They both won through big turnouts. My apologies to Clint for underestimating Huck’s ground game. (And his people predicted the outcome of the caucus with uncanny accuracy before a single vote was counted.) Huck won with little money, universal and intense establishment hostility, and lots of dumb campaign errors. It’s now time to start thinking about why. Those who voted for Huck shared his values and admired his character, even though they didn’t think he
is the most electable candidate.
Obama is now the favorite for Democratic nomination. Hillary is going to have become tough about supplying reasons why he should be stopped that appeal to Democratic primary voters.
Bill Kristol was very gracious about Huck’s victory, admitting that he underestimated him in just about every way.
Although McCain’s actual vote total is pretty underwhelming and didn’t reflect any surge, he’s probably the big winner. Now he’s the clear favorite for the Republican nomination. My real thought remains: How is John going to self-destruct this time?
Here’s why many Republicans should be unhappy: Both Huck and McCain are very unreliable conservatives on domestic policy. The policy competence of both men, in fact, could easily be questioned, and neither of them seems able to formulate characteristically Republican positions on issues such as health care and taxation. Huck and John like and are like each other as a couple of moralizing outsiders. Isn’t it amazing that they might end up having to duel each other as the two favorites? My playful suggestion of the authentic ticket of McCain-Huckabee is now serious business.
Romney, in fact, is on balance more conservative and has exhibited much more competence. But he now has to win in New Hampshire to remain a credible candidate. That’s going to be a tall order. McCain is already ahead. Mitt is going to suffer from negative momentum, and he has only five days to shake it off. I’ve expressed my doubts about Romney as a candidate, but let me add again that he would probably be a solid president. Mitt looked good as the alternative to Giuliani, but that way of looking at things became obsolete way too soon. He also looked good as the man who could vanquish Huck, but now his "establishment" supporters are likely to jump to John.
The exit polls revealed somewhat of a surge for Thompson, but probably not enough of one. He was plagued by rumors all day that he was about to drop out of the campaign. And he doesn’t have a firm view of what he’s going to do next. But the opportunity remains: There is, arguably, no other real conservative in the race, and he might surge with a win in South Carolina. Fred has been saying the right things of late, but can he get the word out that he really means business when it comes to winning this thing?
I still don’t see Huck getting anywhere near the nomination. Nonetheless, there’s no reason he can’t be competitive in Michigan, South Carolina, and even Florida. Polls showed him doing well in those states even before the bump he’s going to get now. He might well be more than a one-state wonder. Certainly it’s a fantasy for Giuliani supporters to believe they can win some kind of big victory in Florida against Huck and McCain.
It could be we’ll be facing a February 5 with Huck, McCain, and Giuliani all bruised but still kicking. And the result that day could be agonizingly inconclusive. Meanwhile, Obama may have delivered a crushing blow to Senator Clinton and be basking in the midst of media adulation.