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Giuliani Is In and Becomes the Immediate Favorite

By John McIntyre

There is an assumption by many that Giuliani is un-nominatable as a Republican for President given his less than conservative positions on many social issues. Charlie Cook summed up the conventional Washington wisdom on Giuliani's chances with his statement in the Washington Post several months ago that he'll "win the Tour de France before Rudy Giuliani wins the Republican nomination."

But the conventional wisdom on Giuliani's ability to capture the nomination is wrong. Not only can Giuliani win the GOP nomination, but as the Republican field sits today he has to be considered the favorite.

As Republicans look to their standard bearer in what will be a post-9/11 and post-George W. Bush world, the usual handicapping yard-sticks that may have worked in the '80's and 90's won't work this cycle.

Leadership is going to be the single most important issue to Republican voters and this is almost certainly Giuliani's strongest asset. As long as McCain remains Giuliani's chief rival for the nomination, Rudy will hold an advantage for the simple reason that conservatives like Rudy Giuliani and do not like John McCain. Leadership and the conservative animus toward McCain are why Giuliani has the edge.

The strategic box Giuliani puts McCain in is significant, especially since one of McCain's selling points to Republicans was always going to be that he could deliver a win in the general election. But the obvious tactic to employ against Giuliani, trying to undermine him with conservative base voters by attacking him on social issues, also undercuts McCain's ability to win the general election, which in turn, undermines his strongest selling point to Republicans.

The McCain campaign is going to have to a find non-social issues path to taking down Giuliani and they can't commit the same mistake they made in 2000 by going after independents and Democrats before capturing the nomination. McCain has to find a way to energize Republicans behind his candidacy. Robert Novak's column from earlier this week where McCain is playing up his supply side credentials may provide an early direction of where the Arizona Senator's campaign may be going.

Strategically, McCain would be well advised to position himself as the pro-growth, supply-side conservative in the Republican field. While Giuliani may be the favorite today, McCain should not be underestimated, especially if he were to get behind a bold pro-growth, economic agenda like a flat tax and private accounts for Social Security.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who had risen up into the "Big Three" with McCain and Giuliani after the implosion of George Allen last year, has struggled the last couple of months and is going to have to figure out a way to appeal to conservatives without it appearing like obvious political pandering. The recent You Tube video of his '94 debate with Ted Kennedy and the focus on his well-documented recent conversion to pro-life from pro-choice smacks of obvious political opportunism and tarnishes what is otherwise a compelling case for his campaign. The Mormon issue will also complicate his ability to get traction in the race.

Gingrich may create a few sparks if he gets in the ring and could generate a decent amount of support in the polls, but he is a sure loser in the general election which in the end creates insurmountable problems for his candidacy.

The others are all running to improve their name ID and for potential VP slots.

A couple of months ago I suggested to look out for McCain/Pawlenty in 2008. Today Giuliani/Huckabee may be the better bet.

But everyone should remember it is February 2007, not February 2008, a lot can change.

John McIntyre is the President and co-founder of RealClearPolitics. Email: john@realclearpolitics.com

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