Now Do-Si-Do Your Republican Partner
Last week, I wrote about key Republican candidate pairings that I would be watching closely, during the upcoming pre-February 5th primaries. For two of those pairings, Mitt Romney and John McCain in Michigan, and Mick Huckabee and Fred Thompson in South Carolina, the short-term strategic picture has become a bit clearer, even as the party’s search for its likely nominee has become measurably more complicated.
With a decisive win in Michigan now under his belt, Mitt Romney lives to campaign another day in the Southeast. For me, the tenor of his performance in Michigan only underscores how much better served Romney would have been by running nationally as a pro-business Republican with great management skills, rather than as a social conservative with a strongly ideological worldview. At least Romney can claim to have done better with Evangelicals in Michigan than he did in Iowa. Perhaps that will give him renewed hope for South Carolina and Florida.
John McCain now moves on to South Carolina, as well, where the usual suspects have already sharpened their knives in anticipation. His ability to deal with these personal attacks will, in part, determine the likelihood of success for his strategy of capturing the state’s veteran/national security vote. As was true in 2000, McCain still needs to demonstrate that he can pull in significant numbers of Republican votes in a state other than New Hampshire.
As for Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson, lest you need any additional evidence that my initial pairing of the two in South Carolina was appropriate, take a look at the statement released by the Thompson campaign immediately after the Michigan results were announced last night:
“Mike Huckabee’s campaign to be John McCain’s Vice President has hit a snag. He has gone from the mid-thirties in Iowa to 11% in New Hampshire and now about 15% in Michigan. On higher taxes and looser immigration, Huckabee has been done his best these past few weeks to mimic McCain. But this is nothing new. In fact, while John McCain was leading the Senate charge to grant amnesty for illegal immigrants, Mike Huckabee was one of the loudest cheerleaders. And at the same time McCain was voting against the Bush tax cuts, Huckabee was in Arkansas increasing taxes some 21 times.”
So, Huckabee and Thompson continue their pitched battle for the support of social conservatives in South Carolina. Huckabee’s underperformance with Evangelicals in Michigan, where one would have expected his combination of economic populism and religious conservatism to pay dividends, was no doubt a disappointment for his campaign. But it is Romney’s improved showing with this group in Michigan that may truly complicate the ability of any single candidate to win the lion’s share of conservative support in either South Carolina or Florida.

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