James and Phil, I agree with your takes. Although I acknowledge readily that “buying votes” is the game in Ames, you rightly conclude that this is not a formula that works elsewhere. You simply aren’t allowed to buy everyone in Florida a ride to the polls. I refer back to my post on favorable-unfavorable ratings and note that Romney needs frankly to persuade — without the offer of freebie gifts and in the face of opposing media ads — people to like him. There is a warmth and likeability factor that both Fred Thompson and Rudy have and it will be interesting to see over time who wears best and connects with voters. In addition, we will see how Romney matches up against each of his principal challengers. Against Thompson he will play up his the executive experience, competency and policy detail. Against Rudy he will play the three legged stool, although pushing hard on the abortion front is dicey. I think the foray on immigration was the first of his efforts to take on the frontrunner Giuliani (especially in a week where he was lumped in with the second tier folks). Finally, the math seems to favor Rudy. If you have three candidates now –Huckabee, Thompson and Romney — vying for the same pool of very strong, if not one issue, social conservative voters it is hard for anyone to catch Rudy. Can Thompson come in and sweep the field? Of course. Can Romney push Thompson off the map with concerns about executive leadership in the post-Bush world ? Yes. One of them will have to wipe out the other, plus Huckabee now, to have a chance against Rudy.
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