So, where do I think things with the Republican nomination stand at this point? Well, I am going to give my analysis in terms of percentages, and they are bound to be a little non-conventional. Keep in ming that I am not necessarily expressing my preference, just the way I see things as of now. Here goes:
Mitt Romney- 50% chance to win the nomination. There are plenty of people that think this is insane, but I would argue that they are not paying close attention. Currently, Romney holds a very solid lead in Iowa (+13.5% RCP poll average), and a healthy lead in New Hampshire(+8% RCP average.) On top of that, he is running neck-and neck in Nevada, Michigan, and, surprisingly, South Carolina. That is the clincher that convinces me.
It just like in a close basketball game, you want the ball in your hands for the final play, and right now the ball is in Mitt’s hands. If he pulls his plan off, he has no need for luck, or for anybody else to slip up. He just needs to execute. Although this is by no means a guarantee for victory, it is the best position to be in.
It runs down like this:
On January 3rd it is almost a done deal that Iowa goes to Romney. A good showing, like is expected, will tip New Hampshire, where he already holds a lead, into his column (New Hampshire does not currently have a date set, but it must be the first primary in the nation by state law.) This likely provides a week of wall-to-wall Mittmania, especially if Hillary wins Iowa and New Hampshire, as Mitt will likely be viewed as an upset by those who haven’t been paying attention (which is most of America.) Most everybody paying casual attention would think that Rudy has this thing wrapped up, and two big Romney wins will be a surprise to them. I wouldn’t really expect the news media to try to tone things down with a “this was an expected outcome” storyline either. Surprise and upsets sell.
Fast forward to the 15th in Michigan. If Romney had to handpick a midwestern state, this would be it, as it is probably the only place outside of Utah where his family name holds any weight. Although, admittedly, most will be too young to remember his father, George, some still do, and it is an excellent starting point, along with the fact that he spent time growing up in Michigan. I find it hard to believe that a Mitt Romney, fresh off two important victories does not extend his current 5.2% RCP average poll lead over Rudy Giuliani to a victory.
At this point, there will only be three credible candidates, as all of the Tier two candidates will have been neutralized, and either McCain or Thompson will have been beaten bad enough to be marginalized (I think it will be Fred.) Next up is Nevada and South Carolina. Polls have been all over the place in Nevada, but I have to believe that a surging Romney takes Nevada as well.
South Carolina, however, is the linchpin. Should Romney take South Carolina, the nomination is his. I would argue this is true even should he win South Carolina, but drop any one of the previous states. The build up of momentum is designed for this outcome. Even as far as recently as last week, I thought South Carolina an impossibility. According the the RCP average, South Caorlina is a dead heat between Mitt, Rudy, and Fred with McCain not far behind. I would suspect that much of Fred’s support would melt to McCain, but there will be a chunk that would Move to Mitt, and due to Romney’s momentum he would pick up the plurality of undecideds.
Meanwhile, Giuliani will have been on a month long losing streak, often placing third or worse before Florida finally appears on the schedule. I don’t believe he survives this.
Keep in mind, however, that any state Mitt loses prior to Florida drops him 20% in his chances to receive the nomination. The effect is cumulative
John McCain- 10% chance to win the nomination. This will likely cause anger in some quarters, but it is actually a significant improvement over a couple of months ago, where I would have given him no chance at all. Quite frankly the Surge in Iraq strategy could not have realistically went better, and he rightfully has reaped much of the credit, giving him a second life. He should continue to reclaim much of the support that bled to Fred Thompson as McCain’s campaign floundered.
However, unless McCain ties his newfound energy into some very specific results, it will be for naught. It all comes down to New Hampshire. McCain must win here or he is done. Currently he is 12 to 13 percentage points behind Romney, but is within the margin of error with Rudy for second. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of Thompson support in New Hampshire to grab, so it will be an uphill climb. McCain does have considerable infrastructure in New Hampshire, moreso than Giuliani but less than Romney.
What McCain needs is for Huckabee to overperform in Iowa, either giving Romney a close race, or beating him outright. A weakened Romney would be ripe for a McCain upset in New Hampshire. McCain supporters should be hoping for a good couple months from Huckabee, especially as they would be prime candidates for defection to McCain in later rounds as Huckabee’s campaign begins to fizzle.
Should McCain win New Hampshire, Michigan and South Carolina become possibilities. If McCain can take these states, he is likely to unite those opposed to Giuliani which puts him in a very good position.
Rudy Giuliani- 40% chance to win the nomination. His pathway is quite simple. All he needs to have happen is for McCain and Romney’s plans to fail and he is the nominee. I would have rated his chances of success higher but for the notion that he has no way to proactively stop either candidate. His campaign infrastructure in the early states is rather weak and he seems to have placed all of his marbles in to Florida, which was a decent strategy assuming a split field with Romney, McCain, and Thompson offsetting each other in previous state wins. Should Romney or McCain dominate leading up to Florida, Rudy is likely to find himself in a spot of trouble, as his 10 percent lead in Florida would be susceptible to a surge, especially as other candidates fall away. He will have taken quite a beating from the media as well if he has not won any states prior to Florida as he is the presumed national front runner. Howard Dean was done with or without the scream, and Rudy would find himself in much the same position.
Any state that Rudy wins before Florida increases his odds of the nomination by 20% except Nevada which increases him 10%.
Fred Thompson- No chance for the nomination. This may seem harsh, but Fred is already losing ground to a much stronger McCain and holds no advantage in any early state. To top it off, his trend line is diving, and I can envision no scenario outside of another candidate withdrawing for health reasons or severe scandal that revives his campaign.
He peaked too early, and wasted too much time while other candidates built early state infrastructure. He has been outworked by every other candidate, up to and including Ron Paul.
Mike Huckabee- No chance for the nomination. Should he close Romney’s lead in Iowa in any poll to less than 5%, I may revisit his chances. I’m still not sure that a even a win in Iowa catapults him enough down the road, although it could certainly doom Romney.
Ron Paul- No chance for the nomination. I think that he started from too far back to be in the running this time. He may be a serious player in 2012, especially if Hillary wins, and more especially if Iraq is neutralized as an issue by that time. Anybody who does not take the Paul phenomenon seriously is not paying attention, however. Today alone he has raised more than one million dollars. I suspect that Ron Paul will be a factor even after this election cycle is over.