The Final Five

With a quintet of candidates still realistically viable, the GOP presidential field gets ready for the playoffs
By STEVEN STARK  |  December 5, 2007

071207_gop_main

This past week, we reviewed how the race for the Democratic presidential nomination is still Hillary Clinton’s to lose. The Republican hopefuls, meanwhile, face a much different type of contest. Incredibly, that race is still so unfocused that each of five candidates — Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, and Fred Thompson — has a legitimate chance to gain the GOP nod. Still, with the Republicans confronting key January contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina, and Florida, the race should be substantially narrowed before “Super Tuesday,” the onslaught of primaries on February 5 that could well decide the nomination.

Because of a series of tactical choices by the candidates — some of whom have chosen not to even risk engaging in specific states — the GOP race is boiling down to a run of playoff contests, not unlike a knock-out round-robin sports tournament. In Iowa (the initial contest, on January 3), most of the major candidates have relinquished the state to Huckabee and Romney. The winner of that playoff will proceed on to future primaries with momentum. The loser will see his campaign severely damaged, if not ended. At that point, the race will likely be whittled down to four viable candidates.

Five days later, in New Hampshire, the same process will again occur. McCain has deemed New Hampshire a must-win state, meaning if he loses there, his campaign is virtually over. But, if he manages to win, it’s Giuliani — competing for much of the same middle-of-the-road vote — who will go into the next set of primaries limping badly.

After Michigan — an important state, but not an elimination round — votes on January 15, there’s another playoff on January 19. Thompson, taking a regional strategy, pretty much has to win South Carolina or he’s finished. This means that, by the time Florida votes on January 29, the GOP field will be narrowed to the real contenders and the race for delegates will actually begin.

Last man standing
How does this schedule affect each major candidate? If Romney can get by Huckabee in Iowa, he should be able to hold his current lead in the polls in New Hampshire. That would put him in very good shape to do well in Michigan — a state in which he has strong family ties — and even to run competitively in South Carolina. If he runs the table in the first four contests, he’s a good bet to take the nomination. But even if he stumbles in either Michigan or South Carolina, he’ll still have a ticket to the “finals” in Florida and on Super Tuesday — as long as he wins Iowa.

Giuliani’s position is more tenuous. His strategy is obviously just to survive until he can get to Florida and the Super Tuesday states, where he’s stronger. But it’s always been an open question how much support Giuliani will retain if he doesn’t win any of the first four contests. It would obviously help him a lot if both Romney and McCain stumble out of the gate, creating an opening for him in Michigan.

1  |  2  |   next >
  Topics: Stark Ravings , Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, Election Campaigns,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY STEVEN STARK
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   MAPPING OUT THE NEW YEAR'S POLITICAL LANDSCAPE  |  December 29, 2010
    MAPPING OUT THE NEW YEAR'S POLITICAL LANDSCAPE
  •   DEMOCRATS AGAINST OBAMA  |  November 03, 2010
    Now that the midterm wipeout has concluded, analysts are already sizing up the GOP challengers to a weakened Barack Obama. Not only that: some Democratic party elders are considering the once-unthinkable scenario of a debilitating challenge to Barack Obama from inside his party.
  •   THE INDEPENDENT HERD  |  October 06, 2010
    The big news in this election cycle is the rise of the Tea Party. Fair enough. But passing under the radar is an accompanying development that could have even more far-reaching consequences — the rise of an emboldened third force in our politics.
  •   THE AMERICAN IDOL PARTY  |  September 23, 2010
    Sarah Palin and Christine O'Donnell might not turn out to be good candidates, but they make great television.
  •   HAS OBAMA PEAKED? YES, HE HAS  |  November 12, 2009
    To listen to some pundits, Barack Obama's public image began taking a serious beating when the off-year election returns came in a week ago. Or maybe it was the undeserved Nobel Prize, his approach to the war in Afghanistan, or when he revved up his pursuit of national health-care reform.

 See all articles by: STEVEN STARK