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Straw Poll Is First Test for GOP White House Hopefuls

The political world has had March 9-12 circled on its calendar for months. The Southern Republican Leadership Conference meeting in Memphis will feature all of the major candidates likely to seek the 2008 GOP nomination. Better yet, there will be a straw poll of the more than 1,800 attendees -- the first real test of strength for the presidential field.

I'll be on my way down there later today (along with nearly ever other member of the national media) and will be posting Friday and Saturday on the speeches. The straw poll results won't be announced until after 9 p.m. ET Saturday night, but a number of the candidates' camps are already engaged in expectations-setting. Here's The Fix's take on what to watch for this weekend:

* Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist: Sure, Frist's home in Nashville is actually farther from Memphis than Mississippi's Gov. Haley Barbour's hometown of Yazoo City or Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's abode in Little Rock, but Frist still needs a win in the SRLC straw poll to generate some much-needed buzz around his candidacy. Recognizing the necessity of victory, Frist has actively worked to register his supporters for the conference, a strategy that to our knowledge no other active candidate has employed. (Barbour was rumored to be quietly registering Mississippi Republicans in hopes of an upset but has since removed himself from the 2008 field.) Frist's secret weapon? Chip Saltsman, former chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party and now a senior advisor to Frist's Volunteer PAC.

* Arizona Sen. John McCain: McCain's rise to frontrunner status over the past six months or so isn't likely to be derailed by a poor showing in the straw poll. Few observers expect McCain to win because of Frist's geographic edge, but should he wind up on top it would provide further momentum the Arizona senator's effort to be the establishment candidate in the 2008 field. Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott told Mark Preston of CNN earlier this week that he would dedicate a portion of his Saturday SRLC speech to "my friend John McCain" and would also shepherd him to a Mississippi delegation gathering on Friday night. A Lott endorsement is sure to give McCain's prospects in the straw poll a boost, as will his placement as the final speaker of the evening on Friday. The McCain's advisers, however, were quick to point out that they have made no effort to organize support for their candidate at the SRLC gathering.

* Virginia Sen. George Allen: The buzz around Allen has been more muted of late thanks to the emergence of two somewhat serious Democratic challengers seeking to unseat him this November. That challenge at home will likely limit Allen's national schedule in the coming months, so his SRLC speech could be crucial in how he is viewed among the Republican rank and file. Should Allen wind up in the straw poll's top three -- a real possibility -- he would likely regain some momentum, reasserting his appeal in his natural southern home base. Allen aides pointed out that he is not running any sort of campaign for the straw poll. (For further reading, see The Fix's Insider Interview with Allen.)

* Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney: Romney has already met with some success in trying to sell his status as a Massachusetts Mormon to voters in the South -- he is surprisingly well thought of and organized in South Carolina. Romney's camp seems to be downplaying the importance of the SRLC event -- he will be in Memphis to speak on Friday but won't stick around for the straw poll results. Instead, he'll fly to Iowa later that day to be in Iowa on Saturday for that state's county conventions. Neither Romney's top political adviser -- Trent Wisecup -- nor his communications director -- Julie Teer -- will be making the trip to Memphis.

* Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee: Huckabee is the biggest wildcard in the straw poll field. He has served as governor of neighboring Arkansas for the last decade, and no candidate (not even McCain) has gotten better press than Huckabee over the past year. Saturday night could show whether Huckabee is more than just a fad. Should he challenge the big boys or even wind up ahead of some of them, he could begin to lay claim to the open slot for a movement conservative in the field.

* Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback: Brownback is Huckabee's main competition -- both in Memphis and the race more generally -- for the support of the conservative wing of the GOP. The Kansas senator has been the most outspoken of any potential candidate on the Republican side about his interest in the race but appears to be focused heavily on the Iowa straw poll in early 2007 to make his mark on the field.

Note: The SRLC straw poll is being sponsored by The Hotline, the must-read publication for political insiders.

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 9, 2006; 8:43 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008 , Republican Party  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Feingold Makes an Iowa Move
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Comments

Judge: I wasn't referring to your comments but Marie's. I'm a great fan of sarcasm, and illustrating the absurd. Keep up with great work.

Posted by: Barry Hoomes | March 10, 2006 9:14 AM | Report abuse

Chris - look at the last senate battle that Santorum had in PA - against Ron Klink - a little know congressman from western PA. It was NOT a landslide victory for Santorum. Casey has the name recognition and a much stronger anti-Santorum mood in PA this time. Casey will win this one with a margin greater than you expect. This is my prediction!
A Lancaster County, PA resident

Posted by: Steve Goetz | March 10, 2006 8:53 AM | Report abuse

Barry: I don't think Nancy's views are conservative, I think they're delusional. That was the point of my sarcasm. A lack of common sense (either from the left or the right) deserves to be attacked (either from the left or the right) don't you think?

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | March 10, 2006 8:40 AM | Report abuse

>>>who cares??

racist republicans and neocon ideologues.

>>>I will vote for Candi Rice even thou she's a Repug.

are you INSANE? watch yesterday's "Senate Approps. Cmte. Hearing on Supplemental and Iraq" on cspan and then tell us how you feel.

http://www.c-span.org/videoarchives.asp?CatCodePairs=,
(5th link from the top)

>>>Some of you libs are far more nasty and judgemental that Pat Robertson. Where's the love

Call us more "nasty" than an extremist who publicly calls for assassination of the leader of a foreign nation and says that Ariel Sharon's stroke was punishment by God, and THEN ask wheres the love?

How bout you DONT insult us before you ask for fairness.

Posted by: FairAndBalanced? | March 10, 2006 8:24 AM | Report abuse

As a Dem. I will vote for Candi Rice even thou she's a Repug.But the reality is that in the Repug party there are racial element.And I know for sure in the White South NO BLACK will never get the stamp of approval and that's the Nasty Reality.Not until there is a new breed of White men and women living in the south can candi rice or any black Repug see a National Election.

Posted by: Brent | March 10, 2006 8:00 AM | Report abuse

Mike, you don't have a good feel for politics if you think only McCain or Rudy could beat HRC. I can't think of any potential republican nominee who couldn't beat her. The majority of the country has already said they would not vote for her under any circumstances. That is a huge if not imposssible hill to climb. An don't forget that Bill is still probably messing around with the women, so voters will also want to know why she is still standing by her man. (he was her meal ticket) I notice Nancy can't state her conservative views without being viciously attacked. Some of you libs are far more nasty and judgemental that Pat Robertson. Where's the love.

Posted by: Barry Hoomes | March 10, 2006 6:47 AM | Report abuse

Yes, I too think Condi will have incredible support among the homophobes and racists in the GOP. They will really look at her differently now that she’s her own woman. White evangelicals are known to have such strong support for both blacks and women who embody feminist ideals such as strength, independence and resolve. She’ll sweep the straw poll without difficulty and then be crowned Condinania, Queen of the Fairies.

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | March 9, 2006 11:42 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Nancy, and I hope Condi Rice comes out with strong support in the straw poll. yes, Chuck Todd said he was included Condi, so this will be one of the first real contests with Republican big-wigs voicing who they support for 2008. Here is Memphis, the Condi people have a booth with balloons and campaign stuff to help promote Condi. Lots of women are buzzing and it is also interesting to hear that quite a few men say Condi is tough and strong enough to be president. Yes sir, they said it and it is wonderful to hear.

Posted by: Debbie | March 9, 2006 9:54 PM | Report abuse

To millions of evangelical Christians who consider Mormonism a cult, Romney's religion IS significant.

Posted by: J. Crozier | March 9, 2006 7:46 PM | Report abuse

My predictions:

1. McCain
2. Frist (by default)
3. Tie between Allen or Huckabee
4. Brownback

Even though I consider myself a moderate/centrist Democrat, I have been rather impressed with Governor Huckabee for some reason. Perhaps a VP nod? There's a little Bubba in him (pejorative nickname for former President Clinton) that is very appealing; he's a folksy, down-home Southerner. But, for right now: McCain's my guy. It really all depends on who the Democrats nominate. It's only a matter of time before he (McCain) wins the nomination, and the general election.

Posted by: Steven | March 9, 2006 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Why do you continually leave Rudy Giuliani out of these discussions when he the front runner in the race and there is at least a decent chance that he is running? IT MAKES NO SENSE!!

Posted by: Paul | March 9, 2006 4:51 PM | Report abuse

I hope to be voting for Rice, Huckabee or Brownback. This country still needs a President with morals and guts. The dems don't have either!!

Posted by: Nancy | March 9, 2006 4:30 PM | Report abuse

who cares??

Posted by: Doug | March 9, 2006 4:16 PM | Report abuse

I'm surprised that Sam Brownback doesn't get more ink in terms of 2008 handicapping. Does Chris realize who runs this party? Fully 35% of George Bush's votes in 2004 came from self-described "white evangelicals". And social conservatives vote in the Republican primaries in numbers significantly higher than their representation in the rank and file.

Now take a look at where Brownback stands (actually, does more than stand - actively legislates on) all the trademark social conservative issues. Abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, prayer in schools, illegal immigration, just to name the big ones.

He's their poster boy, it would seem. Frist is history, Allen's not as "pure" a conservative, and McCain is widely disliked by that wing of the party. It seems like Huckabee and Brownback will be the two darkhorses from the far right among this bunch.

Posted by: Mark | March 9, 2006 4:09 PM | Report abuse

A few weeks ago, this blog was all about what was going on at the ultra-conservative convention/meeting here in DC. You know, the one where they just about booed Bob Barr off the stage.

Anyway, here's my question... Are we going to see any similar events covered with in such depth for Democrats any time soon? (Of course, we first have to hear if such events take place to start with...)

Posted by: corbett | March 9, 2006 3:44 PM | Report abuse

President Huckabee? President Brownback?

When pigs fly.

The only chance for the Repugs to win the White House again is with President McCain or President Guiliani. Otherwise it will be President Clinton.

The era of the "Christian" nutcase is over.

Posted by: Mike 234 | March 9, 2006 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Here are my predictions: www.bestoftheblogs.com

Posted by: Josh | March 9, 2006 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Hi Chris! You spoke to my C-SPAN class this January, and as I sit here writing my final paper (in which we're asked to compare your journalistic style with that of another reporter we spoke with), I find myself still concerned with the fact that you refuse to vote. Everyone has opinions and bias. I highly doubt that you not voting eliminates all your opinions. Our class recently spoke with a reporter from TIME magazine, and I asked him about his thoughts on the subject. He maintained that he does vote, and feels that since he is conscious enough about the issue, that his bias doesn't enter into his reporting. With such high levels of apathy and low levels of civic participation in our country, I really wish you hadn't told a room of impressionable college students that you don't vote. Any thoughts?

Posted by: Leslie Miller | March 9, 2006 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Please identify the religions of the other presidential candiates. You note that Gov. Romney is a Mormon --- assume that is significant --- but now we need to know about the others. Not since Jack Kennedy has a candidate's religion mentioned in virtually every article.

Posted by: Andy Wahlquist | March 9, 2006 10:40 AM | Report abuse

That may be true Jamal but this group are what you would consider "Bush supporters" so being the Anti-Bush candidate might not be helpful.
Also IL my personal opinion of Trent Lott aside (which by the way is pretty bad) his endorsement helps anyone in that region. He is well liked in Mississippi and respected (at least by Repubs) in the South as a whole.

Posted by: Andy R | March 9, 2006 10:18 AM | Report abuse

Frist has been the leader of the "do nothing rubber stamp senate", he'll most likely be a "do nothing president". If elected; expect four to eight more years of the George Bush era.

Posted by: Jamal | March 9, 2006 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Frist, will win the straw poll, but can he win the general election? He trails fellow senator Lamar Alexander for favorable rating in his own state. Frist has baggage, much more than McCain. McCain has put more distance between himself and an unpopular George Bush than Frist has.

Posted by: Jamal | March 9, 2006 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Yes, in the Republican Party getting the endorsement of a racist is a plus. Good for McCain.

http://www.intrepidliberaljournal.blogspot.com

Posted by: Intrepid Liberal | March 9, 2006 10:09 AM | Report abuse

Here are my predicitions:
1-Frist
2- McCain
3- Romney or Huckabee
5-Allen

Posted by: Commonwealth Republican | March 9, 2006 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Here are my predictions
1-McCain (Lott behind him will be huge!)
2-Frist
3-Huckabee

The rest really doesn't matter. I have been saying for a while that Huckabee is going to be the dark horse for the republicans (look at his trips to SC). This weekend might be his coming out party (pun intended).

Posted by: Andy R | March 9, 2006 9:48 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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