Queen Elizabeth II in St. Georges Chapel Windsor
for the funeral of her husband Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Start Your Engines! Final Coutdown to 2008 GOP Presidential Nomination Has Begun

Report from the front lines in the first conservative primary!

Put aside all the complaints about it being "too early" to take the 2008 GOP presidential nomination contest seriously. That was true back in June or August, but We're now less than 90 days away from the first conservative primary to be held in South Carolina on Saturday, January 19.

Iowa and New Hampshire come first, but it won't be until the candidates left from those two races reach South Carolina that conservatives will have their chance to be heard in the largest numbers. Remember back in 2000, conservatives in South Carolina erected a firewall against the candidacy of John McCain, thus easing the way for George W. Bush to take the nomination. Will South Carolina be the conservative firewall again?

As in both Iowa and New Hampshire, the race in South Carolina is tightening. Take a look at the graph in Real Clear Politics showing the polling trends in South Carolina. Both Giuliani and Thompson are tied at approximately 20% in the Real Clear polling averages with the trend moving in Thompson's favor. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is bumping up to within 4% of the leaders and McCain is staying flat at about 14%.

John McCain has been busy trying to restore his campaign in South Carolina. Once a state where he held a comfortable lead and where he still has many top state GOP leaders pledged to support him, lately, he's had to play the underdog role. Recent impressions that McCain is too old (his trouble hearing at the Dearborn debate analysis here) gave McCain the idea to bring his 95 year old mother, Roberta, to campaign with him in the state. McCain also had some good press from no less than conservative Kate O'Beirne at National Review who encourages voters to give him a second look.

Intense Competition for Values Voters

In the wake of the unfortunate threat by Christian leader Dr. James Dobson to boycott the GOP unless it nominates the candidate of which he approves, all the major candidates have been working to broaden their appeal to so-called "values voters." This effort has intensified with the withdrawal of Kansas Senator Sam Brownback from the race.

Earlier this week, Bob Jones III, chancellor of the Christian fundamentalist school named for his family in Greenville, SC endorsed Mitt Romney. Bob Jones University played a controversial role in the GOP contest in 2000. Will this endorsement help Romney overcome the Mormon stigma? Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Sunday School Surge for Thompson?

This weekend, the major candidates are making an appearance at Family Research Council's Washington Briefing 2007. Fred Thompson has been hitting back hard against what many perceive as the softness on traditional values by opponents Romney and Guiliani. While not mentioning them by name, Thompson staffers circulated fliers describing Romney's late arrival to conservative values and pointing out aspects of Giuliani's record that conservatives find disagreeable.

And that kind of hardball seems to be paying off both in the South Carolina polling discussed above and in national polls like the CBS poll graphic at right indicates.

UPDATE: Not So Fast Fred!
Huckabee Clear Favorite Among Values Voter Attendees

Values voters back Mike, Mitt
By Ralph Z. Hallow and Stephen Dinan
Washington Times
October 21, 2007

Mike Huckabee yesterday asked social conservatives to back him as one of their own, and they did, giving the ordained Baptist minister a giant victory among evangelical voters who participated in this weekend's Values Voter summit straw poll.
"I come today not as one who comes to you, but as one who comes from you," Mr. Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, said in the best-received speech of all of the Republican candidates, each of whom addressed the summit over the past two days.

Hours later, a closed-door meeting of top social-conservative leaders did not produce a consensus on which candidate to back, but The Washington Times has learned Mr. Huckabee had the most support among the two dozen in attendance.

Last month, many of the same leaders met and agreed to consider running a third-party candidate of their own, but that option is now considered dead because enough of the leaders have agreed the field already has acceptable candidates.
"I do not spell G-O-D [as] G-O-P," Mr. Huckabee said in a speech he wrote himself. "Our party may be important, but our principles are even more important than anybody's political party."
of the 952 activists who voted on-site this weekend and who had a chance to hear all the speeches in person, Mr. Huckabee won big, taking 488 votes, or 51.3 percent.

Mr. Romney finished second in on-site votes with 99, or 10.4 percent, and Mr. Thompson finished third with 77 votes.

Mr. Paul's support came almost exclusively from the Internet. He collected just 25 votes among on-site voters, scoring a last-place finish among the nine Republicans.
Speeches from all the Values Voters participants is here. (page down to see all)

Funding for the Opening Salvo

Here are the top six latest cash on hand figures for GOP candidates reflecting 3rd quarter reports (click candidates name for in depth report from Open Secrets:

Rudy Giuliani - $16,649,826
Mitt Romney - $9,216,517
Fred Thompson - $7,121,744
Ron Paul - $5,443,667
John McCain - $3,488,628
Mike Huckabee - $651,301

John McCain is constrained by a high debt of $1,730,691 which may put the pinch on him unless more funding becomes available. Giuliani, Thompson and Romney are all well funded and ready for the next 90 days.

Next Stop: Florida Debate Sunday

Fox News will host the "First in Florida" GOP presidential debate Sunday, October 21 at 8 PM est. All eyes will be on Thompson whose first debate performance in Dearborn, Michigan was lackluster (Dearborn debate analysis here). New polling may also indicate whether the "Sunday School surge" of churchgoers for Thompson is a trend.

Stay Tuned!

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