State of the race

There’s a lot of uncertainty in the race right now. The biggests questions are probably:

First, will there be a Mitt Romney-Rudy Giuliani murder-suicide? Luntz focus groups suggest that Romney might have done better on immigration in the debate.

Second, will Giuliani’s scandals continue? There’s Placa, Shag Fund, and others. Will they drive votes? Perhaps at some point?

Third, will attacks on Mike Huckabee stick? ARG’s polling suggests that 89% of his support in IA is solid  While the most recent attack has focused on immigration, that seems unlikely to stick. I also suspect that taxes won’t work. The only attack that Romney probably has a chance with is ethics. And he probably can’t be the guy to do it.

Third, will flip-flop attacks work on Romney? Ultimately he has a big, big character problem if someone can explain it, but it is unclear that a good messenger will. I thought that the Right-to-Life endorsement might result in an attack on Romney, but Fred Thompson’s race to face-plant seems to make that more unlikely.  In any case, polling indicates that Romney’s supporters are not rabid pro-lifers. Ultimately, exposing Romney’s tax record or ethical problems is probably the solution.

Fourth, does John McCain have a chance in New Hampshire? Polls are mixed, but he seems to be in second. If Romney comes out of Iowa with a bad story and/or there is a sustained attack on Romney, then McCain could move up. It seems fair to say that there will be a sustained attack on Giuliani from Romney. His strategy needs that. Isn’t the murder-suicide a blessing for McCain?

Fifth, will McCain and Huckabee be able to take advantage of their opportunities?

Sixth, electability. McCain has a powerful electability argument. Giuliani has been making a similar one, although less in recent days. I wonder if the ethics scandals are going to drive down Giuliani’s general election numbers, opening up a gap even more clearly in McCain’s favor. Will this get reported? Will it sink in?

Seventh, what happens with the whole Western Watts, anti-Mormon phone calls? Everyone I know seems to think that Romney associates will be implicated. Will it matter? If Romney comes in second in Iowa, and then was somehow complicit in the phone calls… That could blow the race open in New Hampshire.

Eighth, we have nasty Giuliani client stories. My gut is that there are some nasty Romney client stories of an earlier vintage. Will they come? My sense is that the Dems would have to push them. They are clearly playing, although they don’t seem to be clearly picking favorites.

This is going to be very interesting. Keep your seat belts on kids. The next 40 days are going to be a wild ride.