If Senator Brownback or Governor Huckabee don’t topple Governor Romney at Ames, the pressure on them to bow out of the race will be huge, and the financial realities even larger. (A race against Senator Pryor would see a flood of donations to Governor Huckabee from thousands of folks impressed with his upbeat performance on the campaign trail but pledged to a different presidential contender.)
At an audience forum last night at Philly’s Constitution Center, my standard Q & A with the crowd revealed one Huckabee supporter among a couple of hundred GOPers, and a lead for Giuliani, followed by Romney and Thompson in a distant third. The Fred Fad seems to have gone flat, as Bill Bennett was discussing with Byron York on his program yesterday. The effect of Fred’s fan dance and the debates is to make this increasingly a Rudy-Romney race. The good news about that is the camps behind both men seem favorable to the other should their guy not get over the line. The dust-ups between now and February 2 may change that, but when the question came about a “Romney-Rudy” or “Rudy-Romney” ticket there were many, many nods. This is the base, and they want to win, badly. Both of the leaders have enormous energy and purpose, which the average GOPer knows will be need in the matchup with Clinton Inc.
It was also an evangelical-Catholic crowd. When asked who would prefer not to vote than vote for either Romney or Giuliani, not one hand appeared. The fear of the stay-at-home evangelical voter may not be a complete myth, but it is greatly overstated.
From the WSJ.com this morning (subscription required):
Mitt Romney is pouring big money into tomorrow’s nonbinding straw poll in Ames, Iowa, even though the former Massachusetts governor’s chief rivals for the Republican presidential nomination aren’t participating.
Although there is little doubt he’ll emerge the victor, Mr. Romney is marshalling a massive show of strength in hopes of not just winning but winning big. It’s part of his effort to cement a growing perception among party activists and donors that he’s the most driven and best organized in a crowded field of Republican candidates. The former venture-capital executive hopes his campaign’s reputation for ruthless business efficiency will show Republicans he could assemble the best machine to defeat the Democratic nominee next November.
A win is a win is a win, and the margin won’t matter, though Romney does have to fear that Giuliani, Thompson and McCain will work overtime to direct their troops to Huckabee, Brownback, or Tancredo in an attempt to take some shine off the day.