McCain’s Win In South Carolina

So it’s official, John McCain, despite conditions on the ground that might have worked against him, earned himself a narrow in over Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.  And while the only true casualty of Saturday may have been Duncan Hunter, look for this victory to significantly narrow the characteristics of the Republican race.

Because neither Romney nor Giuliani really played in South Carolina, they’re both unlikely to take any kind of specific hit as a result, though, it should be mentioned that the pressure for Giuliani to show strong in Florida is significant, especially given that not only has he been working Florida for all he’s worth, but also because everyone’s going to be gunning for a good showing.

Where I think the true implications of South Carolina will be felt are in the Huckabee and Thompson camps.  Huckabee who’s essentially been running on a Southern strategy, just lost the first Southern state, and one with an extremely high profile.  Granted, Huck’s supporters are going to stick with him until he’s no longer in the race, but losing to McCain makes it difficult for him to pick up hangers on.  Meanwhile Thompson, whose had nothing but poor showings thus far, managed to show some life in third place, but the South was supposed to be his stomping grounds, the region where he could make up for a lack of life in the Northern states.

Thus, while Huck shows no signs of dropping out, and Thompson has said he will continue on at least to Florida, I think South Carolina had the effect of knocking out both Southern candidates, making the Republican contest actually a three way race between Giuliani, Romney, and McCain.  Taking a quick look at the polling trends, what we see is Rudy with a slight advantage, but lots of polling data that suggests that we’ll go into Florida with McCain the favorite to take the state.

But we still have Super Tuesday to think about too, so here’s how it breaks down.  If McCain takes Florida, you can just about write Rudy off.  He’s been betting the whole shooting match on the state, and has yet to win a primary thus far.  As a result, if he can’t even take Florida after having a head start on the rest of the field, his electability drops through the cellar, and you’re going to see financial and strategic support abandoning the USS Giuliani.

In fact, this happens if anyone but Rudy wins Florida.

And I think a similar thing happens to Huckabee.  If Huck doesn’t come in first, what you have is someone running a Southern strategy losing to Southern states in a row which will further validate concerns that he’ll be competitive anywhere else both in the primaries and in the General Election.

Fred Thompson’s not polling very well in the state, and he doesn’t have a whole lot of time to reverse that.  Now, it would seem that Thompson has been cut a lot of chances to show that his campaign has some life in it, enough to the point that a third place finish could be spun as not the failure that it really was.  Eventually that luck is going to run out, and I think Florida is just such a place.  Anything but first place in Florida means that Thompson can’t win in the Mid, West, North, but most importantly in the South where he’s supposed to be the most competitive.

Which means you have McCain and you have Romney left.  Both can suffer a loss in Florida and keep going, and in fact, Romney will end up doing just that.  Look for him to play a game of low expectations in Florida, declaring a third place finish as a victory (possibly going as low as a fourth place victory).

But I’m thinking the placement in Florida will be McCain, Giuliani, Romney, Huckabee (with those last two spots possibly flipping).  Fred will drop out of the race and possibly toss his support McCain’s way.  Both Huck and Rudy will refrain from dropping out, however neither will really be viable anymore, and going into Super Tuesday we’ll have a two man race between McCain and Romney.

At which point, it’ll be anyone’s guess where the nomination is going.  McCain is not the Republican party’s favorite son, but enjoys broad support by moderates and independents.  Romney, on the other hand will clean up where McCain doesn’t, and in truth, the two candidates, in their pools of support at least, are very complimentary.

But one thing to consider is that if McCain does win Florida, he’ll be heading to Tsunami Tuesday with two consecutive wins, three total at his back, along with the most recent, he’s going to have some serious momentum at his back.  So, with South Carolina under his belt, and Florida looking to turn for him in the coming days, I’m ready to say that John McCain will likely be the Republican nominee.

And just think, people were expecting him to drop out of this race back in September.

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