John Hood responds to my post about the race after McCain, in comments:
First of all, I don’t think it’s too early to have this discussion. The nomination is going to be settled in seven months or so. Also, I don’t put much stock in polling in states where the candidates haven’t spent much money yet, because that just favors the most familiar names, not candidates who will appeal to GOP primary/caucus voters when the time comes. While I agree that McCain’s national support has always included lots of moderates and independents, he has also polled consistently more conservative than Giuliani, and the middle won’t matter much in Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada, and Wyoming. I agree that it matters in New Hampshire, though Romney is going to be strong there regardless, and in Florida, where the race may well be decided.
The reason why I think it’s too early to have this conversation is that there’s a solid chance McCain will be able to survive to compete at least in the early primaries. Even if I think he’ll eventually lose, the timing of when he would theoretically drop out will have an impact on who he could help or hurt. Also, Thompson hasn’t announced yet, and we really have no idea how he will look as an actual candidate.
As for polls, they may not be perfect, but I still have a preference for hard data over total speculation. Hood argues that polls in early states right now favor “mostly familiar names.” It’s worth noting that Fred Thompson is at a solid 21 percent in Florida in the poll I cited, so if he’s that well known, he should be more than he is in a race without McCain, if Hood’s assumptions are accurate.
While it is true that McCain appeals to both moderates and conservatives, in the wake of the backlash against him on immigration, those Republicans who are sticking with him now are more likely to be sticking with him because they are moderates or national security voters. (On this I am speculating.)
I think the strongest argument you could make that McCain dropping out would hurt Giuliani is that all of the focus on McCain’s differences with conservatives have made Giuliani look good by comparison. On immigration, for instance, McCain’s insistence on comprehensive reform allowed Rudy to score points by opposing the bill on national security grounds. Even though McCain is more conservative than Rudy on several issues, most prominently, abortion, McCain has done more since 1999 to anger the base. Without McCain in the race to absorb their wrath, disgruntled conservatives may turn up the heat on Giuliani because of his social views.
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