After John McCain’s comeback victory, the game is still on. For each of the candidates:
First, Mitt Romney must win in Michigan or drop out. He is going to have to talk about his business experience because of the weakness of his governing record. The clear rejection of his negative attacks means that he will probably have to go more positive. Romney’s long-term confidence can be seen in his dropping of South Carolina buys. If he performs in Michigan, he would be close to dark in South Carolina.
Second, John McCain will continue to be vulnerable on immigration, but exit polls in New Hampshire put that issue behind the economy, the war in Iraq, and the great struggle against terrorism. McCain has opened up a defense from Romney’s attack on his tax record with Senator Phil Gramm and Rep. Jack Kemp. Besides, it looks like the Wall Street Journal may play a little defense for him too. McCain is already the clear 2nd in South Carolina, and a bump from New Hampshire and, possibly Michigan, would likely tighten the race with Mike Huckabee there.
Third, Mike Huckabee. National observers were a little surprised by Mike Huckabee’s result in New Hampshire, but I don’t see a lot of coverage of it. I also think that he may perform better than people expect in Michigan, squeezing Mitt Romney from the right on social issues.
Fourth, Rudy Giuliani. We are just going to have to see what happens in Florida. It’s a gamble that they are taking. I am increasingly skeptical.
And, last, Fred Thompson. Ummmm. His last stand is in South Carolina. That seems calculated to take more votes out of Huckabee and Romney than a real pro-Fred strategy in itself. it is now clear that McCain will continue to have strength through South Carolina, regardless of Michigan. A Romney collapse would probably split the votes several different ways. It is hard to imagine how he would come in first. Or even second. Taking a last stand in a place in which 3rd is your most likely results seems…. odd.
In conclusion, this seems likea McCain-Huckabee race, with outside chances for Rudy and Mitt to have surprisingly strong showings.