Here’s what I want to reiterate. It is extremely significant that McCain and Giuliani have held on to these percentages in polls of Republican primary voters for two years now. Two years. It is marginally more significant that Rudy has done so, since he’s been out of the public eye. My reading of primaries in the modern era, in which decisions are made by voters and not by smoke-filled-roomers, is that frontrunner status is very meaningful. When there are serious frontrunners in open races, they almost always win — Reagan in ‘80, Mondale in ‘84, Bush in ‘88, Dole in ‘96, Gore and Bush in 2000.
When there are no serious frontrunners — the Dems in 1976, 1988, 1992 and 2004 — then things get very interesting. This race appears interesting because there are two frontrunners running far ahead of others, which makes it different from previous frontrunning races. But that will only make it harder for one of the non-frontrunners, because two candidates are going to have to falter and not just one — two are going to have to make big mistakes and see their support melt down to give someone in the rear, like Romney, a chance to make it.
But while people talk about Giuliani and McCain going for the same “base” and figuring that this means there is room elsewhere, they misunderstand the unfolding dynamic of this race. Both candidates, who have serious or potentially serious problems with some elements of the base, have an appeal that appears to transcend the “base” per se and gets them to voters who aren’t necessarily driven exclusively by “base” issues. And if one melts down, then he all but assures the victory of the other.
Considering the expansion of the electorate in recent years, we have reason to expect that the primary vote in 2008 is going to be bigger than in past primary seasons. That will favor the frontrunners as well.
One final note. Just as the entry of Tom Vilsack into the presidential race may make it possible for Democrats to skip Iowa, a serious Romney bid may allow both McCain and Giuliani to announce they are bypassing New Hampshire because they can’t compete with the near-favorite son that Massachusetts boy Romney is. This probably won’t happen, since McCain did so well in New Hampshire in 2000, but it does indicate Romney will have yet another hurdle to jump. He may do well in New Hampshire, but that will be easily written off as a geographic fluke.
I’m just sayin’.