McCain Surging, Romney Retreating, Giuliani Unscathed
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.
“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:
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.