WHAT, ME WORRY? Giuliani may be the GOP front-runner, but a wish-granting genie would look real good right about now.
Here’s a safe bet: if each prominent Republican could make one political wish, John McCain would want to be 10 years younger, Jeb Bush would want a different last name, and Arnold Schwarzenegger would want to have been born in the US.
Rudy Giuliani, for his part, would want a different political calendar.
According to national polls, Giuliani is leading as the Republican front-runner. But he’s not doing well in the few states that matter first in the nomination process. Instead of a national-primary system, we have a series of state contests that begin in mid January in Iowa and New Hampshire, then hit Florida on January 29, South Carolina on February 2, and a mega mix of states on February 5. (Wyoming also begins a caucus process from January 14 through February 2, but it is unlikely to receive much press attention.)
Giuliani’s problem — which works very much to his opponents’ advantage — is that the former New York mayor’s campaign is in a bit of a mess in those early states. Sure, it’s too soon to tell, and there’s time to turn things around. But if the contests in Iowa and New Hampshire were held today, Giuliani would lose both badly. And his campaign would be in tatters.
As always, each candidate’s goal is to be one of the two left standing after the first few contests have narrowed the race. Several weeks ago we recapped how the major Democratic candidates are doing in the early states, and explored what kind of showing they’d need to remain viable. This week, it’s the Republicans’ turn.
For months now, the Giuliani campaign has dithered over how much time and attention should be given to Iowa, thereby appearing to write off the state one way or the other. Meanwhile, Giuliani faces two candidates who have built-in advantages in New Hampshire that he doesn’t have: Mitt Romney is a neighbor and McCain won the state eight years ago. Could Giuliani win Florida after having lost the first two contests? He might have to face that $64,000 question.
PREDICTION Giuliani can afford not to win Iowa. But, as the front-runner, can he withstand a third- or even fourth-place finish? That looks entirely possible now that Fred Thompson is about to enter the race. With such a feeble showing in the first state, New Hampshire could turn on him; he’s currently running second or third in most polls taken in the Granite State because the Independents, who tend to like him more than hard-core Republicans do, are likelier to vote in the Democratic contest.
We predict that Giuliani will come in anywhere between second and fourth place in the first two states — though New Hampshire could yet prove fertile ground for his new, more socially liberal brand of Republicanism. If New Hampshirites fail to defy current expectations, however, he’ll have to win Florida or finish a very close second on January 29 — otherwise he’ll limp into California and New York on February 5 as a bit of an also-ran, since he’s unlikely to win South Carolina, either.