No matter the order of finish in New Hampshire on Tuesday, the Republican primary’s real winner is former New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani.
As John McCain surges ahead, Giuliani’s national numbers have fallen. Rudy’s decision to ignore both the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries guaranteed poor showings in these still-important first-in-the-nation contests, and as a result, Giuliani’s candidacy became something of an afterthought in media coverage. The Financial Times analyzed the Republican contenders and, in a final sentence, informed its readers that Rudy Giuliani is “also in contention.”
However, as the Republican race journeys down to South Carolina, and then on to Florida — prior to decisive Super Tuesday — Giuliani may be in the best overall shape of any Republican candidate. Giuliani’s advantage over his competitors in key facets of the nomination battle is increasingly overlooked; too little attention has been paid to his financial resources, organization, and electability.
The Giuliani campaign has made comparatively large investments in organization, candidate visits, and advertising in many of the big, early-voting states, including Florida, California, and Illinois. Consequently, beyond the headline poll numbers, Giuliani holds a far more competitive position across the spectrum of upcoming primary states than Huckabee, McCain, or Romney.
Aside from Giuliani, only the McCain campaign planned for a truly national, state-by-state race, but McCain no longer has the funds to afford one. Romney chose to put all his chips on knockout victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, unaware that his candidacy would be the one administered smelling salts.
Of course, Romney could self-finance the rest of his campaign. After New Hampshire, however, he may have no other means of keeping a campaign on political life-support afloat.
An impressive New Hampshire showing will infuse the McCain campaign with enough new dollars and free media to soldier on to Michigan and South Carolina — but not much farther — unless McCain can pull off an upset in one of those states.
Huckabee’s religious populism has the potential to gain support as the race heads south. However, his campaign doesn’t possess the organizational muscle to rack up convention delegates beyond a comparatively small number of targeted states.
Hence, Huckabee’s disproportionate strength among evangelicals suggests he may do well in South Carolina, but it’s hard to see how he beats Giuliani in delegate-rich California, Illinois, New York, and New Jersey. Although Giuliani isn’t as strong as he was across all Super Tuesday states, he still leads in a majority of these states.
An interesting dynamic played out during the past several weeks. While Huckabee, McCain, and Romney engaged in a three-way street brawl replete with expensive, negative attack-ads, Giuliani stood on the sidelines holding his competitors coats. When did anyone last run an anti-Giuliani ad? Long perceived as the short-tempered tough-guy of the Republican race, Giuliani’s image was softened (and improved) by default, and at no cost to his campaign.
Critically, only Giuliani has both the money and the organization available to maintain front-runner status in all the important states. If Giuliani wins Florida, where he currently leads, on the eve of Super Tuesday he will (once again) become the prohibitive favorite for his party’s nomination.
Beyond securing the nomination, only one other Republican, John McCain, can challenge Giuliani on electability grounds. Unlike Huckabee and Romney, Giuliani and McCain are competitive in general election trial-heats against the leading Democratic contenders, though they do not currently poll as well against Senator Obama, as they do against Senator Clinton.
Without question, the Giuliani campaign’s unconventional “big state” strategy is a high-risk one. After New Hampshire, it’s also the most likely to capture a majority of the 2,345 convention delegates needed to secure the Republican nomination.
–Patrick Basham directs the Washington-based Democracy Institute and is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute.