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July, 21st 2007

Heading towards a Rudy-Romney race

– Liz Mair

Yesterday, I had coffee with a friend who was asking me my views on the presidential race. It occurred to me that while I write pretty regularly about whatever bit of dodgy-ness, whatever fiasco, or whatever bit of idiocy is on that given day coming out of the Romney camp, and that I also write fairly regularly on news affecting the Giuliani camp, I don't write much about the state of the race overall, and how I see it panning out. I certainly haven't done so in the interim since the evident demise of camp McCain.

As the title of this post suggests, the more time passes, the more I think we're headed into a Rudy-Romney race-- something that I absolutely would not have imagined this time last year, or even two months ago. But, here's what makes me say this.

First, there was the demise of the McCain campaign-- on the cards for awhile now, for anyone who has been paying close attention-- that has occurred in recent weeks. While McCain still seems to be retaining a reasonably solid number of grassroots supporters (depending on the state and the poll, between 10% and 20%), his fundraising is obviously in deep, deep trouble (Ron Paul is de facto in a better financial position than McCain these days), and he's lost some very good staff-- without whom it's tough to imagine him being capable of winning, particularly in the big states, and without money (it's not impossible, but it would be very tough).

Second, for all the hype about Fred Thompson, and as much as I like the man and feel that I could vote for him (something that I can say with far less ease about Romney, for example), I don't think he's going to get far, at least not based on the present circumstances.

While Thompson seems to be doing just fine in many polls, he's delayed several times on making an announcement of his candidacy (last month, I was hearing early July, then I heard late July, now we're talking post-Labor Day). The whole sequence of non-events, shall we say, makes me seriously question whether Thompson actually wants to run, or he just wants to raise his profile to a sufficiently high level to enable him to have an impact on the debate. If Thompson actually wants to run, he sure doesn't seem to be doing much about it in a timely manner—and that’s something that unfortunately probably is going to make his campaign a lot less successful than it otherwise would be, simply because if he waits until September to announce, he’s basically giving himself only four months or so to get an organization in place before the first caucus and primaries occur.

Can a candidate build a winning campaign in just four or five months? I guess Fred and Newt both seem to think so (though I doubt the latter is going to step into the presidential race at all). I have my doubts. Not only is that a tough task for someone used to expending superhuman effort on all things political, I daresay it’s going to be an especially tough task for a guy who pretty much has built into his campaign “plan” that he will not spend nearly as much time on the road as his fellow contenders, and has a reputation for laziness—assuming that last bit is even marginally correct, that is.

But Fred’s got other burgeoning problems, beyond the fact that he may be less energetic than either Giuliani or Romney, and that he apparently does not want to spend much time away from home at all. Sure, no matter how much I love his strategy of relying more on online media, and will be curious to see how it plays out, I just don’t believe that once negative stories start circulating about Thompson—as they already are (see Romney supporter June Bond’s badly-veiled public dissing of Jeri Thompson as a trophy wife, and the story about Thompson having lobbied for an abortion rights group), unless Thompson is out there speaking to voters himself, directly, and regularly, it’s going to work out as well as some are hoping. But his campaign really isn’t going to go anywhere if Thompson’s supporters all start going the way of some prominent Fredheads, who are starting to get irked about the delay in him announcing, and questioning what the hold-up is. You can’t get anywhere in politics without an enthusiastic base—and my concern with Fred is that the longer he delays on announcing, the less enthusiastic his base will become.

Thus, I believe at present we are heading towards a Rudy-Romney race. Who will win? Clearly, I’m hoping for Rudy. But with Romney’s ability, at least in principle, to throw heaps of his own money into the race to keep him going through every last primary, I’m not going to discount his chances. Just because the guy is still polling at less than 10% in many places doesn’t mean he can’t hold out long enough to make it down to the final two—or, should the worst come to pass, the final one.

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