Over in the Corner, there’s fear that Thompson may split the conservative vote with Huckabee, making McCain the victor in South Carolina and on to the nomination.
By late Tuesday night, Mitt Romney’s campaign will either be reinvigorated with their first major win of the campaign, or pretty much taking on water and drifting towards the rocks. He may not drop out after Michigan if he loses, but it’s hard to see how yet another second-place finish will somehow give him a big burst of momentum and surging poll numbers elsewhere. (Barring, say, some Florida 2000 scenario where only 500 votes separate first and second place.)
In South Carolina, Fred’s all in. If he wins, he deals Huckabee a pretty tough blow, as the argument will be made, “If Huckabee can’t win South Carolina, where can he win?” Thompson will tout himself, as one of his guys put it to me, as authentic barbecue to Huckabee’s McRib.
The following week it comes down to Rudy, McCain, and a reinvigorated Thompson in Florida. I think McCain and Rudy are competing for a more overlapping group of the Republican primary electorate than Thompson is, but maybe I’m wrong.
In a three way race, shorn of Romney’s millions and Huckabee’s grassroots manpower of evangelical Christians, Thompson has a pretty good shot. If he can pick up an endorsement or two along the way, great.
By the way, it’s not unthinkable that Romney wins Michigan, Thompson wins South Carolina, and Giuliani wins Florida. Under that scenario, the five biggest contests of the early GOP Primary season will have generated five different winners.