James Forsyth

We have a front-runner

We have a front-runner
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John McCain’s victory in the South Carolina primary makes him the Republican front-runner. It is an amazing turn-around for a man whose campaign was left for dead last summer but this new designation carries with it dangers for McCain. First, it puts a bulls-eye on his back. Rudy Giuliani, who must beat McCain in Florida, is already dinging him on taxes and the worry for McCain is that the other candidates all go after him on issues where he is vulnerable with the Republican base. Secondly, McCain has never seemed comfortable as the front-runner preferring to fight as the scrappy underdog. 

Next Tuesday’s contest in Florida is crucial for McCain. Giuliani has bet everything on Florida and if McCain can beat him there—the two are currently level-pegging in the polls in the sunshine state--he pretty much knocks him out of the contest and can expect to sweep up the lion’s share of Giuliani votes: both candidates appeal to hawkish Republicans who want strong leaders. This would send McCain into February 5th, where 21 states vote, with the wind at his back which he’ll need given Mitt Romney’s financial and organisational strength.

The other question is if the Republican establishment will row in behind McCain. Parts of the conservative base and elite have an almost irrational dislike of McCain and some validation would be helpful to him. Mel Martinez, the Florida Senator who is a close political ally of the Bush family, is expected to endorse McCain on Monday and there is talk that others will soon follow.

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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