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Mac and the "I" Word

It loks as if John McCain is now in a NY state of mind, and his bank account is better off for it. Has Mac become the "I" word? Jay says not so fast:


Now that he is the frontrunner, this is the problem that confronts John McCain. In every previous cycle in the modern era - the Republican who wins South Carolina wins the nomination. A big reason is that the victory in the South, the heart of the Republican's general election strength, signals who the favored candidate is. The rest of the candidates eventually recognize this, and they bow out. McCain won South Carolina, and he is better positioned now than he was a week ago - but the race is not over.

McCain is staunchly opposed by a vocal group of conservatives who view him as an unreliable maverick. You can hear their most prominent advocate on the radio every weekday from noon to three eastern. You can see them in the exit polls, which show that McCain has not yet won a (statistically significant) plurality of Republican voters, nor those who consider themselves "very conservative." In years past, opposition to the Republican frontrunner tends to fade away after South Carolina, with the supporters of the loser accepting that their guy can't prevail and reconciling themselves with the victor. But that does not seem to be happening this year. There is a faction of the party that seems unwilling to accept McCain. It might be able to stop him.

It should be clear from the nomination rules that somebody could find enough delegates to oppose McCain on the convention floor - even if he did not offer a serious challenge early in the process. From the unpledged delegates, to the delegates allocated by conventions, proportional allocation, and the congressional district delegates - there are a lot of ways to win convention support even as somebody else "wins" states. Eventually, an opposition candidate would have to break through with outright victories. He cannot win the Republican nomination underground - but the way delegates are allocated could keep the race close until he breaks through. Importantly, about 65% of South Carolina voters preferred somebody other than John McCain. This tracks with his standing in the national polls. So, the anti-McCain faction might have an audience - if it can find a candidate to rally behind. Also of importance: 95% of all delegates have yet to be allocated. And even after Super Tuesday, 45% will remain to be allocated. The faction has time to make its case.

I am not saying it will be successful. McCain has a very strong chance to win the nomination. One feather in his cap is that opposition to him does not cut cleanly along any ideological line. Rick Santorum is vehemently opposed to him, but Tom Coburn just endorsed him. Another asset is that the Republican delegate allocation system is much less charitable to losers than the Democratic scheme - this gives the opposition less time to get its act together.

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