Many bloggers and commenters of blogs theorized in late November that Giuliani supporters were supporting Mike Huckabee in Iowa in order to stem Mitt Romney’s momentum. While Huck’s rise has indeed had those inteded consequences, as Huck holds the lead in 2 of the last 4 polls in Iowa, it has also had much more significant unintended consequences at the expense of the Giuliani campaign.
Mike’s rise has provided an alternative to Mitt and Rudy for the religious right. Since Huck’s apparent rise in Iowa and coming off of his apparently strong debate performance (what debate were they watching?), Huckabee seems to be stealing a lot of those voters where supporting Rudy because they thought he was the most electable and, to a lesser extent, wasn’t Mormon.
Just look at the latest national polls, Huckabee is now in a solid second place. Where did that surge come from? Mostly from Rudy, a little from Mitt. Rasmussen yesterday had Rudy at 18% and Mike at 18% with Mitt pulling up the rear of the big 5 at 12%. Whereas in a poll release 3 weeks ago, Rudy was at 29% and Huck was at 11%.
Now, national polls are largely worthless and I have consistently downplayed their importance. However in this instance they are significant, in that Rudy’s whole strategy is at a national level. He is betting on his national support to help him navigate losses in the early states. Essentially it is a Feb. 5th + Florida strategy. So here the national numbers are important, they have been what the Rudy camp has relied on. Additionally, Huck may be starting to make a move in South Carolina and Florida.
In the latest SC ARG poll (which I deem to be the least accurate), Huck shot up to 18%; only 5 back of Rudy, 3 back of Mitt. In the latest Insider Advantage Florida poll, Rudy’s support dropped back to 26% and Huck’s rocketed to 17%. So while much of this is deemed as bad news for Mitt also, it is worse for Rudy.
What happens if Iowa finishes Huck, Mitt, Fred, Rudy and New Hampshire finishes Mitt, John, Rudy? With Rudy finishing 3rd in both, where does momentum take us. Add to it the likelihood that this momentum gives Mitt wins in Wyoming and Michigan heading into South Carolina and Nevada. Can Rudy win SC or NV with no Moe? Doubtful. So Mitt and Huck end up finishing 1-2 (or 2-1) in SC.
Now we head to Florida. By then the whole dichotomy has changed. Rudy will have finished no better than 3rd in the three traditional states of IA, NH, and SC. Likely finishes 2nd in MI and NV. But has no wins under his belt. My guess is that Florida collapses and goes to Huck or Mitt, with more money on Huck if things play out as I have written above.
Thus, heading into Mega-Tuesday, we essentially have a two man race between Huck and Mitt, with Rudy badly damaged but not dead. He is hoping that New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut will stick with him and will be enough to propel him the rest of the way.
While I think a scenario like this is possible, it is not a given (I give it a 35% chance of playing out like this). This column is not a prediction, but is simply stating the tight edge that Rudy’s campaign is on. EVERYTHING hinges on Florida for Rudy (Note: everything hinges on Iowa for Mike). Mitt, and maybe Huck, can get by without a Florida win. Thus, Huck’s rise seems to have done more damage to Rudy than to Mitt.