James Forsyth

Who will get knocked out by the Romney one-two punch?

Who will get knocked out by the Romney one-two punch?
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The Democratic presidential contest is getting the lion’s share of the media coverage because the two main competitors in it are political superstars whose candidacies would be historic and because whoever is the Democratic nominee will start out as the favourite in 2008. But the Republic race is, perhaps, even more fascinating with the very future of the conservative coalition at stake. It is certainly more fluid with four Republicans—Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney—still having plausible paths to the nomination.  

Romney (pictured) is the only Republican with a realistic chance of winning both Iowa and New Hampshire, the two crucial early contests. He is second in the polls in Iowa and has a narrow lead in New Hampshire. If he pulls off back to back wins, he’ll probably be the nominee. If he doesn’t win either state, his bid is almost certainly over. 

The campaigns in both states have now reached a crucial phase with Romney going negative on Huckabee, the Christian populist who leads in Iowa, and John McCain, the Arizona Senator and war hero who won the New Hampshire primary in 2000 and is currently second in the polls there. 

Romney has more money than either of his competitors and is hoping that highlighting their deviations from conservative orthodoxy can put him over the top. The danger for Romney, though, is that by going on the attack he gets into a nasty, bloody fight in Iowa which he loses allowing McCain to pick off his weakened candidacy in New Hampshire. 

Worryingly for Romney, the Huckabee camp is hitting back hard. Huckabee came out swinging at Romney yesterday, questioning his honesty and whether he stood for anything at all. (Huckabee cleverly used Romney’s attacks on McCain, “an American hero”, to justify his assault.) While a pro-Huckabee group brought out an ad questioning the sincerity of Romney’s conversion on abortion.   

Meanwhile in New Hampshire, the McCain campaign have responded to Romney by first leaking a brutal ad that highlights Romney’s various flip flops made by Romney’s ad men when they worked for McCain and then by using a TV ad to highlight scathing criticisms of Romney made by the local New Hampshire press. 

Romney’s nightmare is that the separate attacks on him in Iowa and New Hampshire feed back into each other, doubling their impact and sending him to defeat in both places.

We’ll find out the answer to all this, and more, soon enough with the Iowa caucuses coming up on Thursday and New Hampshire voting on the eighth. I’ll be in the States from Monday and will keep you posted on what’s happening out there.

Written byJames Forsyth

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

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