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Notes on the Campaign After Florida

By John Ellis

1. Undernews almost did it. The Romney-McCain fight in Florida took place on three levels. There was paid advertising, where Romney heavily outspent McCain. There was news coverage, where McCain had the best of it, as the national press corps continued to sing "A Mighty Fortress is Our John." And then there was what Slate commentator/blogger Mickey Kaus calls the "undernews."

"Undernews" is the news that reaches tens of millions of people everyday, but goes unremarked upon in the mainstream press. It includes talk radio, the tabloids, alternative TV, the blogs, etc. What made Romney competitive in Florida was talk radio. Just as Rush Limbaugh rescued George W. Bush's campaign in South Carolina eight years ago, so too did he almost salvage Mitt Romney in Florida. If Rush had been on vacation for the last two weeks, McCain would have won in a walk.

2. Speaking of Mickey Kaus. He used to have a feature known as "Mickey's Assignment Desk." The idea was that he would throw out subjects that required further investigation but that he was not inclined to investigate himself. And then he would assign those stories to good reporters. So here's one for Tom Edsall and Chris Isham: Where did all of Giuliani's money go? He raised, as I understand it, roughly $45 million. He competed in one primary. He did not spend $45 million in Florida.

Follow-up questions include: How much were his consultants paid? The ones who dreamed up the "don't-compete-and-win" strategy? How much (in percentage terms) went to private aviation? That's really the key question. When his contributors find out the answer to that question, how angry will they be? That's the other question.

3. Mike Huckabee is a nice guy. Too bad he hates Mitt Romney! Presumably, if Huckabee were to exit the race, Romney would be the beneficiary of his departure. But Huckabee doesn't seem to be in the mood for quitting. He seems to think that he can just keep collecting Southern-accented delegates and go all the way to the GOP Convention. Who needs money when you have leverage? Right now, Huckabee has a lot of leverage over Mitt Romney.

4. Hold 'em/Fold 'em. Mitt has to make the call. McCain is going to sweep the Northeastern primary states next week. Huckabee is going to roll along down South, thus denying Romney traction there. The only way to overcome this pincer movement is through vast expenditures of cash for television advertising. The only money available to Romney at the moment is his own. So the question stands: will he write the big check? Or will he say to himself: good money after bad? It's a decision only he can make. If he decides not to write the check, McCain's the nominee.

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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