It’s the dog days of summer, a time that used to provide a break from the intensity of presidential campaigns. Not so this year, as the compressed process has candidates criss-crossing early-primary states, such as Iowa and New Hampshire, in search of every possible vote. But, as things will really start to heat up after the holidays, now’s a good time to take a quick look at where we’ve been and where we’re heading.
The big news of the past few weeks has been the decision by the South Carolina GOP to move its primary up to January 19. That will have the probable effect of moving New Hampshire (both parties) to January 14 and Iowa (ditto) to January 7, as each state scurries to preserve its precious first-in-line status. (If Michigan shifts its contest to January 15, as has been reported in the past few days, that would move up everything even further.) It would be a surprise if the forces behind the South Carolina shake-up weren’t supporters of Fred Thompson, in a ploy to find him an early state he could win. (That’s because he seems unlikely to emerge with a “W” in either Iowa or New Hampshire, after getting such a late start.)
Of course, it’s unlikely to work. As always, South Carolina voters will be strongly influenced by what happens in the two previous states, and, if Thompson can’t manage a strong showing in at least one of them, he’s toast.
More important for the campaign as a whole, moving up the process to January 7 means the pre-primary campaign will pretty much conclude on or around December 20, when the country shuts down for the Christmas holidays. It also means, as pollster Peter Hart has noted, that, in the two weeks before the Iowa caucuses, it will be nearly impossible for pollsters to assess attitudes on the ground in the Hawkeye State. Why? Because polls taken over holidays are notoriously unreliable, as so many people aren’t home.
Which raises an amusing question: can the press survive the two weeks before Iowa without accurate polls? We may be about to witness the largest collective nervous breakdown in media history.
In any event, this week, a GOP round up. Next week, the Democrats.
From the peanut gallery
If you go back six months, the big stories on the GOP side have been the rise of Mitt Romney, the collapse of John McCain, and the putative candidacies of Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich. Successfully navigating the campaign’s initial pitfalls has been Rudy Giuliani. And with less than five months to go until the first official vote is cast, doing so has allowed him to maintain his momentum in the lead. Giuliani still remains on course to win the nomination — a headache for Democrats because he is, by far, the GOP’s strongest candidate in a general election.
RUDY GIULIANI: THE FRONT-RUNNER Giuliani continues to be excoriated by the party’s right for his social views, his third wife, and his New York provinciality. And he still needs an early state or two to win before Super Tuesday on February 5. But right now, the GOP race looks likely to come down to Giuliani, Romney, and Gingrich — if he announces his candidacy, as is expected — which is a race Giuliani can win. The former mayor couldn’t have planned things any better.