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Vitter Good for Rudy, Toomey Bad for McCain

Forgetting Giuliani's not insignificant lead in the polls (ahead by 17.2% in the RCP Average), two news events yesterday further illustrate what the Giuliani campaign is doing right and how the McCain camping is struggling.

Endorsements by your average governor or senator are usually not that big a deal, especially from a state that does not have a significant role in the nominating process, but Louisiana Sen. David Vitter's endorsement of Giuliani is a big positive for the Giuliani campaign, because it sends a message that Rudy is acceptable to social conservatives. If a social conservative from a southern state like David Vitter can get behind the former mayor of New York, it takes some of the punch out of the anti-Giuliani analysis that he will be found unacceptable to Republican primary voters.

Contrast this positive development for the Giuliani campaign with the news from the Club for Growth that Senator McCain is declining an offer to speak at their winter conference in a couple of weeks.

The Club for Growth is happy to announce a star-studded array of guest speakers for its 2007 Annual Winter Conference in Palm Beach, Florida., to be held March 29 - April 1, 2007. Joining the Club for Growth for its policy forums are declared or potential presidential candidates former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney; former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani; Kansas Senator Sam Brownback; and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Arizona Senator John McCain was invited to attend, but declined.

Skipping the CPAC event could be tactically justified; however, the unexplained Club for Growth snub just doesn't make a lot of sense politically. At the beginning of February when Giuliani threw his hat into the ring and became the favorite I suggested:

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. Strategically, McCain would be well advised to position himself as the pro-growth, supply-side conservative in the Republican field.

There is not a clear pro-growth, anti-tax candidate in the GOP field today, which is an opportunity for all of the Republican candidates. The reality is McCain does need to be proactive in finding ways to get Republicans enthusiastic about his campaign. Steadfastness on the war will not be enough to deliver Senator McCain the nomination, especially when his main competition is Giuliani. By itself skipping the Club for Growth event is no big deal, but on the back of his absence at other recent conservative gatherings he is doing himself no favors among the conservative activists he is going to need over the course of 2007 to put himself in the position to win the votes in January and February 2008.