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Dan Balz's Take

A GOP Race That Refuses to Narrow


Rudy Giuliani and John McCain may still see their fates tied in the race for the GOP nomination. (Reuters)

Rudy Giuliani and John McCain long ago traded places in the Republican presidential campaign, but after Sunday's Florida debate, the former mayor should not make the mistake of misjudging the Arizona senator the way McCain once underestimated him.

Mitt Romney has longed to turn the Republican race into a two-person contest with Giuliani. Sunday's debate reminded him he has other competitors he may have to deal with first. As a result, the Republican race gets more and more intriguing.

In almost all ways, Giuliani and McCain have been respectful rivals. At an earlier debate, Giuliani said that, if he weren't in the race, he probably would be endorsing McCain. For his part, McCain has often had kind words for the former mayor and his performance after terrorists attacked New York on Sept. 11, 2001.

But as rivals, neither has fully appreciated the damage the other could do to his hopes of winning the Republican nomination. McCain made the mistake first; now Giuliani threatens to repeat it.

A year ago at this time, McCain was seen as the nominal frontrunner for the GOP nomination and his 2008 campaign already was moving at a swift pace. He was trying to court members of President Bush's political network, putting together organizations in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina, gathering endorsements and recruiting fundraisers.

McCain's advisers saw Giuliani as a minimal obstacle in their path to the nomination. Many of them doubted he would formally become a candidate. Like other supposedly smart people in the political community, they assumed he was too socially liberal ever to be a serious threat to lead a party that has been socially conservative since Ronald Reagan became president.

Fast forward through the spring and summer and the two have undergone a role reversal. Now Giuliani is the nominal frontrunner -- however fragile -- and McCain is viewed as the lightly regarded and seemingly implausible contender for the nomination.

McCain's summer implosion appeared to have ended all hope for his candidacy. On Sunday night, however, McCain was full of life on the stage in Orlando. If not the clear winner of the liveliest Republican debate of the year, he delivered many of the evening's most memorable moments.

McCain can be a slow starter in these debates, but after warming up with an afternoon town hall meeting, he hit the stage running. His opening line was a zinger aimed at his nemesis, Romney, over who was the real conservative in the race.

"Governor Romney, you've been spending the last year trying to fool people about your record," he said. "I don't want you to start fooling them about mine... I stand on my record of a conservative and I don't think you can fool the American people. I think the first thing you'd need is their respect."

A few minutes later, he had the audience cheering and laughing at Hillary Clinton's expense, while reminding everyone that his public service includes six years as a prisoner of war in the Hanoi Hilton. Blasting Clinton's proposal to spend $1 million in tax dollars for a memorial to the Woodstock rock concert, a "cultural and pharmaceutical event" that he said he could not attend because, "I was tied up."

Still later he rattled Russian President Vladimir Putin's house with a line appropriated from former secretary of state Colin Powell and some tough talk suggesting troubles for the Russian leader if he were to become president.

Mocking President Bush's comments after the first Bush-Putin meeting, McCain said that when he had looked into Putin's eyes, "I saw three letters: a K, a G and a B." He continued by saying, "He bullies his neighbors and he wants to get a control of the energy supply of Western Europe. This is a dangerous person. And he has to understand that there's a cost to some of his actions."

The last thing Giuliani needs now is a McCain on the rebound. He prefers a rising Mike Huckabee and an improving Fred Thompson to splinter further the most conservative wing of the party and thereby cut into Romney's potential support. That's just what appears to be happening.

The weekend's events showed Romney was premature to assume his only real rival is Giuliani. He saw Huckabee's powerful appeal to religious and social conservatives in the results of the straw poll among those who attended the Values Voters summit in Washington. Huckabee ran away from the field, according to those who heard the candidates speak. On Sunday night, Thompson showed he had learned from some of his early missteps, delivering a more effective performance than in his first debate.

The more that conservative voters are divided, the better for Giuliani. The danger for Giuliani from a revitalized McCain candidacy comes in New Hampshire. The Giuliani campaign sees New Hampshire as the best opportunity to derail Romney's early-state strategy, but he and McCain are competing there, especially for many of the same socially moderate voters. McCain's roots there are stronger than anywhere else, a byproduct of his big 2000 victory over Bush in the state.

Where Giuliani still has an edge over McCain is in his zeal to attack Clinton, which by every indication is something Republican voters are anxious to see in their nominee. McCain is more respectful of his Senate colleague than are the other GOP candidates, and Giuliani has made attacks on Clinton one of his calling cards in the nomination battle.

Giuliani ought no longer assume that McCain is a non-factor in the Republican race. Given his limited resources and his long history of antagonism with some parts of the conservative base, McCain's chances of winning the nomination are still limited. But almost every vote he attracts may be one that Giuliani was counting on winning a few months ago.

Romney ought not to assume Thompson will continue to sputter and Huckabee won't be able to enlarge his support, particularly in Iowa. The Republican race may yet become a contest between Giuliani and Romney, but it may have some significant twists ahead before it reaches that point.

--Dan Balz

Posted at 1:35 PM ET on Oct 22, 2007  | Category:  Dan Balz's Take
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Poorly written article with a focus on national polls. Romney leads in early primary and caucus states and whoever wins there will likely get the momentum.

Posted by: gchraj | October 25, 2007 11:14 AM

Hey Post, Ron Paul is going to win New Hampshire. Better start reporting on him or be left in the dust.

Posted by: howbag | October 23, 2007 5:12 PM

Way to ignore Dr. Ron Paul, who is more financially solvent, has a better voting record, is more consistantly conservative, and has a huge grassroots following.

The mass media can either stop playing the game the same way, or they're going to go the way of the telegraph.

Posted by: prowleratnite | October 23, 2007 12:36 PM

The whole point of these debates is to hash out who's who on both sides of the aisle. My question is why the Huckabee hate? He's a very good man, and a strong speaker with ideas and solutions to the questions, even when the debate host do their best to ignore him. He's consistent in his beliefs, unlike Romney and McCain. He's passionate, unlike Thompson. He's actually a Republican, unlike Rudy. He's the conservative alternative to Ron Paul. If Mr. Paul didn't come out so angrily in his 911 stance, he would get much more mainstream support. Give all these guys a chance. There are over 12 months to go, and the pretenders will disappear eventually. They always do.

Posted by: tonyjradco | October 23, 2007 12:47 AM

The debate actually showed more passion by most of the GOP candidates. Huckabee, Rudy, Fred, then Mitt and oddly, old John were witty, strong and so much more competent that Her Highness that one wonders how independent Democrats, moderate to conservative Democrats can stand that the Lefty nutcases are going to nominate the Hildabeast. And please, stop the nonsense that Rudy and Hil are the same. Baloney. Rudy, Fred , Mike and Mitt and even John are so more qualified that the liberal smears just make them look even more Presidential. Can anyone really think Hillary would protect this nation? Puleeze. The Democrats are dependent on both a military failure against Islamofascism and a failure of the economy. If neither happens, the race will be much closer than the MSM, their Democrat allies and the Moveon-Media Matters fellow travelers. As to the winners of the debate, Huck and Rudy were the winners. And the Ron Paul acolytes simply spam all the polls. So that is why he is not even considered a Pub but a Libertarian and he will undoubtedly support that Party's candidate not the GOP. So much for loyalty.

Posted by: phillyfanatic | October 22, 2007 11:53 PM

Obviously, the Republicans have nothing new to offer. Twelve years of rule in the Congress, seven in the White House, and almost 38 years in the Supreme Court have led to mass corruption and massive debts. Who wants four more years of total incompetence, it is time for a change!!!

Posted by: georgiaguy | October 22, 2007 11:17 PM

It looks as though Rudy is by far the most effective in delivering the attacks against Hillary Clinton. He gives us the "brief". Should Republicans be concerned about the women vote going to Hillary? Not too fast! Some in the media expected French women would give the liberal female candidate a pass to victory. As it turned out, 52% of women voted for Nicolas Sarkozy, the conservative candidate. Got to love it.

Posted by: huascar | October 22, 2007 10:41 PM

To paraphrase an old army quote, "Let's nominate them all and let God decide."

Posted by: the_defenseman | October 22, 2007 10:23 PM

I still think there are not enough truly conservative voters paying attention to Ron Paul. He is at the bottom but has quite a bit of growing grassroots support AND is really the only one who has not run into the problem of flip flopping. If the mainstream media gave him more attention, you'd see his numbers rise. Further, one reason he is so discounted is b/c a Tucker Carlson said on Bill Mahr, too many people LIKE the social welfare system in this country and don't want to see their benefits taken away

Posted by: rusty124 | October 22, 2007 7:56 PM

"Refuses to Narrow" Translation: "None of the
Above."

Posted by: fzdybel | October 22, 2007 7:54 PM

I was very late in learning about Ron Paul thanks to the near media blackout on his ideas. After doing research on the internet I've become interested in him and find him the best of the presidential offerings. Barring Gore making a late entry, Ron Paul is the only candidate I can support. No other candidate has shown principles and an ability to think critically and discuss new ideas instead of repeating policies and methods that have long histories of failure.

Only fools repeat mistakes and expect a different outcome. We need a new way forward with new leadership and new ideas.

Posted by: thoughts | October 22, 2007 7:48 PM

What's so bad about memorializing Woodstock. Shouldn't honoring art and creativity be just as important if not more then honoring war and destruction. And why is it that all of a sudden that people who stood against Vietnam are being treated like they were in the wrong? I was to young then to know about it but I've always had the impression that it was a BS war that we should never have been in.

Posted by: cilp33 | October 22, 2007 7:29 PM

Quite fankly, it is a delighful sight.....watching the GOP implode before my very eyes.

Now I know how the GOP felt in 1931, knowing FDR was on the way...and 30 years of Democrat rule! woud follow!

Pinch me!
I am just giddy with delight.

Posted by: bobnsri | October 22, 2007 7:29 PM

Mentions of Huckabee and all them, but none for Ron Paul?

What is this?

Paul is the real answer to the mess that Washinton politicians - including everyone above - has gotten us into.

We have been over-taxes and over-regulated and over-run by bureaucrats. The Founders would be ashamed of us for what we've put up with.

RonPaul2008.com
RonPaulNation.com

Posted by: kbareman | October 22, 2007 7:24 PM

"Woodstock vote a Victory for Democrats"

That's my line and I am sticking to it. See, America is waking up. Republican contenders are uncool, fear and war mongering people who live double standard lives. They preach ethics and morals while being exposed for pedophilia and prostitution. They have no faith because they spend like there is tomorrow. Belief in the end of the world is totally devoid of courage.

Defeating a million bucks of spending which is like less than a penny in the scheme of government spending shows these old-timers in thought and age have no respect for the voters that are about to defeat them in the next general election.

Did anyone notice that only one candidate got booed consistantly last night at a conservative captive Foxnews audience ? That candidate is a cross-over candidate and has the best chance in hell to getting elected as a republican in November 2008. If a presidential candidate is met with unacceptance by his own party that candidate has a chance at success. That candidate is a true maverick and has the potential to lead us out of ethical, moral and economic bankruptcy. But he won't be the front runner or picked as a running mate because this is after-all a popularity contest appealing to about 2.5 percent of the total voting populus next go around.

Posted by: truthhurts | October 22, 2007 7:18 PM

Why does the Washington Post consistently ignore Ron Paul in its GOP Presidential race coverage?

Posted by: Tirade1 | October 22, 2007 7:16 PM

.
With the exception of Ron Paul most GOP Rivals Argued who's Most Conservative, Ron Paul As he has before, spoke passionately against the war in Iraq. But he also accused his Republican rivals of being for big government. "Our big-government conservatives, they're part of the neo-conservative movement.

Who do you think won the Orlando, Florida Fox News Republican debate?

---> http://www.youpolls.com/details.asp?pid=765

.

Posted by: PollM | October 22, 2007 6:50 PM

The fear for the centrists in the party, of course, is that McCain and Giuliani hurt each other enough in votes so that Romney can jump forward.

Of course, in a three-way race, if Romney wins, whoever was third between McCain and Giuliani could urge his delegates to vote for the other, given their mutual respect and rivalry with Romney.

Posted by: PoliticsGuy | October 22, 2007 6:45 PM

Here's the problem with the GOP field in a nutshell:

The candidate with the most passionate supporters is in single digits in the polls, Ron Paul.

Nobody is excited about this field of candidates and their rhetoric is a stale as yesterday's meatloaf.

But with over $5 million in the bank, an appearance on national TV all to himself on the Tonight Show Oct. 30 and a $1.1. million TV ad buy, Ron Paul's name recogniton will go up and so will his poll numbers.

Then you'll have a real race to cover between Guliani and Paul, because that's what this race has been about and their two diametrically opposing views and visions of the GOP. Everyone else is just in between.

Posted by: sean4 | October 22, 2007 6:32 PM

i think yesterdays liberal crack pot news was 60 percent of gop women voters would vote for there dem darling its good to know that lsd is still the favorite drug of the libs

Posted by: getsix1 | October 22, 2007 5:56 PM

A while back, the media (virtually all Democrats) was opining that McCain was "the front-runner," when any heartland Republican could have told you that McCain will NEVER, EVER get the GOP nod.

Then it was Giuliani, who will also NEVER get the GOP standard. (Again, just ask a Republican outside the beltway.)

That leaves the tall guy ... pretty much by default. (Which is why he jumped in.)

But the media is desperate for a horse race...even a phony one.
.

Posted by: gitarre | October 22, 2007 5:47 PM

I can see a Republican win the election if Hillary continues to campaign against Bush who is not on the ballot.

Posted by: dunnhaupt | October 22, 2007 5:32 PM

"Is there an element of wishful thinking in Balz's commentary here? Probably. McCain is accessible and good copy; Giuliani is more Bush-like in seeking to have his entourage limit reporters' access, though he is often also good copy. Romney and Thompson are generally not good copy at all; they are too scripted."

Ditto, jbritt3. McCain doesn't have a chance, but it's too bad. He would draw more indpendent votes than any other Repub.
Heck, I'd vote for him except for judicial nominations.

Posted by: sacandaga | October 22, 2007 5:26 PM

The thing McCain has that others in this field don't have is cajones.

Posted by: zepol61 | October 22, 2007 5:20 PM

Think a Republican will be unelectable for President? Guess again. Bush is NOT on the ballot in 2008.

Look no further than the last columns from Ms. Coulter and Ms. Dowd. The right will come together in common cause against Hillary. The left will come together in common cause against... Hillary. No one in either base likes her. Anyone who can bring out the claws in both Coulture and Dowd is going to get hammered in a national election.

Look, Gore and Kerry were lackluster candidates, but they were made to look even worse trying to herd the roost of chickens representing the elements of the Democratic party post-convention. Hillary will be no different. Republicans win the White House by default.

It pains me to write that. But the facts are the facts.

Posted by: starthom | October 22, 2007 5:15 PM

For everyone that is waiting for a real conservative to appear, wait no longer, Ron Paul 2008!

Posted by: jeff77k | October 22, 2007 4:33 PM

Apparently the writer knows something the rest of us don't. McCain is feisty and he wears well against Guiliani and Romney; but, then, so would anyone with half a brain. There was a time when voters in sufficient numbers might have voted for McCain, but no longer. His bull-headed support of the Iraq conflict, illuminates his greatest fault: refusal to consider other approaches to end the war. Does he seriously believe that victory is possible, as he conceives it? It is most unlikely that a political solution is forthcoming anytime soon. He offers no ideas, no alternatives and stubbornly maintains that the current strategy is the only strategy. Somewhere along the way, McCain has lost his focus. No, he'll not be the Republican choice for president. The only one in the group who makes a modicum of sense is Ron Paul and his chances are nil.

Posted by: Diogenes | October 22, 2007 4:26 PM

Republicans would be wise to reconsider John McCain. He is the only candidate who has seems to be addressing issues of real concern to voters. McCain has a consistent record of appealing to independent voters while staying conservative. He is a conservative with sanity. The other GOP candidates only want bash the Clinton's. They're negative attacks make then look mean and small minded and will turn off independent and woman voters. Meanwhile Hillary Clinton will gain voter's trust by focusing on issues such as health care.

Posted by: steven08817 | October 22, 2007 3:54 PM

Last night was a pathetic display by the "Not Hillary" party. I watched it to see if the was someone worth voting for. Other than Ron Paul, the field is pretty thin. Tell me who you are, not who you aren't.

Posted by: grunk | October 22, 2007 3:42 PM

i agree with H5N1 that much of this coverage is nothing more than a script being written by republitive (republican conservative expletive)media owners like murdock. they are being encouraged to talk up certain politicians and to continue with the anti-clinton hate message. i think the republitives plan to contaminate the election process again and their sending out the propaganda early so that when it happens, they can point to these kind of articles in retrospect and say, "we told you so". classic example was the massively huge voter registration that went on before the 2004 election. you can't tell me that hatemongers don't have all their duckies lined up in row. these new registrations were the young college students and other fringe voters. those long lines were not the republitive base but a new breed of voter that tired of their politics. and, oh yeah, they will return again along with the moderates to vote even more republitives out of office.

Posted by: glenknowles | October 22, 2007 3:37 PM

All the Libs out there can have their Billary. How quick we are to forget the paper giant Internet Boom that happened on their watch. Hillary's propensity to look constipated and make childish faces while in professional, public settings is simply so vulgar that even someone impish like Nader or the bloated Ted Kennedy look more presidential. Don't hate the republicans without knowing reality. The same CIA and the same FBI and the same ATF will support the next president and we will be subject to the same information and the same investigations. If it is a Democrat, at least it will be something a little less vanilla... when they blow it, they tend to do it in grand fashion.

Posted by: Grumplestilskinn | October 22, 2007 3:37 PM

Ohhh Jeez!-I saw Chuck Norris-The Been slamed in the "Head Too Much" Political Commentator throwing his support behind the UN-Qualified for "Commander In Chief", Huckleberry! LOL!-Chuckie-Stick to your day jobs!

NOW, as far as all the other clueless MSM detractors-READ MY LIPS!

Giuliani and McCain are LOSERS!

Por Que?

Conjectura Mi Amigos?!

Guess!?

IF, the Republican'ts want anything close to a chance, THEY need to take the Polorizing difference between some of their better candidates, and what is Commonly shared by ALL the Dims, Immigration, and Labor Law enforcement, and a Stance that the Invasorios have DESTROYED the Middle Class!

WAGES are INTOLLERABLE! Communitie Services are BANKRUPT!-Lack of Employer Taxes, and the over-burden of the Illegal workers have Destroyed our communities!

I cannot point this out any plainer than this example!

In 1976, when I was in High School, Houston Paid Life Guards $10/Hr. Sports Cars(Mustangs), costed $6-8K.

In 2007, Austin Pays $7.50/ Hr., and similiar Cars cost $30K!

Comprende? Tambien?!

Posted by: rat-the | October 22, 2007 3:32 PM

Fred Thompson ruled the night... he was on his game... others had no choice but to respond to Thompson's game... he came out the leader... and by the way... can anybody tell me what this quote from Mitt Romney means? I've read it about 25 times now and still don't know what he was trying to say... (except for maybe he's real confused about architecture)

"All of us on the stage are Republican. But the question is, who will be able to build the house that Ronald Reagan built -- who will be able to strengthen that house, because that's the house that's going to build the house that Clinton, Hillary, wants to build,"

http://www.FRedStates.com
Fred Thompson Bumper Stickers, Yard Signs and more!

Posted by: FRedStatescom | October 22, 2007 3:31 PM

It seems that the "conservative" republicans are afraid of another Clinton at 1600 penn. and with good reason. Hillary Clinton, while far from my first choice, is a superior candidate to anything they can offer that is not tied to some crimminal offense from pediphile to treason. Vladimir Putin would be a better solution to the crimes of the past republican administrations but Bin Laden would never survive that situation. Try just putting the truth out there and let us elect someone we want to follow for a change and shove 9/11 and hanging chads where they belong.

Posted by: anOPINIONATEDsob | October 22, 2007 3:24 PM

NO JOY IN NUREMBURG

Posted by: kase | October 22, 2007 3:16 PM

Neither one of these big spending big government neocons will win the GOP nomination.
Forget that McCain is nuttier that than a can of planters and that Giuliani is a cross dressing Hillary wanna-be, NEITHER one of them is a conservative Republican.
This primary is going to Dr. Ron Paul. It doesn't matter how hard the MSM tries to sell their candidates. The people's candidate is miles ahead. Dr. Ron Paul IS the PEOPLE'S candidate.

Posted by: eco-pharm | October 22, 2007 3:12 PM

This is so much fun to watch from the sidelines, none of these idiots have a clear lead and it's only going to get nastier as time goes on.

Posted by: PatrickNYC1 | October 22, 2007 3:04 PM

Who cares about the Republican primary. Republicans are unelectable at the national level thanks to Bush and Rove. The current crop of Republican contenders is as stale as their issues. Nobody with a brain and an awareness of the past seven years of Republican rule will vote for any of these clowns.

Posted by: dakselrod | October 22, 2007 3:01 PM

Is there an element of wishful thinking in Balz's commentary here?

Probably. McCain is accessible and good copy; Giuliani is more Bush-like in seeking to have his entourage limit reporters' access, though he is often also good copy. Romney and Thompson are generally not good copy at all; they are too scripted. Huckabee hasn't crossed the line into respectability (the line being defined by how he stands in the polls), and his overt evangelical Christianity means his appeal is still a mystery to most reporters.

Bottom line on the GOP side: you can't win without a majority of Republican primary voters who still like President Bush. McCain will never get them. It's true he would probably get more votes in a general election from people who don't like Bush, but that's not a factor in the nomination process at this point.

Posted by: jbritt3 | October 22, 2007 2:48 PM

We're still waiting for the REAL conservative to appear -- opposing woman and freed-slave suffrage, the income tax, public education, Social Security, and statehood for Alaska and Hawai*i, and supporting the death penalty for abortionists, gays, and stem-cell researchers.

Think I*m kidding? Just watch the race to the bottom by all of these folks trying to outdo one another at Being The Most Conservative.

Posted by: cwh2 | October 22, 2007 2:45 PM

The bottom line is How can the GOP go for a pro-choice drag-dressing candidate? It just does not work.

In the same way, Romney is just too much to swallow. Unless you flip-flop around a while.


I think when it comes down to serious thinking, the Republican primary voters are going to reject those two and go over to McCain - he is the only candidate that is totally solid.

Thompson is just not catching on, and who knows where his fundraising is.

This year is a little different, the length of the campaign just may reduce the impact of 30 second commercials on voters' perceptions of candidates. I like politics and I wish it would be over, Can we vote on a Tuesday this November and just pack it in?

Posted by: Miata7 | October 22, 2007 2:40 PM

McCain on the rebound? Just like Broder's vision for Bush, eh Dan? You guys must get this stuff pre-written and then just mail it in.

McCain's Straight Talk Express has been reduced to 7-year-old Hyundai hatchback with the fenders rusting off, and you expect us to believe he threatens Hillary and Rudy? He's a viable threat if the only voters who decide to cast ballots live within the DC Beltway. Get real!

Posted by: H5N1 | October 22, 2007 2:30 PM

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