John McCain is clearly in the driver’s seat after dramatic win in Florida last night.
- Romney outspent him 10:1 in the ad war, but McCain still won a five point victory in the Sunshine state.
- Giuliani is dropping out and endorsing, leaving McCain uncontested for the Maverick/Warmonger vote.
- Huckabee is still in this race and poses a double-threat to Romney. Huck erodes Romney’s support among churchgoers in Southern states if he stays in. But if he drops out, he’s likely to angle for a McCain veep nod; expect him to fall in line behind McCain when he departs.
Romney’s not yet toast.
- He can rightly claim he’s the one guy who consistently wins among Republicans. In closed primaries, that gives him an outside shot. (But the biggest closed primary is California, and Ahnold seems set to back McCain there.)
- If he wants to get ugly, the fact McCain’s margin of victory came from the Hispanic vote last night could allow Romney to stage a nativist swan song. The fact that Bay Buchanan is one of Romney’s chief advisers suggests the campaign may not shy away from that race-baiting fight.
- The winner-take-all aspect of McCain-friendly states like New York, New Jersey, Arizona and Connecticut makes a delegate battle tough for Romney.
- More trouble for Romney: Far from being seen as the outsider/agent of change, now he’s viewed as the status quo Republican, per the exit polling. Voters who were happy with Bush and happy with the economy pulled the lever for Romney. The angry-with-Bush “change” vote gravitated toward McCain. This suggests Romney’s sunny, optimistic ads about reviving the economy may have seemed out-to-lunch for GOP voters getting jittery about a recession.
Fundamentally this race is going to come down to three factors.
- How much money is Mitt willing to spend.
- How strong is the anyone but Mac coalition?
- And how well does McCain the insurgent transition into McCain the frontrunner?
The answers are going to have to be
- A shitload
- Worse than even his doubters suspect
for Romney to remain competitive in this race.