Carol Platt Liebau: And the Race Goes On

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

And the Race Goes On

Apparently, all the obituaries for Hillary Clinton's political career -- and the Clinton dynasty generally -- were premature, at best. It will be a close night for her and Barack Obama. If there's a silver lining here, it guarantees that the Democrats won't be unifying behind a candidate anytime soon, and that both top contenders are going to be bloodied in the hunt for the nomination (Barack, because Hillary will go after him, and Hillary, because going after Barack will make her less popular than ever among Democrats and Americans generally).

As for the Republican side, it's a long way from over. What matters, I believe, is the ultimate margin of John McCain's victory. If Mitt Romney holds it to five points or less, he may well be able to pull it out in Michigan and go on with some momentum to Super Tuesday. He goes on to become the social conservative's alternative to Huckabee in South Carolina, having already shown that he can win among Michigan's Republican and independent field. On the other hand, if it turns out to be an 8 or 9 point loss, McCain may well claim to have the momentum going into Michigan -- where, as in New Hampshire, independents may vote in a Republican primary.

A loss in Michigan would be hard on Mitt, mostly because people could decide he doesn't have what it takes to win, and start to panic. If that would happen, it would be up to Rudy to prevent the ugly, ugly specter of a McCain-Huckabee showdown. The problem, of course, is that McCain and Giuliani could, in such a situation, split the moderate vote, allowing Huckabee to clean up.

That's why it's important for conservatives not to panic and figure they've got to resign themselves to either McCain or Huckabee at this point. As Rush Limbaugh has pointed out, this thing is far from over simply because two states that aren't representative of the conservative base of the Republican Party have spoken. Two seconds -- especially if New Hampshire is within a respectable margin -- isn't a bad place to be, along with a win in Wyoming; in fact, it's worth noting that Romney is the one candidate who has shown that he's palatable to those in states with Republican/independent voters who are very, very different.

What is important is avoiding a scenario where Republicans are forced to choose between a candidate who's a tax raiser, sentence commuter and a "compassionate conservative" on steroids vs. a candidate who's worked to limit free speech, opposed tax cuts, supported effective amnesty for illegals, etc., etc. That would cripple the conservative movement and endanger the Reagan coalition that has served America well.

As Winston Churchill once said, it's not the beginning of the end. If anything, it's just the end of the beginning.


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