could be a giant mess. The Republicans do not have an Establishment presence in superdelegates as the Democrats have; the RNC cannot impose its will. So then what? The Republicans will have to continue the same campaign for another seven months, until the convention in Minneapolis in the first week of September. It makes for high drama, but almost certainly for disunity and wasted effort -- and a huge head start for the Democrats.
Obviously, the question will be whether any of the candidates can unify the Republican base enough to prevail in the primaries and win outright. Of the candidates in the top tier, the ones most likely to do so would be Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Fred Thompson -- and none of them have proved compelling enough to date to do so. Rudy Giuliani could win, but he has to compete in more states than just the coastal areas where his social policies have the most popularity, and he can't do it by losing Florida. Mike Huckabee inspires the social conservatives but increasingly worries the rest of the coalition.
A brokered convention? It's a distinct possibility.
In a Republican Presidential Primary in California today, 12/17/07, seven weeks to the vote, Rudolph Giuliani wins, but his margin of victory, which two months ago was 21 points, is today 8 points, according to SurveyUSA's 9th pre-primary CA tracking poll ... Giuliani's support is eroding, from 39% two months ago, to 28% today. Several candidates are making inroads, but none more so than Mike Huckabee, who finished 5th with 8% support 6 weeks ago, and who finishes 2nd with 20% support today.
Huckabee has thrown some serious sand in the gears for the GOP, but can he break out and win a national campaign? And could he hold onto fiscal conservatives if he does?