Little attention is being paid to the Republican race ever since John McCain's victory in Florida. But does the Arizona Senator really have things wrapped up? With recent polls showing Romney tying McCain in California and Huckabee and him still having a shot in major battlegrounds like Missouri, Georgia, McCain has not been coronated just yet. A number of conservatives -- starting with Rush Limbaugh -- are seeking to rally the conservative troops to block McCain's path. Ann Coulter even announced that she would vote for Hillary Clinton against John McCain, going as far as calling herself a converted "Hillary girl."
John McCain has three major advantages going into Tuesday. First is Romney's unwillingness to go all out in this final week. Not only has Romney not invested a significant amount in February 5th states, but he is still refusing to draw contrasts with McCain. 2 days from McCain potentially putting an end to the Republican campaign, the Arizona Senator is still mostly unattacked. No wonder his popularity has soared and he is doing so well against Democrats in the general election at the moment. Second, Mike Huckabee's presence in the race is a boost to McCain. It would be too simplistic to say that Huckabee backers would support Romney if their candidate was not in the race, but Huckabee's determination to attack Romney and contest the conservative vote is proving too much to handle for Romney.
Third, as Jonathan Martin reminds us, McCain looks particularly inevitable because of the fact that four of the seven winner-take-all states (AZ, NJ, NY and CT) are strong McCain states. The delegate allocation in these primaries was transformed to a winner-take-all system thanks to Giuliani's campaign manager DuHaime who was hoping that his candidate would get all of the Tri-State area delegates. But now that Giuliani has dropped out, McCain is likely to sweep those four states and shut Romney out entirely from delegate allocation. McCain will come out of those 4 states with as much as 236 delegates!
What does Romney need to accomplish? He needs to stay in contact with John McCain. Right now, he has 87 delegates to John McCain's 180 (I believe this set of numbers does not include Maine). The addition of the 236 winner-take-all delegates to McCain's column mean that Romney faces a huge deficit and he needs to hold that as small as possible to be able to go on. And he has the means to do so, and not only in states like Utah and Massachusetts. A win in Georgia and Missouri could go a long way to helping Romney make up some lost ground, as well as all the caucus states in which Romney is hoping to get more than 50% of the vote -- and of delegates. And then there is California, where Romney looks to have some momentum. Even if he wins there, it would not mean a big boost in delegates given that McCain would prevail in numerous districts, but it could help Romney in the all important spin war.
If Romney survives Super Tuesday -- which is still very much possible -- he could draw this out into a longer fight. The pace of campaigning will slow down and Romney could then once again use his financial advantage. And in a two-way race, Romney could hope to rally the conservative vote. But Romney supporters (and probably most Democrats) don't bet on Romney's resurgence.
The chances of his pulling this off are very slim. To survive, Romney needs to pull out victories in Missouri and probably Georgia and California, and hope that Huckabee beats McCain in Alabama. Even if he is locked in toss-ups in all those states, McCain remains highly competitive and comes in usually slightly on top. So don't be surprised if he sweeps most of them on Tuesday night.
To continue reading OffTheBus contributor Daniel Nichanian's piece, please visit his blog, Campaign Diaries.