9/17/2007

Giuliani's Precarious Campaign

Rudy Giuliani is generally considered the frontrunner among GOP presidential hopefuls based on his standing in most national polls. His standing in the polls has defied conventional wisdom in that a pro-choice, thrice married, New Yorker who is sympathetic to gay rights would never be nominated by a party that has a base that is very much pro-life and anti-gay rights. But it turned out that something else trumped his positions on social issues which explains his polling strength: electability.

Rudy Giuliani has a unique ability to make the electability argument. As a moderate from a blue state, he could put a lot of states into play that most of the other Republican candidates could not do. Giuliani could seriously contest states like New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and even California. And even if he doesn't win those states, he would force the Democratic nominee to invest time and financial resources in defending his (or her) turf. How well Giuliani could keep red states red is another issue, but his argument about the blue states is credible. A $300,000 ad buy the Democratic nominee must purchase in Los Angeles or Newark is a $300,000 ad buy that can't be used in St. Louis. Or Cleveland. Or Milwaukee.

Tying into this is Giuliani's rationale that because of his probable appeal in blue states, he is able to beat Hillary Clinton. He's been attacking her quite a bit over the past few weeks, including this most recent attack over her criticism of General Petraeus.

So it seems like Giuliani's campaign for the GOP nomination boils down to: 1) being buoyed nationally by September 11, 2) being the Hillary-slayer, and 3) being able to turn blue states a bit more purple.

This is a very risky strategy for the former mayor.

First of all, despite Giuliani's strong national poll numbers, he is not leading in any of the early voting states except for South Carolina, where he is suddenly in a dogfight with newly minted rival Fred Thompson. If Mitt Romney, currently running first in Iowa and New Hampshire, wins both states, Giuliani will have his back against the wall. And to make matters worse, Michigan has moved its primary up to January 15, which is after Iowa and New Hampshire, but before South Carolina. This is a terrible development for the Giuliani campaign because Mitt Romney was born in Michigan and his father was a former governor of that state. Needless to say, Romney is winning the money chase and polls in Michigan. If the primary contest dates hold steady (e.g., South Carolina doesn't move up its primary), Mitt Romney may very well go 3 for 3 and be almost impossible to stop despite the swath of Super Tuesday states that are perceived to be states where Giuliani is expected to do well.

Mitt Romney has really complicated Giuliani's path to the nomination. Giuliani will need to contest one of the early states beyond South Carolina if he wants to improve his chances at the nomination. However, Giuliani did himself no favors by not participating in the Ames straw poll back in August. Iowa voters have long memories and may penalize him for not showing up. So perhaps Iowa is out of reach for Giuliani. This leaves New Hampshire, which is right next door to the state where Romney served as governor.

As for Fred Thompson, if he is able to win South Carolina while Romney wins Iowa, New Hampshire, and Michigan, the nomination fight may turn into a two-man race between Romney and Thompson while leaving Giuliani out in the cold. The benefits of the momentum and good press that can be generated by winning the early voting states cannot be overstressed. This also goes to show that national polling numbers don't mean anything if they aren't backed up by strong polling numbers in the early voting states.

Ironically, another major problem for Giuliani is one of the selling points of his candidacy--Hillary Clinton. Again, Giuliani has said repeatedly that he is the one Republican who can defeat her. But what happens if Clinton somehow stumbles and is no longer a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination? The Republicans won't need a Hillary-slayer if she doesn't even become the nominee! So then one of the pillars of his candidacy would be moot. Even though Republicans may look with glee at the Norman Hsu controversy, I can't help but wonder if bad news for Clinton is also bad news for Giuliani. Whether Giuliani likes it or not, Democratic voters get their crack at Clinton before he does. If I were Giuliani, I'd think twice before launching broadsides at her because such attacks may only make her appear less appealing to the Democratic voters she needs to even make it to the general election.

The longer the Hsu controversy remains in the news, the rosier it makes the other Democratic candidates look--especially Barack Obama. And voters who supported Clinton primarily because of her experience may defect to Richardson, Biden, or Dodd. In a nutshell, should any other candidate wrest the nomination away from Clinton, the Republicans could then decide that ideology matters more to them than electability. This would open up the door for Romney, Thompson, McCain, or Huckabee--all of whom are more in tune with the party base than Giuliani is. And if this happens, the conventional wisdom about Giuliani's chances will finally vindicate itself.

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Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.