Is Romney the Front-Runner?

WaPo reports a bit of spin from the Romney camp:

Giuliani “is now trailing in four of the five key states that fall before Feb. 5,” Gage writes. The memo goes on to note that the average of public polls conducted in June and July show Romney leading comfortably in Iowa and New Hampshire and more narrowly in Nevada. Former senator Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) leads the way in South Carolina, while Giuliani is a strong first choice only in Florida.

The story goes on to say that Giuliani “is shifting from a Feb. 5 strategy aimed at running the table of large states set to vote that day to a more traditional approach of lavishing attention on places such as Iowa and New Hampshire…”

Well, ok.  So say Giuliani goes all out in Iowa and New Hampshire and loses both to Romney. Winning Florida alone would still give him more delegates than Romney. The race then moves to “Super Duper Tuesday” on Feb. 5, when about 20 states will be holding primaries, including New York, New Jersey, and California, as well as a good many Southern and Midwestern states.  In most of the Southern and Midwestern states that are up, Romney rarely polls even half as well as Giuliani.  Romney’s spinners are saying that Thompson will pull support away from Giuliani, which I think is true. But he’ll pull support away from Romney as well, and in those Feb. 5 primary states, the battle will be between Thompson and Giuliani.

Wikipedia has a breakdown of the primary polling by state.  Using only polls since June 1 of this year, Giuliani leads in five states — California, Florida, NY, Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania — which nets him up to 620 delegates (in fact, it would be less than that because not all those states are winner-take-all), about half the number needed to win the nomination. Fred Thompson comes in second with leads in four states — Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Nevada (which Romney apparently disputes), and Tennessee — for up to 335 delegates. Romney is in third with leads in Iowa, Idaho, Michigan, and New Hampshire that add up to at most 158 delegates.

Romney has the most money, and perhaps that combined with early wins will make him competitive in the South and Midwest.  But I don’t see it happening.  What I do think is possible is that a protracted three-way battle might leave no one candidate with a majority of delegates, and Romney might be in a position to play king-maker.   Would he throw his weight behind Giuliani or Thompson? Things get even messier in a four-way fight if John McCain hangs around: my hunch is that McCain would ultimately back Thompson, who after all supported McCain-Feingold.  But whatever way you cut it, Romney’s trajectory doesn’t seem to be taking him to the White House.

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