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Unsettled Field

The emerging CW on the Republican presidential race over the last few weeks has been that it was developing into a two-candidate contest between Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, with McCain stuck in neutral, Thompson fading, and only Mike Huckabee providing any suspense (aside from the financial pyrotechics of Ron Paul).

With today' surprising endorsement by the National Right To Life Committee, Fred Thompson appears to have become the Undead. The nod was a particular blow to Mitt Romney and to Mike Huckabee.

But via Todd Beeton, we learn that Romney got some good news yesterday as well: an endorsement by the California Republican Assembly, an important conservative factional group in the Golden State. From all accounts, he won the endorsement pretty much the way he won last August's Iowa State Republican Straw Poll: with elbow grease and big sacks of cash (many "delegates" to the CRA conference were recruited by the Romney campaign and had no prior association with the group).

Since California was supposed to be Rudy Giuliani's stomping grounds, this could be a relatively large deal.

In general, this week's events reinforce the impression that the GOP presidential field remains very unsettled, with no one exactly making a move to lock things down.

And today's news also makes me wonder if Robert Novak is losing his touch as an analyst of conservative Republican infighting. Just last week he did a column suggesting that Fred Thompson had profoundly, perhaps irreversibly, alienated right-to-lifers in an appearance on Meet the Press. Not so much, it appears. And about three weeks ago, he did another column documenting the deep satisfaction of California conservatives with Rudy Giuliani, his positions on abortion and gay rights notwithstanding. Wrong again, Batman.

I'll certainly look for second-source verification next time I read a breathless proclamation from the Prince of Darkness about the course of the GOP nominating contest.

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Ed - would love to get your take on the Giuliani campaign saying Rudy could lose Iowa, New Hampshire (and maybe even South Carolina) and still win the nomination -- I saw this on Talking Points Memo.

Depending on how poorly he does or how well Romney does, it seems unlikely to me.

Is this just lowering expectations?

Tiparillo:

I haven't written about this in a while, but I've always been very skeptical about any "February 5" strategy, which appears to be what Rudy's increasingly counting on. My skepticism comes from years of watching polls move twenty or thirty points after IA and NH, and on the GOP side, after SC as well. And this skepticism is particularly appropriate re Rudy, since all his much-discussed poll leads are relatively low pluralities.

If anyone--presumably Romney, but possibly even Huckabee--comes out of SC having snuffed the non-Rudy opposition, I don't see Giuliani winning much of anywhere.

Right now, with Rudy's numbers in NH fading, not growing, I think the best thing he has going for him are the recent head-to-heads showing him beating HRC. But that, too, may just be a function of other candidates not getting as much attention or buzz.

Thanks for the comment and question.

Ed Kilgore

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