McCain Surging, Romney Retreating, Giuliani Unscathed

McCain Surging, Romney Retreating, Giuliani Unscathed The good news continues for John McCain, while Mitt Romney’s road to the White House is filled with ever more potholes.

The next stop on the primary trail is Michigan. Not only was Romney born and raised there, his dad, George, was the state’s governor from 1963-1969. Yet, the two most recent polls show him in a statistical tie with Arizona’s John McCain and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas.

Meanwhile, Romney’s a distant third in South Carolina behind Huckabee and McCain with Fred Thompson hoping to make his final stand there. He’s pulling his ads and may bail altogether.

Mitt Romney Quits South Carolina “The picking-your-state strategy has worked for all the other candidates who cherrypicked which states they were going to do battle in while letting their opponents fight it out in other ones,” said one Romney aide, revealing a trace of bitterness at the chess moves of the four other Republicans. “It’s time for Mitt Romney to give it a try.”


That he is now on his way to writing off a seemingly pivotal contest reflects the extraordinary setbacks his campaign has suffered with back-to-back losses in Iowa and New Hampshire — and the pressing strategic decisions they’re now grappling with as a result of those defeats.

The shift is all the more remarkable considering just how much Romney has invested in South Carolina. Romney deployed his first staffer to the state in June 2006 and has been on the air here since Labor Day.

Huckabee had surged to a strong lead in South Carolina after his impressive win in Iowa and would seem to have a natural appeal as a fellow Southerner. The two most recent surveys, including a brand new Fox News poll, have McCain in the lead, though.

Still, the polls there are all over the place:

South Carolina Republican Primaries poll

This bit of analysis from the Fox poll is interesting:

Like in Iowa, about 6 of 10 likely voters in the South Carolina Republican primary are Evangelical Christians, and 23 percent of this group says they are backing Huckabee and 22 percent McCain, followed by Romney at 16 percent.

McCain is helped by the fact that only about one of three voters say it is important for them to share their candidate’s religious beliefs. A 66 percent majority says it is not important.

About half of Republicans in South Carolina are looking for a candidate who “stands up” for what he believes (47 percent), while others want a “true conservative” (21 percent) or a candidate who has the “right experience” (19 percent).

For voters saying the most important quality is for a candidate to “stand up” for his beliefs, 26 percent back McCain and 23 percent Huckabee. Those wanting a “true conservative” are most likely to be supporting Huckabee (26 percent) and Romney (24 percent), followed by Fred Thompson (16 percent). Nearly half of those wanting a candidate with the right experience are backing McCain.

While the polls are murky, several things are clear.

  • If Fred Thompson can’t manage a respectable showing in South Carolina, the rationale for his continued presence in the race will be difficult to understand.
  • Romney’s decision to pull out to concentrate on Michigan is strategically smart; he’s not going to win.
  • The fact that Romney spent as much time and effort in South Carolina (not to mention Iowa and New Hampshire) as he did without pullout out a win would seem to speak to his ability to connect with Republican primary voters.
  • The fact that Rudy Giuliani seems to be getting no criticism for skipping the first six primary contests in hopes of making up ground in the big states to come is interesting. Clearly, it’s much better to be the cold and timid soul who neither knows victory nor defeat than to be the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again.
FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Public Opinion Polls, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. yetanotherjohn says:

    The math is easy to do. Michigan is January 15th (right around the corner). South Carolina is January 19th.

    If Romney wins in Michigan, then he will have half a week to try again in South Carolina. If he fails in Michigan, then what is his rational for coming from behind and winning in South Carolina?

    Take it a step further. The two most recent polls in MI has him -1 vs Huckabee and + 4 vs McCain or +2 vs Huckabee and – 9 against McCain. Not the best situation, but at least a potential to win. The polls are have him second in both cases, but not an impossible gap to close.

    Now play the game out further. If Romney loses to McCain and Huckabee, then it is pretty hard to see him anything but toast. If Romney takes another second, he can probably last until SC, but absent a miracle isn’t likely to go further.

    If Romney drops out, the Thompson has to bang the drum as the conservative candidate who you aren’t mad at.

    If McCain wins, then he starts the dominoes falling for an easier and easier run to the convention.

    What a political year.

  2. CLACKEY says:

    Comment in violation of site policies deleted.

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  3. Michael says:

    Open your mouths and talk to your friends and neighbors. Talk to everyone you know and tell them how great Mitt is!!!

    Yeah, because that’s working out sooo well for Ron Paul.

  4. Michael says:

    That was in reply to Clackey, who’s post was subsequently deleted. It wasn’t that bad though, more good for a laugh than anything I thought.

  5. Jed Merrill says:

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  6. CLACKEY says:

    Why is it you delete anyones response who supports a candidate?

  7. James Joyner says:

    Why is it you delete anyones response who supports a candidate?

    I delete off-topic posts. The fact that a post mentions Mitt Romney is not an invitation to paste in random messages of support for him.

    If you’d like to make a direct response to some point I made about Romney in the post, though, feel free.

  8. Rob M says:

    Well, my take for Rudy is he is getting a pass because his national poll numbers are still at the top and the excuse “i didn’t even try” some how is still good for the press. However if Rudy takes a loss in Florida on the 29th, then I think he may not be able to recover. He has been waiting for those big states and spending a ton of time in Florida. A loss there dooms him.

    And the truth is only a small number of delegates have been awarded so far. So he is not really behind McCain and Romney yet.

  9. anjin-san says:

    Interesting that rough, tough Rudy, who will keep us all safe from terrorists, seem to lack the backbone to get in and mix it up a bit.

    Allocating resources is one thing, blowing off entire states one after another when you are putting yourself forward to be President of the United States suggest that one is not really fit to lead.

  10. Key says:

    The thing about the early states is that they are an infinite sink of time. Mitt Romney did 255 townhalls in NH! He has not visited many of the other states because he spent his time in 2 states.

    Rudy is given a pass because he leads FL by 5%, CA by 9%, NY and NJ by >20%, CT by 30%, PA by 15%, etc. The media don’t want to call him the frontrunner, but he is.

    Mitt is toast. Every poll shows him heading in the wrong direction, peaking in November.

    Huck has been the dark horse who snuck on the scene, but whose record has been unmasked only starting in early December. Fred Thompson worked him over in tonight’s debate, and this will hurt him all across the country.

    Mccain can manage 20% of the population, but he is too unpopular to be the nomination. He was passed over 8 years ago, and has mostly made himself less popular since then with campaign finance, the Gang of 14, etc., etc.

  11. markm says:

    “Not only was Romney born and raised there, his dad, George, was the state’s governor from 1963-1969. Yet, the two most recent polls show him in a statistical tie with Arizona’s John McCain and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas.”

    Blah blah blah…dude hasn’t lived here for 30 or 40 years. I don’t know what kind of carry over there is from a 30 year hiatus from residency…yeah, he’s got a known name but other than that he’s rank and file.

  12. Laura Cap says:

    The success of Giuliani’s game plan to “enter” the race in Florida, was contingent on different Republicans winning in the early primaries so there was no clear winner before Florida, the state he expects to win. So, I don’t see why he should be criticized for his campaign strategy now. Had the same Republican won the early states, it would have been questionable but right now, it appears to me, that everything is going as planned.