Phil and James have it right–McCain won by putting together a rather broad base of support among GOP voters. This is a helpful look at how he did it–making progress with social conservatives, dominating with moderates and veterans and doing better with conservative voters. Last night he cited the “South Carolina winner always gets the nomination” phenomenon. The other one: no one has won the nomination in that same period of time without winning either Iowa or NH. However, both these strike me as “true until they are not” rules. If he wins in Florida it will because he knits together 30% of so of the diverse groups in Florida’s electorate the same way he did in SC. Looking back at the mix of the electorate in Florida in the 2000 primary we see that both Rudy and McCain will have a lot to work with: 58% conservative but 42% moderate/liberal voters and 61% who do not identify as “religious right.” The darkhorse but the guy they better keep an eye on: Huckabee who may not have won SC but without Thompson and with Romney now (I think) focusing on economic issue could get a very large chunk of the value voters –enough in a crowded field to make a run for first place.
On issues the economy may get the lion’s share of attention. Unlike Michigan, Florida’s unemployment rate is lower than the US as a whole – 4.7%
as of December. Nevertheless Rudy has correctly seen (and responded with his tax plan) that the electorate in Florida as elsewhere is concerned about the economy and wants to hear what the candidates are going to do about it. This may be McCain’s greatest challenge– letting GOP voters that cutting excessive government spending (not necessarily what people concerned about future economic growth want to hear) is not the sum total of his economic plan.
As for the “no frontrunner” argument– that was “so Friday.” McCain is in the driver’s seat and unless his opponents can knock him out in Florida it’s hard to see how he can be stopped. Can they? Absolutely. Will they? Maybe but expect to see some very positive polling for him in the next few days as the bandwagon/momentum effect takes hold.