This article by Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard has boiled things down to Romney vs. Rudy.
After praising the Ron Paul revolution . . . Barnes then bashed that campaign for having no strategy for winning the nomination; i.e. they lacked a credible scenario of success.
Scenarios matter. They offer a way to judge the presidential race. Strong candidates can outline a sequence of likely victories or impressive finishes in the caucuses and primaries that would lead to the nomination. Weak candidates can’t. And, to be clear, a strategy and a scenario aren’t the same. A scenario is a vision of a candidate’s path to victory.
At this point, with the first voting just nine weeks away, only two candidates–Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney–have credible scenarios.
In that sense, the Republican campaign has become a two-man race, Rudy vs. Mitt. John McCain and Fred Thompson may not like this. They have scenarios, too, but theirs aren’t terribly credible.
This means just what you think it does. More likely than not, the Republican nominee will be Giuliani or Romney. I remember the old Ken Murray television show in the 1950s that would cut to Hollywood and Vine, where, it was said, “anything can happen and usually does.” That’s true of politics as well. Still, the best bet is Rudy or Mitt.
Hmmm . . . where have I seen this predicted before? Maybe some smart presidential candidate sees things shaping up this way too. That AP article starts off with . . .
Mitt Romney says the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination will come down to Rudy Giuliani and a more conservative challenger. Like Mitt Romney.
It’s no surprise that Giuliani is doing well in national polls of Republicans, Romney said Friday, because candidates with more conservative views on social issues such as abortion and gay rights are splitting the support of like-minded voters.
At some point, the former Massachusetts governor said, the party’s conservative base will coalesce around a single candidate, making it tougher for Giuliani
(another spin on Romney’s two-man race insinuation can by found here.
Back to Barnes . . .
There are three things to keep in mind when evaluating the presidential race in 2008. First, national polls don’t matter at all. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and John Kerry polled at 13 percent or less nationally before the primaries, then locked up the Democratic nomination a few weeks later [EDITORIAL INSERT by Jeff: All three of those came from SMALL STATES and didn't enjoy widespread national name recognition until some early wins . . . much like the Romney camp forsees things]. State polls provide a better clue of what may happen. Second, the primaries are a dynamic process. Win in the early states and you have a far greater chance of capturing the later primaries–and the nomination. Third, money is more important than ever in 2008. If a long shot like McCain or Thompson or even Mike Huckabee wins in Iowa (January 3) or New Hampshire (January 8) or South Carolina (January 19), there won’t be enough time for him to raise the funds needed to compete effectively in Florida on January 29 and the 20-plus primaries on February 5. Television ads are expensive, but necessary.
Romney has an early-primary strategy aimed at Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. He’s poured money into those states, broadcast TV spots, and built organizations. Fox News polls show him leading in Iowa and New Hampshire and a close second in South Carolina.
If he wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, he’ll have history on his side. No presidential candidate in either party has failed to win the presidential nomination after finishing first in Iowa and New Hampshire–that is, since 1972 when Democrat Edmund Muskie managed the dubious feat of winning both but not the nomination. Romney also has the best shot to win the Michigan primary on January 15. He grew up in Michigan and his father George was governor. The other Republicans have all but ignored Michigan.
So the Romney scenario is obvious. He wins early and takes off like a rocket. His name identification soars. Just as significant, he’ll have the money–his own, plus funds he’s raised–to compete fully on February 5, Super Tuesday. I think this scenario is believable. Of course it’s just a scenario, nothing more.
Then Barnes moves onto Rudy’s plan:
Contrary to reports, Giuliani is not ignoring the early states. Well, Iowa maybe. He’s campaigning aggressively in New Hampshire and leads in the Fox poll in South Carolina. If he stayed out of every state until the Florida primary, that would be fatal. The early winner would gain all the media attention and swamp him.
But Giuliani’s focus is on Florida and then on the big-state primaries on February 5 in California, Illinois, New York, and New Jersey. He, too, has the funds to compete. His scenario–breaking out in Florida and blowing away the field on Super Tuesday–is credible in my view [Editorial insert by Jeff: "credible" but never tried/accomplished . . . history is definitely on Mitt's side, not Rudy's].
However, he could do well on Super Tuesday and still not lock up the nomination. The same is true for Romney. Should that happen, the Romney scenario sees conservatives drifting to him as the alternative to the more liberal Giuliani. Former congressman Vin Weber, a Romney adviser, says there’s a ceiling on how many Republicans will back Giuliani, one that will keep him from winning the nomination. We’ll see.
Barnes then mentions the McCain campaign’s strategy of NH and SC wins to get momentum, but reasons:
It’s conceivable, but he lacks the money he’d need on February 5.
Of Fred Thompson, Barnes is forced to conclude:
his strategy of running as the only “consistent conservative” hasn’t stirred enough support to produce a credible scenario leading to the nomination.
All in all, Barnes gives a pretty fair analysis of the GOP race as it stands right now. I would add that it’s becoming more and more clear that if Romney wins 3 or 4 out of the first 5 earliest states (IA, NH, NV, SC, MI–something that’s looking more likely than not) that the social conservative votes will stop being split between the many candidates who showed they couldn’t put together a victory in ANY early state. Social Conservatives and other “base” voters will coalesce more and more around Romney in order to avoid a pro-choice nominee that will bring out the 3rd party scenario ensuring Hillary will be POTUS . . . YUCK!!