New Yorkers have until Friday to switch their party registrations over to the GOP if they want to vote for Ron Paul in the Feb. 5 primary. I hope a great many Democrats and independents will do so, because something rather exciting could happen in New York and other East Coast states where Giuliani holds double-digit leads (such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania). The other “top tier” candidates in those states poll in the single digits; Romney and Thompson aren’t going to waste any resources trying to win Giuliani’s strongholds. But that means these other top tier candidates barely poll better than Ron Paul–they’re much closer to Paul than they are to Giuliani. If Paul’s volunteers can make a concerted effort, they might very well be able to pull off a few upsets, raising Paul to second place. If Paul finished in the top three in New Hampshire and can win second place in states like New York and New Jersey, he’ll come out of super-duper Tuesday on Feb. 5 with almost as much momentum as Thompson (assuming Thompson cleans up in the South) and more momentum than Mitt Romney. The political establishment will have conniptions.
Romney’s problem is that he’s invested so heavily in Iowa and New Hampshire that no one is going to be surprised if he wins them. And if he doesn’t win them both, his bid will be crippled: all those months of campaigning and millions spent will have failed to build or buy a movement. Even if Romney does win both, where does he go after that? Thompson and Giuliani are both ahead of him in South Carolina and Florida. Michigan is more of a contest: if Romney can win that, he’ll have legs. But he’s at a disadvantage nationwide against Giuliani and Thompson, each of whom has a serious and somewhat committed regional base, as Giuliani’s huge, Hillary-like leads on the East Coast suggest. I’ve been saying that Giuliani will be the nominee in part because I think Romney will drain just enough support from Thompson to give Giuliani an edge, but it’s hard to say: the South has a lot of delegates, including super-delegates and various bonuses for voting so heavily Republican. I haven’t crunched the numbers taking into account how delegates are divided up in different states. But on a blind guess, it doesn’t seem at all so unlikely that Giuliani and Thompson may split the delegates nearly evenly, with Romney–and maybe even Paul–holding the decisive balance. All the politicos say there couldn’t be a brokered convention, but I think there could be: delegates can be obstreperous, after all, even now, and if Giuliani and Thompson are close, unruly delegates could wreak havoc on the convention. It’s another fun scenario, anyway.
On an unrelated note, my liveblogging of yesterday’s Republican economic-issues debate in Dearborn, Michigan is available here.