Romney Gets A Gold

Sorry I haven't had a chance to blog about Mitt Romney's gold-medal performance in Michigan. It's a big win for a couple of reasons. 1) He slows the 'OK we're settling on McCain' momentum that swept the GOP post-NH. 2) He presumably blocks the shifting of his conservative support in South Carolina to Fred Thompson, thus probably dooming Thompson's candidacy.

The way I see it, the GOP is now split into three groups:

1) Evangelical voters. They're with Huckabee, and presumably will stick with him as long as does well enough to seem like a major candidate, which should last at least through Super Tuesday. Those who leave him will be split among the other two camps.

2) Moderates and party traditionalists. Moderates (including independents, where they can vote in the primaries) are only interested in McCain and Giuliani. Party traditionalists are down to the same choice, because they see the others as dooming the party's chances in November.

3) Ideological conservatives and issue voters. They despise McCain (for his stands on immigration, campaign finance, etc.) and Huckabee (for his economic populism), and are unlikely to go with Giuliani. Most are with Romney, but Fred Thompson is going for the same votes. The question is: how many of them will trade in their ideology for the more electable McCain?

It seems unlikely now that Fred Thompson will do well enough in South Carolina to raise the kind of money and attention he would need to compete on Super Tuesday. That means Romney should lock up that group going forward.

But if McCain wins South Carolina (likely) and Florida (pretty likely), then he'll be hard to stop -- even as we head toward more closed primary states. If Super Tuesday is essentially a McCain/Romney/Huckabee race, I think McCain will get around 550-600 of the 1100 delegates that day and be off to the races.

At the least, Romney needs Giuliani to stay alive to win NY/NJ/CT on Super Tuesaday -- 166 winner-take-all delegates that will otherwise likely be in McCain's column.

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