With the ineffable Fred Thompson out, the Mitt Romney surge is on. And the pundits said it couldn't or wouldn't be done.
Real Clear Politics shows Romney in a close second behind John McCain in Florida. And the thing to keep in mind here is the trend: Romney is trending upwards while McCain is holding steady or declining slightly.
Looking ahead, it seems Romney may win simply because of his wide appeal:
Giuliani and McCain both appeal to foreign policy conservatives (read: hawks), fiscal conservatives (McCain to a greater extent than Giuliani), and independents.
Huckabee appeals to social conservatives.
Romney appeals to foreign policy hawks (less so than either Giuliani or McCain). All three would follow similar courses in Iraq and the War on Terror.
Romney's business experience and tax cutting ways while governor in Massachusetts make him appealing to fiscal conservatives--maybe moreso than either McCain or Giuliani.
Perhaps most importantly, Romney established his social conservatism bona fides. Pro-lifers and the defense of marriage crowd may not believe him the way they believe Mike Huckabee or believed Fred Thompson, but they will certainly prefer him to either Giuliani or McCain (less so with McCain).
On Hannity and Colmes tonight, Alan Colmes asked Romney if he felt like emphasizing his social conservatism had been a waste of time. 'With the economy on a precipice,' Colmes asked, 'wouldn't it have been wiser to have highlighted his business acumen as a unique qualifier?' Romney pointed out that social issues were important in early states, but admitted the economy may be the dominant issue going forward and, fortunately, he was strong there.
We agree (and wrote as much last week) that saving the economy could be a winning message going forward. But it was important to Romney's campaign that he distinguish himself from Giuliani (the longtime frontrunner) and to a lesser extent McCain as a social conservative. By splitting the social conservative vote and winning the fiscal conservatives, Romney might be able to winnow off enough of the foreign policy independents to win the Republican nomination--especially in states which limit voting in the Republican race to Republicans.
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