I think Rudy is going to have a tough fight but so will everyone else. In 48 hours the GOP race shifts to Florida. SC and Nevada will be in the rear view mirror but this time there will be 10 full days to contemplate the results and run a full blown campaign for the next state.
Let's say McCain gets a solid (4-7 pt) win with Huckabee in second. What happens then? McCain will get a bump going into Florida where he leads in the RCP average
by 2.9 pts now. According to his campaign he has purchased media time and will be up on the air. He will face a diverse GOP electorate
, including many moderates transplanted from the northeast but also social conservatives in the Panhandle and the key I-4 corridor voters. However, unlike the last few stops, he will also have to contend with the another candidate who appeals to moderate voters, stresses the importance of terrorism and who has a firm base of support-- Rudy. Coupled with Rudy's intensified push on taxes it will be a tough race. Huckabee, even if he comes in second, has not declared SC a "must win" and will continue on in Florida, appealing to social conservatives. Romney will have come in third or possibly fourth in SC, have a win in Nevada which he'll hype and be in the midst of a message correction. Out: "send the illegals home." In: "fix Washington and don't let the lobbyists control the government." Out: "maintain the three legged stool." In: "the same old crowd won't solve our problems." Is there an electorate that this appeals to which is distinct from those voters McCain and Rudy are going after? It is not clear, nor is it clear the new, new message is the Florida message, particularly if Thompson drops out and Romney now can re-re-position himself as the one true establishment conservative.
Now if McCain is upset what happens then? (After the all night Rudy campaign party ends, I mean.) Rudy will have himself ideally positioned to consolidate the moderate, national security, fiscal conservative voters. The others will scramble over the remainders but in this case perhaps Thompson stays in, hopeful that the shift from a chaotic race to an utterly chaotic race will leave room for him.(UPDATE: Someone
Under any scenario it will be highly competitive. Will it be decisive? Likely not because if you stick around for Florida there's no reason not to give it a whirl on Feb. 5. UPDATE: And here
is his new very powerful Florida ad with a very explicit 9-11 reference.