Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Cherry Picking and Leveraging in a Civil War

As the possibility of a deadlocked and brokered Republican National Convention looms on the horizon, Giuliani, Huckabee, McCain, Paul and Romney must now concentrate on cherry picking delegates so as to leverage their influence in the selection of presidential and vice-presidential nominees and in drafting the platform. A winner may emerge before the Convention, but if the early primaries and caucuses foreshadow the future, each of the candidates will demonstrate strength in various regions, states and constituencies, and no winner will emerge.

The stakes are high and not just to determine a winner, but to determine who will win the war for the heart and soul of the Party. For example, John McCain won a narrow victory over Mike Huckabee in South Carolina by appealing to more secular or non-evangelical voters and to those concerned about national defense. Conversely Huckabee lost, because he failed to appeal to those voters. Victories by Mitt Romney in Nevada and Michigan demonstrate his popularity among Mormons and with Republicans concerned primarily with economic issues. Rudy Giuliani has yet to develop a significant following, but if he does, it will probably include a combination of voters with liberal positions on social issues and others very concerned about terrorism. Fred Thompson had once appeared as the candidate most likely to bring together the various wings of the Republican Party, but his lethargic campaign foreclosed that possibility unless he emerges in a deadlocked Convention as a compromise candidate. Ron Paul appeals to the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, which may enable him to win some delegates, but to date he has not shown significant success. Thus, Republicans have four candidates with followings that may enable them to win significant blocs of delegates.

Florida showcases an excellent opportunity for each of these four candidates. Giuliani has campaigned extensively there, especially in South Florida, home to many retirees from New York and the Northeast and also to a large Jewish population, where his pro-Israeli position may help him. Huckabee should run well among Florida's very large base of evangelical voters, while McCain comes with back-to-back victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina, which will likely provide him with momentum in appealing to voters interested in national defense and with a more secular world view. And Mitt Romney should have a strong base of support because of his victories in Michigan and Nevada together with his emergence as an advocate of change in Washington and of a new economic policy. But each has a significant question to answer.

  • Can Giuliani breathe life into his campaign after his suicidal strategy of bypassing the contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan and South Carolina and can he appeal to the large evangelical voting bloc in the Republican Party?
  • Can Huckabee broaden his appeal beyond his evangelical constituency?
  • Can McCain win over rank-and-file Republicans who distrust him because of his numerous policy flirtations with various Democratic leaders in the Senate and his apparent exploration of the possibility of running as John Kerry's vice-presidential nominee in 2004?
  • Can Romney appeal to evangelicals and rank-and-file Republicans who remember his liberal positions on various issues when he served as Governor of Massachusetts?
"Money, the mother's milk of politics," is in short supply among the four except for Romney, who can use his personal fortune to finance his campaign, but until he demonstrates that he can win in states other than Wyoming, Michigan and Nevada, where he had built-in advantages, he's not likely to attract a broad base of contributions. Huckabee continues to campaign on the wing of a prayer. McCain has attracted additional funding since his New Hampshire and South Carolina victories, but neither was a sufficiently convincing victory to bring in large sums from major contributors. And as for Giuliani his campaign already has senior campaign staffers working without pay.

The Florida primary and Super Tuesday may enable a candidate to emerge as the clear front runner, but Giuliani, Huckabee, McCain and Romney have serious weaknesses to overcome, if anyone of them is to move to the head of the pack. In the meantime the Civil War for the heart and soul of the Republican Party will continue.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Very well written Dr. Dunn.

Regarding Florida, don't you think that Romney stands the best chance of benefiting from Thompson's absence?

As Evenagelicals look at Huckabee's campaign moving forward, like him as they may on many of the issues, they might come to the conclusion that he can't win in the General Election. And so, for that reason, and because Romney is a solid choice otherwise, I wonder if Mitt might pick up enough support to slightly edge both McCain and Rudy in Florida. I've heard Rudy's team is very confident at this point looking forward.

Sooner or later, this race looks destined to come down to a Romney versus a less-conservative Conservative. The odds favoring McCain on account of his wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina. Although Rudy's results in NYC are a persuasive case in support of his candidacy.

I'd give Huckabee a shot at vying with Romney for the honor of taking on either Rudy or McCain, but his lack of resources will likely catch up with him over the long haul.