W. James Antle III, at the American Spectator blog, argues that with George Allen’s standing diminished at least for now by his “macaca” comment, Mitt Romney plausibly can claim to be the most viable Republican presidential contender to the right of John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. That’s not a bad claim to be able to make.
However, Romney is not necessarily secure in that position. For one thing, as Antle points out, Romney ran as a pro-choice candidate in 1994 and 2002. For another, his religion (Mormon) may pose a considerable obstacle to capturing the vote of evangelical conservatives. Nonetheless, Antle sees some hope that Romney will be able to “win over small-government conservatives who have unhappily resigned themselves to McCain and religious rightists who aren’t aware of Giuliani’s pro-choice stance.” The theory, as articulated by the leader of a group called Evangelicals for Mitt, is that “evangelicals are politically sophisticated enough to support a candidate who shares their values even if he doesn’t share their theology.”
The early 2008 political calendar seems reasonably kind to Romney. The Iowa caucuses seem tailor-made for an attractive, well-organized conservative. New Hampshire borders on Romney’s home state, and even a second-place finish there, if coupled with a win in Iowa, would leave Romeney in pretty good shape. The real test, I imagine, will come in states like South Carolina (where Romney will have to contend with Allen or whomever replaces him as the hard-right contender) and the big midwest states (where he will have to contend with McCain and/or Giuliani without any regional advantage).