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After NH, Race May Break Huckabee's Way

By John Ellis

Iowa was grand for former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, but New Hampshire was a bonanza. He cast his bread upon the waters there and though he finished a distant third, it was returned manifold. The one thing that Huckabee cannot afford, at this stage of the race, is head-to-head defeat. He needs at least two "strong" candidates in the field while he puts together the pieces of his Republican proletariat coalition.

What New Hampshire delivered last night was a revitalized Sen. John McCain, which makes Michigan a three-way race, which makes Gov. Huckabee's campaign there viable. If ever there was an electorate that is ripe for Gov. Huckabee's mix of economic populism and compassionate Christianity, it's down-trodden Michigan Republican primary voters. McCain won there in 2000 with strong support from Independents and he will direct all of his efforts at getting those independents to double down, one last time. Romney will throw everything he has at Michigan, to avoid elimination. Given a McCain surge and a Romney splurge, it's not hard to imagine a three-way split, with Huckabee doing surprisingly well in the collar counties around Detroit and drawing from the well of his base in the western and northwestern counties. Who knows, he might even win Michigan, which would set up South Carolina for a kill.

With McCain now anointed by clueless Washington scribes as the putative front-runner, the Arizona Senator must compete in South Carolina, because he will be expected to and because he has some unfinished business there from the 2000 campaign. Former Senator Fred Thompson has announced that he too will make a stand in South Carolina, although this may be moot by week's end. Romney will compete there, at least with negative television commercials, if only to cut McCain. The net result of all of that will likely be a convincing Huckabee victory, which should solidify Huckabee's lock on the Southern primary states and enable his campaign to poach in border states, in the Midwest and in the Rocky Mountain States.

A strong Huckabee showing in Michigan and a convincing win in South Carolina would set up a showdown with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in Florida, one that Huckabee could afford to lose. Indeed, he might even want to lose it, if only to fatten Giuliani up for his eventual slaughter on the altar of social conservatism. Again, the longer Huckabee faces two "not Huckabee" candidates, all of whom are alien or anathema to the GOP's core Sunbelt/Christian constituencies, the more likely it is he will eventually emerge victorious in the final showdown, wherever that might occur.

And if the results in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary were not bonanza enough, Huckabee got the added boost of Senator Clinton's resurrection from the dead. What better to inflame the passions of Huckabee's more rabid partisans than the renewed prospect of Holy War against the hated Hillary. And what better way could there be to diminish the impact of McCain's revival than a bigger story burying his news.

In case you hadn't noticed, click your mouse around this website until you get to National GOP Presidential Polls. Guess who's tied for the lead or leading now in virtually every national poll. He may have finished third in New Hampshire, but he took a large step forward tonight. If he keeps it up, and things keep breaking his way, there will be no one left to stop him.

John Ellis is a contributing columnist to RealClearPolitics. In his day job, he’s a partner at Kerr Creek Partners, a venture capital firm.

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