For most of this year, I’ve argued that Rudy Giuliani had a clear shot at the G.O.P. nomination, but I no longer believe it. That notion was based on two projections: (1) that Mike Huckabee would pull off a surprise win in Iowa, sending Mitt Romney’s New Hampshire campaign into a tailspin; (2) that Rudy would be poised to claim the vacuum in New Hampshire created by Romney’s post-Iowa collapse.
Under this scenario, Romney and John McCain would be marginalized or out of the race completely after New Hampshire (ditto Fred Thompson, his claim of a South Carolina strategy notwithstanding), with Giuliani and Huckabee emerging as the two finalists. Huckabee would probably then take South Carolina, with Giuliani claiming Michigan and Florida – and then gobbling up the big delegate states on February 5, thereby putting him in position to claim the nomination.
When Huckabee began creeping up in Iowa and Giuliani started investing heavily in New Hampshire this fall, I believed this scenario was on its way to being realized. But I didn’t foresee a couple of twists. (1) Huckabee climbed to the top in Iowa much faster than expected – opening him up to a month’s worth of raised expectations, attacks from Romney, and intense scrutiny from a press that previously fawned over him. Now Romney is actually in position to claim “victory” in Iowa, and thus to maintain his New Hampshire viability, with even a close second place finish. (2) Giuliani’s spending in New Hampshire was a bust. Instead, it’s John McCain who is catching on as the Granite State alternative to Romney.
Now Giuliani has pulled his resources out of New Hampshire and is arguing that his campaign won’t begin until Florida. But even his Florida lead, once formidable, is evaporating – and his standing there will only get worse if and when he’s drubbed in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Less than two weeks before voting begins, it’s easier to envision victory scenarios for Romney, Huckabee and even McCain than for Rudy Giuliani.