A victory by John McCain tonight of, say, 2 to 4 percent tonight would not, in itself, be anywhere near fatal for Mitt Romney. It would provide a small dose of evidence that, even though many rank-and-file Republicans don’t like McCain, he may be a bit more popular than Mitt Romney among Republicans collectively, at least when he receives endorsements from a state’s key politicians. But this would be his first victory in a state where only Republicans vote, and a narrow victory at that.
However, Rudy Giuliani’s poor showing — he’s getting only about half the vote of McCain or Romney — adds an important angle. Giuliani may well decide to pull out after tonight, and even if he doesn’t he’ll surely be a diminished force. This figures to help McCain, especially if Rudy endorses his friend.
In other words, McCain appears to have a small advantage on the existing playing field, and the playing field may be about to tilt his way.
UPDATE: Fox News now says McCain will win. His lead is up to 5 percentage points. Meanwhile, Giuliani has just given a speech in which he referred to his campaign in the past tense. Some sources speculate that he will endorse McCain as early as tomorrow.
Maybe this will look different to me tomorrow, but I think McCain is clearly in command now.
JOHN adds: I think McCain is very much in the driver’s seat. He has engineered a remarkable comeback from last summer, when he was out of money, laying off staff, and counted out by just about everyone. With hindsight, the early skirmishing wasn’t as important as we political junkies thought it was at the time. Most people just weren’t paying attention, and when they started to choose up sides, they gravitated toward the early front-runner, John McCain. Of course, the success of the surge helped a little, too.
Paul wrote a long time ago about the “stature gap” between the Republican Presidential candidates and the Democrats. I think we’re seeing that, in the eyes of most Americans, the real stature gap is between McCain and the rest of the field. Americans generally choose the person, not his policies. That’s frustrating to many of us, but history suggests that it’s usually wise. Those who remember Quemoy and Matsu know what I’m talking about. I’m still not sure what I hope will happen, but I’ll be very surprised if McCain doesn’t wrap up the nomination, for practical purposes, at least, a week from tonight.
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