Where The Republican Primary Stands Now
A Commentary By Douglas Schoen
The Republican Presidential Nomination contest could go any of three or four different directions.
The national contest is extremely close with Rudy Guiliani holding a consistent but modest lead over Fred Thompson. John McCain, Mike Huckabee, and Mitt Romney trail behind. The gap between the top five candidates is considerably smaller than the number of undecided voters (see daily Presidential Tracking Poll).
But if the national numbers tell one story, Iowa and New Hampshire tell a different one. In Iowa Romney holds a 6% lead over Thompson and a 7% advantage over Huckabee. Guiliani trials Romney by 12% while McCain is hardly a factor, lagging well behind the frontrunners in single digits.
New Hampshire is also a strong state for Romney who has invested significantly there and served as Governor of neighboring Massachusetts. Romney leads by 9% over Guiliani and 12% over McCain the 2000 victor. Thompson and Huckabee lag well behind in the Granite state.
So how then should one assess the nominating contest on the Republican side?
I still maintain that Romney's significant lead in Iowa and New Hampshire gives him a significant advantage, notwithstanding his poor showing in the national horserace. It is my sense that if the former Massachusetts Governor wins the first two states, he will have a significant amount of momentum and will be hard to stop.
Supporters of Guiliani and Thompson maintain that the first two contests are overrated in importance and will be quickly overshadowed by South Carolina (where Thompson has a narrow advantage) and by the February 5th primaries-- Guiliani has a big lead in the bulk of the 20 odd states that will hold their balloting that day.
And supporters of Mike Huckabee say theirs is the only candidate with national momentum and growing support in Iowa.
Time will tell...
Douglas Schoen is a founding and former partner of Penn Schoen & Berland, and a Fox News Contributor.
Schoen was President Bill Clinton's research and strategic consultant during the 1996 reelection campaign.
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