The EFM Feature

Thanks to Steve for noting Governor Romney’s win in Nevada today — or as he would say, his third “gold.” I am just getting back from Philadelphia, and Nancy is at a church retreat, sans Internet and with an unsteady cell signal — a.k.a. going crazy — but we’re in the process of catching up.
As you know if you’re watching Fox with me, they are saying the race in South Carolina is too close to call between Senator McCain and Governor Huckabee. Despite Senator Thompson’s best efforts, he is way off the lead, and at some points has been in fourth place. His speech tonight suggested to me that he will soon exit the race, and that’s appropriate — he said he had to do well in South Carolina, and he did not.
Some people would tell you that the upshot of all of this is that Senator McCain is the big winner tonight, as we start to look toward Florida. I disagree emphatically. Governor Romney is the winner today, no matter who eventually comes in first in South Carolina.
Why do I say that? Well, first of all, Senator Thompson now has no rationale whatsoever for his candidacy. He didn’t pass his own test for that — doing well in South Carolina. So that’s one conservative competitor out.
But he isn’t the only one who is in big trouble right now. Governor Huckabee is, too. According to CNN’s exit polls, 59 percent of the voters in South Carolina today were evangelicals. If this guy — who’s consciously run as The Evangelical Candidate — is in a dogfight there of all places, where is he viable? It doesn’t matter if he ekes out a “win” over Senator McCain. Given his M.O., it just should not be this close. The fact that it is shows that the Huckabubble has burst, so to speak.
And finally, there’s Senator McCain. He may get a win tonight, but not a big one — and not a surprising one, given the baseline of support he carried over from 2000. Failing that, he’ll lose narrowly to a candidate who underperformed among his base and can’t reach beyond it (Governor Huckabee got 12 percent among non-evangelicals, according to the exits). So let’s say the Senator heads into Florida with moderate momentum. What awaits him? Mayor Giuliani, who draws upon the same group of moderate voters as Senator McCain. And if you think Mayor Giuliani can be counted out after having a few rough months, remember what many people — including me — were saying about that McCain fellow last summer.
Meanwhile, with Senator Thompson crippled (even if he doesn’t drop out) and the bloom off the Huckabee flower — given his failure to run away with South Carolina — Governor Romney will be poised to consolidate the support of the conservative wing of the GOP. (Note: I don’t concede that Governor Huckabee is a conservative, but the voters who are supporting him mistakenly think he is — so he matters in looking at the conservative bloc.) Yet moderate voters will be split as never before.
For all these reasons, today’s results are good news for Governor Romney — and the conservative coalition. And as the results continue to trickle in, let me be the first to suggest: Governor, call Senator Thompson and ask him to be your Richard Schweiker. Let’s get the two rightward-most candidates, one Yankee and one Southerner, on one winning ticket.

About Charles Mitchell

EFM's resident Yankee, Charles Mitchell, works in the non-profit arena in his native Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Charissa, live near the state capital of Harrisburg with their daughter, Adeline, and are members of a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America.

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