Saturday, July 14, 2007

Sabato, the field, 2006, and 2008

Not having a background in electoral politics, I look to experts to fill me in. One who seems almost universally respected and looked to is Larry Sabato, who runs the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. In his latest assessment of the Republican field, Sabato said this (among other things) about each of the top candidates:
Only a year or so ago in front-page banner headlines, Senator John McCain was touted as the likely frontrunner, partly because he had corralled many of George W. Bush's 2000 fund-raising "Pioneers." This extraordinarily superficial analysis ignored the GOP base's rather intense dislike of McCain--a mistrust that had been built by the press' closeness to him in 2000 as well as his positions on campaign finance, immigration, and other topics. McCain's support in money and many polls is now so weak--single digits in Iowa and some other places--that his nomination would rank as one of the biggest upsets in modern American political history.

As of his entry into the GOP field in February 2007, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani became co-frontrunner with McCain. While his campaign has fared much better than McCain's, mainly because of his enduring 9/11 image, Giuliani has drifted down in the polls nationally and in many individual states as the focus shifts to his Achilles heel--his liberal positions on abortion, gay rights and gun control.

The surprise candidate of the GOP field has clearly been former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Strong fundraising, an attractive image and family and good positioning on the issues has enabled Romney to partly overcome his own negatives...Romney is now a leading player, apparently ahead in Iowa and New Hampshire, with a decent chance to capture the GOP standard in St. Paul next summer.

About equal with Romney is the certain-but-not-yet-announced candidacy of former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson. Sensing that McCain was failing some time ago, this Hollywood star revived GOP memories of another figure from Tinseltown: Ronald Reagan. (As we've said many times, the Democrats keep looking for another John F. Kennedy and the Republicans continue to search for a second Ronald Reagan; neither party will ever find its man.)
Sabato also handicaps the general election:
We have heard and seen more than a few Republican leaders brighten up about their 2008 prospects by saying, "2006 was the worst of it, and 2008 will have to be better." They are dreaming. Not only can 2008 be as bad as 2006 for the GOP, it can be a good deal worse. Something we've learned from studying the 220 years of our Republic's elections: the political party that is found whistling past the graveyard usually ends up six feet under.
There is a great deal of truth to this. If the party ignores or downplays the losses in 2006 and fails to learn its lessons, there will be widespread revolts in Republican districts. That's not to say that the party shouldn't be optimistic. We have seen time and again that conservative principles (military strength, fiscal responsibility, and family values) coupled with competence are favored by Americans. 2006 represented the abandonment of those two keys: spending was out of control, our military looked weak, our elected officials looked like hypocrites for engaging in unbecoming (and sometimes criminal) behavior while giving lip service to values, and, despite majorities in both houses, accomplished little.

Which brings us to why Mitt should be our choice for 2008. Mitt embodies the lessons learned from 2006: an unquestionably competent executive who has and can get things done, a strong record on fiscal restraint and lower taxes, innovative ideas for strengthening our military, and personal behavior that matches his rhetoric on families and values. No other candidate fully represents these learned lessons from 2006. In one way or another, each of the other Republican candidates falls short, and thus represents something that Americans rejected so recently. Mitt does not and, thus, should be the choice for both Republicans and Americans.



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