The idea that the Republican Primary is really only a contest between two men might seem crazy to some, since some recent polls have shown less than a 10% difference between the first and fifth place candidates nationally, but there appears to be a growing number of people, from everyday bloggers to well-respected political analysts who argue that, when you factor in money, strategy, and state polling, there are really only two men who have a path to the GOP nomination: Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani.
Looking at just national polling, the argument holds virtually no water, either because Rudy Giuliani has a run-away lead in some polls (Newsweek), or because as many as five candidates are within striking distance of first place (Rasmussen’s tracking poll). What we have to remember, however, is that national polling means very little in a Primary election, both because elections are really held at the state level, and because they are spaced out to the point that a wins in Iowa or New Hampshire could cause a 20% swing in a national poll.
With this in mind, proponents of the “two-man race theory” seem to have a point. Only Romney and Giuliani have shown the ability to consistantly raise large sums of money – McCain has almost no cash, and Thompson produced only a mildly impressive first – and easiest – quarter results. Huckabee is supposedly raking in some cash – but we will have to wait to see if that continues.
The idea of a two-man race seems to be even more real when you consider the strategies the candidates are relying on to win. With Romney, the idea is to win the early states, and allow momentum and free advertising to do the rest – handing him victories in Feb. 5 states, and allowing him to snatch up the later primaries. This is a tried and tested strategy, and it seems like, if he can manage it, he has an excellent shot at winning the nomination. Giuliani’s strategy is almost as solid – attempting to survive the early states, win Florida, and use that as a “firewall” to prevent Romney from taking states from Rudy on Super Tuesday. It might work, but there are serious question surrounding this strategy – so only time will tell. The other candidates, including John McCain and Fred Thompson, have less-clear paths to the nomination. McCain wants to win NH or MI, and allow that to make him the “comeback kid”, but he is not second in either state, and could have a hard time even getting that high in the actual voting. Fred Thompson is relying on SC to give him a win, and then hold the south – probably looking to win the nomination at a split convention rather than before. Mike Huckabee’s goal seems to be a high placement in the early states, but after that, his path is much more questionable.
It may very well be a two-man race, but, like all thing in an election, we are just going to have to wait and see. Time will tell, and we only have to wait 60 days.