The ongoing battle for US presidency is the most interesting in a while. With no presidential, or vice-presidential candidates entering the race, its wide open for both parties, and this absence has lead to some interesting election strategies being attempted. Lets have a look at the Republican race first …
A year ago or so, the expected lead candidate was McCain, however, his campaign has performed poorly in fund raising and failed to achieve that spark of excitement that the Straight Talk express did in 2000. Additionally he’s an old candidate and no one wants to be Bob Dole. Not even Bob Dole. (Family Guy references should be used more in political analyis I think)
This left Guiliani and Romney as the leading candidates. Their strategies differed considerably, however. Romney pushed for an all-or-nothing early gain, since he trailed Guiliani nationally he splashed money at the opening three states (Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina) hoping to gain momentum for “super tuesday” (this is the name given to the day when most states vote). Guiliani lead nationally, but felt he was unlikely to win early states, NH especially, and consequently has been trying the, normally unthinkable, approach of not caring about the first 3 states and hoping that his strong national base will carry him on its own. Its also worth noting that he has consistently been polling well in Florida – a large an important state that votes just before Super Tuesday.
Events of the last couple of months have thrown these plans into disarray however. Firstly Fred Thompson announced, aiming to be the most conservative mainstream candidate in the GOP race. Secondly Mike Huckabee, previously a second tier candidate, has had a massive surge in poll ratings throughout october and november. Consequently the opening three states, which Romney really needed to carry in order to gain a national victory began to be looking really crammed. Finally Guiliani has had a few hiccups in his campaign, including softly worded critcism from the white house.
In Iowa Huckabee has taken the lead, followed closely by Romney, then Guiliani and Thompson, McCain trails this state, and has focussed little energy or money on it. In reality its a two horse race between Romney and Huckabee. Hew Hampshire continues to look like a Romney victory, but Huckabee has made a strong push up the rankings, and the latest polling also shows that McCain’s efforts in recapturing his 2000 NH glory has been somewhat successful. Guiliani has lost ground slightly, whilst Fred Thompson has never had a chance in this state. South Carolina appears to be slightly favouring Huckabee, but given how much swing can occur between now and the primary its pretty much anyone’s game.
So here’s my $0.02, to use american terminology. Huckabee’s rise has left Fred Thompson dead in the water. They are both aiming for the conservative vote and Huckabee’s gains have been primarily at Thompson’s expense. McCain’s campaign has gained some momentum again recently, something its been without for about 6 months, if he can capitalise on this opportunity he has a strong chance in the upcoming campaign, if he fails to win in either New Hampshire or South Carolina I can’t see being able to take the Republican nomination. Romney’s position is precarious, his campaign is heavily attacking Huckabee’s tax rises whilst governor, but this isn’t impacting the polls as desired. His strategy to use momentum from early states to swing the nomination in his favour seems to be failling, however, he is still in 2nd place in Iowa, 1st in NH and as good a chance as anyone in SC, so if Huckabee’s share of the vote shrinks as fast as it has risen in the upcoming weeks then it might work out for him.
Huckabee himself is the hardest to judge, a good public speaker, a natural conservative and without the obvious problems that plague other candidates (Guiliani’s policies and wives, Romney’s mormonism and abortion flip-flop, Thompson’s laziness and McCain’s inability to court the republican base). Its now hard to see how, other than fund raising, why he was a second tier candidate to begin with. The key state for both him and Guiliani is Florida, this is a large state, which has traditionally been Guiliani territory. If Huckabee can take an early state or two, he’s still in fluke territory, robbing guiliani of florida, however, is a big scalp. Having lost all three openers and Florida, I can’t see Guiliani winning, but if he manages to hand on to his lead in florida then that Italian smile will be on your television sets for a few more months to come, a result that I expect to occur.
The democratic equivalent to the early vs late state strategies is running as a fresh-face against running as an incumbent. The Clinton campaign has consistently pushed the idea that she is running from the latter position, using her strong early polling, her brand-name recognition, approaching two Senatorial terms and the last Clinton Presidency to emphasize experience as a key Presidential Characteristic. This allowed her to gain an aura of invincibility and a huge lead over opponents. However, recent debates between the democratic candidates have allowed Edwards and Obama to emphasize her weaknesses, whilst her attempts to fight back left a bad taste in voter’s mouths. The result was a strong rise in Obama’s polling at her expense, and the opening of a small lead for him in Iowa, whilst Clinton clings to a NH lead by the skin of her cliche. Increasing support from Oprah has also helped his campaign. The new “so ridiculous it might just come true” editorial idea is her as vice president under Barrack Obama.
Edwards sits in third in all three openers and nationally. I can’t see him winning from this position, his slick presentation and fresh face are also Obama’s strengths and his attempts to distance himself from Obama don’t seem to have gone over with the voters. He is close enough that if either of the two main contenders slip up he could capitalise.
I’m not sure that Clinton will necessarily win the democratic nomination, even though she seemed a near certainty a few months ago. The problem that she has is that she seems unable to develop a charisma, for example her attempts at laughing on television a few months ago at things that weren’t funny. Her other major issue is that the “re-election” campaign strategy she has fought means that if she does badly in the opening primaries doom will immediately be predicted. in a way that wouldn’t happen for say, Guiliani, even though under current polling one expects Clinton to pick up more states in February than Guiliani.
I’m hoping for an Obama win, both within the democratic party and the national election, and I think he can just about pull it off, but only if he continues to sap momentum from Clinton. I think another factor not often mentioned in political analysis is that several Democratic primaries act under STV if the votes are close enough (I don’t think that the rules are entirely consistently, and I haven’t been able to find out enough information to be 100%), and I’m inclined to believe that Edwards supporters are more likely to vote Obama in a run-off. Perhaps someone will correct me on this, maybe this blog entry has gone on so long no one is reading anymore…