10/19/2007

Broken Brownback and Blue

Republican candidate Sam Brownback is expected to drop out of the presidential race today. Given the way things have been going for his campaign since August, it is easy to understand why.

When his campaign was over:

I remember writing about the battle between Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee shortly before the Ames straw poll back in August. I argued that there just wasn't enough room for both of them and that whoever won this battle would advance while the loser would be running on borrowed time. Huckabee ended up placing second while Brownback placed third despite his perceived superior campaign organization and all the time he had invested campaigning in the state. Immediately after the straw poll, I speculated that Brownback would drop out soon.

But he decided to stick it out. And the longer he remained in the race, the more obvious it became that he should leave. And to top it off, his prolonged departure ironically only further elevated his chief rival Huckabee because it reminded voters and pundits of the fact that Huckabee was more viable than Brownback was.

When his campaign was really over:

Brownback raised less than $1 million in the third quarter, which was far less than his rivals. Even worse, he had less than $100,000 on hand. You simply can't run a campaign on such a pittance. His disappointing Ames showing undoubtedly dried up his campaign contributions. $100,000 is not nearly enough money to dig yourself out of such a deep hole at this stage of the game. A Porsche 911 is worth more money than his campaign bank account.

When his campaign was really, really over:

At the economic debate that took place earlier this month, Brownback was asked what the main economic threat to the United States was. Brownback cited the decaying family structure as the nation's biggest economic boogeyman. When he started talking about "families having one mom and one dad," the moderator tried to get him to answer the actual question by reminding him that she asked him to identify an economic issue. Brownback continued to make the argument that the family was an economic issue. He may have a point, but the business wing of the Republican Party that was watching this debate likely was not amused. This disconnect exposed Brownback as a one-dimensional candidate who had no depth on any issues aside from those that are dear to evangelicals.

Just end it already!

After that debate, Brownback said that he would drop out of the race if he placed lower than fourth in the Iowa caucuses. While it may be useful for politicians to lower expectations, there comes a point where it can become ridiculous. There are generally only three tickets out of Iowa. And there are four superstars and one rising star in the Republican field. You have Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Mike Huckabee in the race. Simply put, Sam Brownback was not going to beat any one of these candidates, let alone two.

How this affects the rest of the field:

Mike Huckabee is obviously the main beneficiary of Brownback's demise. Seeing that they were virtually carbon copies of each other as far as most of the issues were concerned, Huckabee would be a logical choice for a Brownback endorsement if he were able to get over his obviously bruised ego.

For evangelicals and general conservatives who do not trust Mitt Romney (either because of his religion or because of his recent transition to the conservative right) and/or are not impressed by Fred Thompson, Huckabee provides a credible alternataive. I've been hearing rumors of a Giuliani-Huckabee ticket, but I really think Huckabee has the legs to make a real run for the top of the ticket. His numbers in Iowa are moving way up, and he is getting traction in South Carolina as well. Mitt Romney should be very, very worried about this. If Huckabee were to place second in Iowa despite Romney saturating the Iowa airwaves with ads, Romney could conceivably become the new Brownback because of how much of his own money he has spent on this campaign. Also, if Huckabee places higher than Thompson in Iowa, Thompson will be finished. How could Thompson, once considered the conservatives' savior, explain losing to Huckabee in Iowa? His donors would flee.

Rudy Giuliani also does not benefit from Brownback's departure. As the field of candidates decreases, the ease with which candidates can distinguish themselves increases. Candidates receive more talk time in the debates when there are fewer candidates to go around. Social conservative voters are still a big deal, and Giuliani has not yet firmed up this support. As long as there is a gaggle of candidates on stage, nobody can clearly emerge as the alternative to Giuliani. Brownback's departure makes this task just a little bit easier. It also temporarily refocuses the media's attention on social conservative issues, which Giuliani still treats gingerly.

Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo are going to be the next two candidates to be pressured to drop their presidential bids. They just don't have the money, the buzz, or the gravitas to warrant their campaigns at this stage. Hunter sounds more congressional than presidential and hasn't really expressed his vision for leadership. And Tancredo seems to have little depth beyond illegal immigration. Aside from the hardcore anti-illegal immigration voters, they do not represent any particular wing of the GOP that is not better represented by another more viable candidate.

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