by Todd Beeton, Mon Dec 17, 2007 at 02:50:04 PM EST
Speaking of the spectacular fall of Rudy Giuliani, both the Real Clear Politics and Pollster averages of the national race for the Republican nomination show Mike Huckabee climbing to within 3 points of Rudy Giuliani. Add to this Giuliani's current tie for distant 3rd in Iowa, his falling behind McCain into 3rd place in New Hampshire and his possibly having fallen into 4th place in South Carolina and we just may have a flameout of monumental proportions on our hands. So what's happened to the former front-runner? Two things out of his control and at least two that should have been within it.
First of all, Hillary Clinton began to lose her aura of inevitability. As you can see by looking at the InTrade market trends, Clinton peaked as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination on around Nov. 21, three weeks after the fateful Philadelphia debate. At that time her shares were trading at $72 (equating to 72% chance of winning the nomination.) Now they're trading at $55 a share.
Exactly one week after Clinton's shares began to fall, Giuliani's shares peaked at $46 and since then have dropped to the current price of $37; in that exact same period, Huckabee's shares rose from $8 to $16 a piece. Giuliani made the mistake of largely hanging his nomination hat on the ability to beat Hillary Clinton in November. When the threat of a Hillary Clinton nomination waned, so did most of the rationale for a Giuliani candidacy, which freed up Republican voters to go with their hearts, not with their heads. The result: the Huckabee surge.
Another problem for Giuliani has been the increased level of interest in domestic issues among the electorate and a reduced focus on foreign threats. Surprisingly, there really hasn't been much fearmongering over terrorism in this primary race on the Republican side (Tom Tancredo's ridiculous mall bombing ad notwithstanding.) Giuliani has even downplayed it in his ads, going up late in the cycle with ads that focused on his supposed success turning New York City around; this strategy has been echoed by McCain whose initial focus on his war hero status has given way to a fiscal restraint message. The political zeitgeist has turned on Giuliani in just about every way one could imagine, including from a media perspective. A few weeks ago there was a series of really bad news stories for Rudy, culminating in his less than stellar Meet The Press appearance of a week ago.
Of course, this didn't all have to mean the end of Rudy. As the reputations he'd cultivated as 9/11 hero and the anti-Hillary candidate waned in importance, what remained as the smoke cleared could have been a strong candidate who had a compelling message of why he should be president; he had neither. In addition, his over-reliance on his national lead and his relative neglect of the early states are now biting him in the ass. A few weeks ago I wrote that conventional wisdom had it that Giuliani needed to leave Iowa in 3rd place and New Hampshire in 2nd to have a chance; right now neither of those things appears likely.
And to top it all off is the latest poll out of Florida, which has always been the one state that showed Giuliani way ahead of the pack and, for a while there, holding steady. Not so in the latest Rasmussen Reports survey, which finds Giuliani dropping into 3rd with 19% behind Huckabee with 27% and Romney with 23%. This is the first Florida poll to show Giuliani in anything but first place, and his RCP average is still 13% ahead of Huckabee, but if this at all a sign of things to come for Rudy in Florida, the claim that Giuliani can hold out until Florida and run the table on February 5th, ie that Giuliani's lead would prove to be "momentum-proof," is about to be challenged severely. If Rudy collapses in Florida, any credible claim to a path to the nomination simply disappears.
Can Giuliani turn things around? Not too likely if today's coverage of his flailing campaign in New Hampshire is any indication. Here's The AP's take on his New Hampshire event today:
He's not giving up on New Hampshire yet. He returned for one public event on Monday and told an audience at a town hall meeting he hoped they would give him a boost "right here in New Hampshire, where you've got one heck of an important primary coming up."
"I'll be spending some of my Christmas holiday here in New Hampshire, which I really look forward to. Maybe you'll even get a chance to see me ski," he said. "We'll be here and we'll be working really hard to get your vote."
And here's First Read's:
If the Giuliani campaign was interested in playing down talk that the candidate is struggling in the early nominating states and not taking New Hampshire particularly seriously, it had a funny way of showing it.
Giuliani came to New Hampshire Monday, but had only public event (he also had a retail stop in Barrington but didn't alert the national media). Speaking to employees of Goss International Company, he seemed tentative and spent only half of his normal hour at the town hall (he was running late, campaign officials said, because of weather delays). After taking the last question, Giuliani seemed unclear what to do next, taking a long pause and outstretching his arms before transitioning to ask the attendees for their vote, which he has rarely done on the campaign trail.
All of which is to say that I think Jerome is right on with his prediction that InTrade will have Giuliani's chances of winning the nomination down in the single digits once the early states vote. Along the same lines, the reluctance that InTrade's traders appear to have in expressing as much confidence in a Huckabee nomination as his polling numbers would appear to merit, indicates to me that Romney right now is in the best position to win the nomination, even if he loses Iowa.