21 February 2007


With all but one of the Democratic presidential candidates (Barack Obama) in Nevada for a 3 1/2 hour gabfest, and Obama and Hillary having their first official fight of the campaign season, this seems like the ideal time to ignore both and take a snapshot of where the Republicans stand about a year out from super-duper Tuesday.

Some themes appear to be forming from the haze surrounding the myriad of candidates.

Except for one minor initiative to soften his abortion stance a bit, Rudy Giuliani, who has taken a notable lead in most recent polls, has shown little stomach for cow-towing to the religious right.

In fact, Giuliani appears to be eschewing any such effort and attempting to appeal to the growing ranks of the party who would just as soon tell the preachers to take a hike and get back to "real" Republican values, like marketplace economics and lower federal budget deficits.

McCain, on the other hand, seems to have lost his footing lately, in his attempt to court the religious right. McCain called for Roe v. Wade to be overturned a few days ago on a campaign trip. A seeming flip-flop from his prior positions on Roe v. Wade if not on abortion itself.

(San Francisco Chronicle on August 19, 1999:

"I'd love to see a point where it (Roe v. Wade) is irrelevant, and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary. But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to {undergo} illegal and dangerous operations.)

If McCain can nail down the trust of the religious right, he could wipe out the rest of the social-conservative field - which is pretty much everyone except Giuliani.

But for now, it appears McCain has not sealed the deal and is in a dogfight with Mitt Romney for the blessing of the Christian right. He appears to be winning that fight due to Romney's own flip-floppery on gay rights and abortion.

Others in the race - Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee to name two - have held socially conservative views for a lot longer than McCain and Romney, but they are creating virtually no excitement.

On the war, the GOP top three all agree. They support President Bush's troop escalation and, in the case of McCain, think it might have been better if the escalation were larger and had come earlier.

This may seem to fly in the face of public sentiment, but a recent poll by Republican pollster Moore Information shows why Giuliani, McCain and Romney are bucking the majority.

According to The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza, the poll shows so-called "strong" Republicans still stoutly support Bush's adventure in Iraq. So the GOP trio is doing it's best to woo this group - defined as those who always or nearly always vote Republican.

A slew of polls last week veered significantly in Giuliani's direction and the trend in the last few days has been much the same. The former New York mayor seems to be methodically, if unspectacularly, establishing himself as the front-runner - mostly at the expense of McCain.

A Marist poll released Monday night put Giuliani ahead of McCain 28% to 21%. In December Giuliani led McCain in this poll by just 1 point.

The latest weekly Rasmussen Reports poll puts Giuliani ahead of McCain 33% to 19%. That's little changed from last week, but just a month ago Giuliani's lead was 8 points, not 14.

Perhaps most striking are the results of the latest Quinnipiac poll - released yesterday. Giuliani leads McCain by more than 2 to 1 , 40% to 18%.

McCain's woes seem a little more pronounced when you consider a few recent local straw polls as well.

For instance, in Maricopa County, a straw poll of Republican precinct leaders last month was won by California Rep. Duncan Hunter. Romney came in second and McCain was well back in third. Maricopa County is the most-populous county in McCain's home state of Arizona.

In the reddest recesses of southwest Ohio, the Northwest Hamilton County (Cincinnati-area) Republican Club tabbed Rudy Giuliani as their current No. 1 choice for president last weekend. Romney and Newt Gingrich finished in a tie for second, with about half as many votes as Giuliani. McCain finished a distant fourth.

The recent polls mean one of two things. Either Giuliani's 9/11 stature is trumping what the religious right would see as his shortcomings, or most of the crowd is splitting the support of the bible thumpers while Giuliani has free reign with the rest of the party.

I'm going to suggest it's the latter.

If McCain or Romney emerge as the clear choice of the preachers and their flock, a one-on-one battle could be shaping up for the soul of the GOP.

If not, Newt Gingrich continues to poll a resonably strong third or fourth in the polls and the religious right may just turn to him as their saviour - politically speaking of course.

More Info:

Tribal Warfare;Mitt Romney's symbolic appeals to conservative Republicans. The New Republic

Giuliani To Run For President Of 9/11; The Onion

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