Congratulations to Senator John McCain for his victory last night in the Florida Republican Primary. He has now emboldened his position as the front runner for the nomination. While he’s not necessarily the person I would want as the nominee, I’ll support him if he wins the nomination.
Looking over last night’s results, I’ve observed six things that should be kept in mind as the process moves forward.
1. Polls are increasingly unreliable predictors of election outcomes
First, we had the fiasco with polls in New Hampshire that predicted a victory for Barack Obama in the Democratic primary. Then in South Carolina, the polls correctly picked Obama as the winner but did not predict his blowout victory over Hillary Clinton. Yesterday, several polls had Mitt Romney winning the Republican primary. While polls are likely to still be around for some time it’s clear they are no longer as reliable as they once were.
2. Military voters are an important part of the Republican coalition.
Military voters were a big part of Senator McCain’s win in South Carolina and showed themselves to be a potent force yesterday in Florida. In a time of war, military voters are going to naturally gravitate towards the person that they believe is best equipped to lead the country. Military voters probably understand better than the average voter what it takes to be Commander-in-Chief. Because of the Republican party’s position on the Global War of Terror they have developed a huge base of support among military voters. They will continue to be an important constituency for Republicans in the future.
3. Personality matters more than policy positions.
Whether we like it or not, voters tend to gravitate for who they like and who they can trust mor than for what the person stands for. I suspect that much of Senator McCain’s appeal is the fact that he is perceived as a straight talker who knows what he believes and stands up for his beliefs. He doesn’t seem to change his opinions on issues based on which way the political winds are blowing. In a post-Clinton political era this is a hugh asset. I also think one of the reasons that Mitt Romney has not gained as much support is because he is perceived as someone who has changed positions on issues (most notably abortion) and is willing to say anything in order to get elected.
4. Electability becomes the primary issue.
As it becomes clearer who the Democratic nominee will be (and my guess right now is Hillary Clinton will win), Republicans are beginning to think about who is most likely to win the general election. Senator McCain matches up well against both of the possible Democratic nominees and is the one candidate that Democrats fear facing the most. Many Republicans realize that it’s crucial that they don’t allow the Democrats to win the White House and are willing to support the person who is most likely to win even if they disagree with him on key issues.
5. Money does not guarantee victory.
If this primary had been simply a matter of who had the most money, Mitt Romney would have won hands down because he has so much more to spend than anyone else in the race. As Mike Huckabee proved in Iowa and John McCain proved in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida you can be outspent by huge margins and still win. Money is important but having the most money does not necessarily mean you’ll automatically win. Winning depends more on how you campaign then how much you spend.
6. It’s time for Mike Huckabee to withdraw.
It’s hard for me to write this as Governor Huckabee is the person that I probably am most likely to vote for even though he doesn’t stand a chance of winning the nomination. In many ways, I believe he’s the best candidate and that the media have done such a hatchet job on his record and his positions that most voters don’t realize what a sound conservative he is. But Huckabee has nothing to gain at this point and would only embarass himself further by staying in the race. I thiink he would be better off to withdraw now and save himself for another run at the presidency in the future. It would also demonstrate to voters that he’s more willing to put party unity over personal gain.
There’s still a long way to go in this race for the nomination. But the time is coming soon when Republicans have to come to grips with the fact that the man who will be their nominee may not be their first choice but he is going to be their choice and that they need to rally around him to help get him elected.