Snow Pond, NH -
Just when you thought you had it figured out, summer happened. McCain ran out of money, co-sponsored an immigration bill that was less than hardline, and next thing you know the former frontrunner is all of the sudden struggling for mere relevance. Meanwhile, the social conservatives never rebelled against Giuliani and, if anything, they embraced him. Romney is what we thought he was: a competent businessman with a photogenic face and a questionable record of political chameleonism. Ron Paul raised an unexpected ten million and in the meantime spawned a revolution. Huckabee emerged from the dregs to become a full-fledged, Chuck Norris-endorsed contender, and Fred Thompson Marched in like a Lion and now stands to go out like a lamb if he can’t shake his reputation as a bored, sleepy old grandpa. Gingrich and Pataki never entered; Gilmore, Brownback and T. Thompson left, and here we are with just over a month until the chips hit the table. Wow.
In the 1-8 we have two tough-talking candidates who view security as their marquee issue. One served in the military, has 27 years of national service, and chaired the House Armed Services Committee. The other was the mayor of a city, lived with a gay couple after his wife left him for cheating, and prior to a coincidental event was on the verge of being one of the most despised politicians in history. Guess who is the 8 seed? That’s right, the first guy! Duncan Hunter never got off of the ground for whatever reason, and the charm and rosy 9/11 memories of America’s mayor stand to crush him before he even makes a bucket. Red State Update said it best: Come on, Duncan Hunter, that's just embarrassing, really.
The 4-5 match on the GOP side best explains why the Republicans have the most exciting race of the cycle. There is a candidate out there polling on the verge of 10% who doesn’t even make the fight. That’s right, Huckabee and Thompson are, at the same time, legitimate threats to the front runners yet barely ahead of the 6 seed in polls and fall far behind in money. Anything can happen here, folks. The best thing about the battle of midway is that it is the fight for who is the true “consistent conservative.” On the one hand you have Fred Thompson, a man that no liberal could love in spite of his long Hollywood career and refusal to legislate social issues from the Fed. On the other you have an Arkansas governor who cares about poor people, raised taxes to make good government programs work, but carries a concealed weapon, wants a constitutional ban on gay marriage and would probably sell his soul to overturn Roe v. Wade. Throw in the fact that they are the two most charismatic men in the race and we have a potential buzzer-beater on our hands. Thompson was the pre-season favorite, but despite his size and talent has shown a penchant for turnovers while Huckabee keeps drilling threes with a Jordan-esque shrug. Huck has the kind of quiet momentum that can go a long way. I see him taking this round.
3-6 is where things get interesting. On paper there is no way that Ron Paul should beat John McCain. If not for some dirty tricks in February of 2000, there is a good chance that John McCain would have been the Republican nominee 8 years ago. He has already won NH once, riding the Straight Talk Express straight through George Bush’s loose asshole, and is arguably Washington’s greatest war hero. Throw in his wit and comfort with the public and he seems like sure fire in the Granite State. But wait one second, no one counted on Ron Paul raising 4 million in one day, spending next to nothing, and sitting on millions upon millions more than the freewheeling yet failed McCain nominee-to-be campaign of 2008. Sprinkle in a kooky GOP backlash to sensible immigration policy, and an American thirst for common sense and a non-interventionist foreign policy, and suddenly we have a battle on our hands. This is arguable Paul’s least favorable matchup, a tried and true hometown favorite is exactly what the crowd-pleasing Paul’s mid-major Cinderella doesn’t need. You never want to bet against Secret Service denying McCain in a state where the motto is Live Free or Die…but what candidate espouses that view better than Ron Paul? Let the early January bloodletting begin!
In the 2-7 we have the perfect storm matchup of a single-issue wannabe candidate against a vanity-based, daddy-following natural. Romney clearly has the chops, intelligence and executive experience to wipe the floor with Tancredo, but Tommy the Tanc has the just-happy-to-be-here potential that no frontrunner ever wants to see. Tancredo will viciously attack sanctuary cities like Somerville (aka Slummaville) with his frisky defense and sharp-step drive to the heart of both common sense law abiders and xenophobes, but Romney will unleash a barrage of spin moves and sweet jumpers that will bury Tancredo and his immigration policy within the first ten minutes.
The second round is a little trickier to predict up top because of the fiercely competitive 4-5 game. However, either one will provide some rough chatter for Giuliani. This game is set up to be a battle of social conservatism versus national security. In other words, Huckabee’s prayer circle at every timeout and months of teetotaling 6AM practices against Giuliani’s intimidating man-to-man defense. A few months ago, it seemed like Giuliani’s concentration would falter midway through the game, but his focus has been at championship levels lately. If he can keep it up and grind down his opponent he should pull through, but if either of the others manage to get Giuliani into foul trouble early, watch out for the early upset.
On the bottom we have the making of a real bloodbath. These two teams legitimately hate each other. McCain is the tried and true program that can’t stand watching his rankings drop precipitously below the younger, quicker, more talented upstart from the heart of enemy territory. McCain’s bag of tricks is deep, and plays with a hard charging honesty that might bewilder Romney, but we can’t forget that Romney is one of the most talented competitors out there. He moves well without the ball, and knows how to effectively move on defense, and alters his positions frequently with a haze-inducing motion offense. If his game plan plays out, Romney has the edge, but if there is one person in the race who can take him out of it, that candidate is John McCain.
Yes, break out the net-clipping scissors. Call forth the raucous crowds. Summon the heartburn medicine and find a towel for your tears. It’s the road to the nomination, baby. Primary Season 2007 is upon us.