Yesterday Powerline’s John Hinderaker asked “[W]hy hasn’t Romney done better, given his deep resources, obvious talents, and policy positions that line up well with the party’s base?” John went on to speculate that “I think we may be finding out that [Romney] lacks some of the skills necessary to be an excellent candidate.”
John did note Romney’s leads in Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan, which is to me the complete answer to John’s question –Romney is doing “better” because his plan is rolling out as he had hoped: Romney is betting the campaign on the idea that demonstrated success in consecutive actual votes as opposed to polling will catapult him past Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson. (Senator McCain is simply not a factor except as a spoiler, probably for Rudy more than anyone else since Senator McCain’s primary appeal is his absolute firmness on pursuing victory in the war.)
So Romney’s entire strategy depends upon the early contests. Mayor Giuliani’s strategy depends upon surviving weak showings where campaigns have actually been run and concluded and winning in the big states beginning in Florida, but especially New York and California where his general reputation currently overwhelms the campaign efforts of Governor Romney and the star power of Senator Thompson.
The key measures of the effectiveness of the candidates how they are doing in their central challenges: Is Romney establishing the leads he needs in the early contests, and are eith Giuliani or Thompson holding on to their leads in the big, later states. John frets that Romney doesn’t seem to be doing well in the national polls when he isn’t focusing on the national polls. The key question ought to be is Giuliani or Thompson holding on to or building upon their leads in the big states?
Romney has in fact built the leads in the early states that he needs, and will spend the next three months defending them. He’s doing exactly what he set out to do.
But the latest numbers out of California suggest trouble for the Giuliani/Thompson strategy. Here’s the AP report of the latest PPI California poll. Key graph:
The poll shows Republican voters to be more divided. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, is slightly ahead of the GOP pack, with 22 percent of likely primary voters saying they will support him.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is at 16 percent, as is former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who only recently joined the race. Arizona Sen. John McCain is at 15 percent. The margin of error is plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Democrats allow independents to vote in their primary, although Republicans do not. The survey results reflect the views of 455 registered Democrats and independents likely to cast ballots in the Democratic primary and 353 registered Republicans likely to vote in their party’s primary. Both contests will be held Feb. 5.
PPIC is a nonpartisan think tank based in San Francisco. The poll results were based on a telephone survey of 2,003 California adult residents who were interviewed from Sept. 4 to Sept. 11.
Though the sample size is relatively small, it does represent likely voters, and the numbers show Rudy falling, Mitt rising and Fred failing to explode. (And today’s front page Los Angeles Times hit on Rudy on immigration isn’t going to help the mayor either, though GOPers hardly read much less trust the Times.) Again, the Giuliani and Thompson strategies are built on the idea of their general popularity surviving Romney’s run in January or February. These numbers suggest that in the country’s biggest state, the Giuliani and Thompson numbers are falling and Romney’s rising —in the absence of an actual campaign presence by any of the candidates. This wasn’t supposed to have happened. The Fredheads expected their guy to have matched Rudy (or even beat him) in a place like MSM-dependent, Leno-watching California. The sinking feeling among them is that Fred’s moment did in fact pass months ago, and the flavor of the month in May doesn’t sell in the fall or winter.
So, back to John: What do these California numbers tell you? To me they signal that a currently wide open race will indeed pivot on Iowa, New Hampshire, and Michigan, and that Teams Giuliani and Thompson cannot afford to lose all three. It isn’t the Romney campaign that needs to be second-guessing how their efforts are working –they are on plan.
The numbers also tell m –again– that the national polls are useless in analyzing how the race will break, and the California poll is an early warning sign of just that fact to pundits and candidates alike. Analysts pointing to national polls are like ESPN commentators talking up Michigan in the preseason college football polls.