December 18, 2007

The Fred Phenomenon?

Mike Huckabee's surge may not be the final chapter in Iowa, the Des Moines Register's David Yepsen warns, and Barack Obama may still get an unpleasant surprise. The longtime political analyst has detected signs of life from Fred Thompson and John Edwards in the Hawkeye State, and believes that the unsettled nature of both races may provide yet another surprise or two:

Both Edwards and Thompson are pouring time and resources into Iowa these days. ... On the GOP side, Romney has slipped, and Huckabee has surged in Iowa and nationally. Other candidates such as Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, who never seemed to figure out just how they want to play Iowa, have effectively bypassed the state in favor of contests elsewhere. That seemed a wise strategy because it would help Huckabee defeat Romney here, thereby derailing his New Hampshire momentum and making that state easier for Giuliani and McCain.

But after a sluggish start, Thompson has sensed an opening in Iowa, and he's moving decisively to exploit it. The opening arises from a combination of Romney's changes of position on social issues and Huckabee's stumbles on foreign-policy questions and immigration.

After his winning performance in the Des Moines Register's debate, Thompson has embarked on a lengthy bus tour of the state. During these final days, his campaign says he'll hold events in 50 communities and will visit 54 of the 99 counties.

Yepsen notes that Democrats, particularly Obama supporters, claim that a vote for Edwards will go to waste. Edwards can't win anywhere else but Iowa, having built very little organizational strength in any other early primary state. For those seeking to oppose Hillary, they argue, an Obama vote will translate into trouble for the Clintons throughout the primary process. It's not a bad argument, but the same organizational argument used to work against Mike Huckabee until November, too.

A Fred surge will force some recalculation, none of it pleasant for any of the candidates. If Fred can manage a late surge that pushes him into first or second in Iowa, he could gain some significant traction for South Carolina especially. If he pushes Mitt Romney into a third-place finish in Iowa, that would seriously damage Mitt's momentum and could provide an opening for John McCain in New Hampshire. That helps Rudy in Florida, but only if Huckabee doesn't take up the slack.

Fred could help unite the diverse conservative base, but so far, we haven't seen much of a campaign from Thompson. We haven't seen it in Iowa either, for that matter, although Yepsen has some well-tuned instincts there. A late Fred surge would probably show more a significant amount of residual discontent with the entire top tier more than an endorsement of Fred himself.

One thing's for sure: if we don't see a Fred surge in Iowa, he's probably out. (via Instapundit)


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