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On To Michigan (and South Carolina, Nevada and Florida and 2/5)

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Mitt Romney appeared on the program tonight after his second-place showing in New Hampshire. The transcript is here, and his analysis of how the race was compelling:

HH: Now Governor, this is not unfolding the way any pundit called it, certainly not the way you had hoped it would unfold, but also not the way your opponents hoped it would unfold. John McCain’s down from 60% eight years ago. You’ve dealt with a lot of situations where tactics and strategy has to evolve. How are you doing that? Have you arrived on a central message for the next eight weeks?

MR: Well, there’s no question but that our message continues to be the same message, and it’s a powerful and connecting message. What’s happened that’s quite different is that we were anticipating that we had to win the first two primaries to go up against Rudy Giuliani, who was way ahead in the national polls, and who would have a commanding lead in Florida. Well, now Rudy Giuliani’s no longer in the lead in the national polls, and it looks like he’s number four or number three in Florida. So the whole world is different than we thought, and it’s much more of an open process than we’d expected with at least three and maybe more Republicans all vying for votes. And I think it’s anybody’s guess as to exactly how this is going to turn out.

Romney’s argument blows past the chattering classes working on old models: When Romney had to beat a dominant Rudy Giuliani, he had to win one or both of Iowa and New Hampshire.The fall of Rudy leaves a wide open field, and Romney’s two second palace showings in Iowa and New Hampshire along with a win in Wyoming means he’s in the thick of race.Romney confidently asserted to me that he has all the resources and organization he needs to go as long as it takes, and if you look at the fact that his base in new Hampshire did not crumble after Iowa, you see that he has a bedrock vote that won’t be leaving him anytime soon. Call it the Club for Growth vote plus the win-in-November plus the illegal immigration activist vote.

Romney also leads in total votes received in the combined Iowa and New Hampshire votes, and of course the delegate hunt. He still has to be considered the front-runner by anyone who will let go of the old “momentum” model leading to a quickly concluded nomination. Pundits told ourselves that a front-loaded campaign meant a quick decision. In fact it means chaos, and chaos favors the candidate with resources and a bedrock of support.

Michael Medved and I had three spirited discussions tonight, and many more will follow as he is a McCain guy and I am a Romney guy. Michael thinks –rightly I suspect– that many independents who were going to vote for Obama yesterday got to the polls today and, thinking it was in the bag for their guy, decided to vote strategically for McCain. Some of those votes were probably out of respect, some from love, and some from indies wanting the GOP to nominate other than Romney, whom they considered the strongest GOP nominee in the fall. But they talked themselves out of an Obama vote and into an enormous upset for Hillary, no matter what the final total is.

Michael is very wrong about one thing: He thinks that independent votes in primaries ought to count as much as Republican votes in the eyes of analysts. They don’t. Republican voters are eventually going to decide the Republican nominee, and that is Romney’s still not fully revealed advantage in the next two months: He’s the conservative candidate that holds together the Reagan-Bush coalition.

Romney could have put the race away twice, but he hasn’t. But neither has he lost it. That means it will indeed be the long campaign.

Reporters ought ot be pressing the McCain and Huckabee campaigns on public financing. If either campaign takes it in order to stay competitive in the marathon ahead, they are dooming the GOP in the fall. It is the poisoned chalice, and if either drinks from it, they ought to immediately be shunned by GOP voters who want to win in the fall.

As for Michigan, Romney rightly declared tonight that the biggest issue in the Wolverine State is the economy, which is in a single state recession there. John McCain and Mike Huckabee are both suspect when it comes to economic revival and turnaround strategies embraced by most GOP voters, meaning deep, across-the-board tax cuts. Romney’s got an appeal as a native with a fine name. Huck’s got the evangelicals in the western portion of the state. And McCain has the bounce from Iowa.

Should be fun.


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