This is not a good time to be Mitt Romney. After almost a year of having the Iowa and New Hampshire airwaves to himself, he is now facing a challenge on the right from Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson and on the left from Rudy Giuliani.
Pressed from bo th sides, he is leaking votes. Where once a sweep of the table of the early states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan and South Carolina) appeared in the cards, he is now looking at a possible defeat in Iowa, derailing his plans.
The latest Iowa Rasmussen Poll (11-26-07) shows Huckabee in the lead at 28 percent with Romney at 25 percent, and both Thompson and Giuliani trailing way back at 12 percent. The average of the past five Iowa polls, computed by Real Clear Politics, Romney holds a narrow 27-24 lead over Huckabee.
In the CNN-YouTube debate, Romney and Rudy ripped each other apart to the likely benefit of Huckabee who, apart from a bump or two, remained serenely atop the debate while others kicked and clawed below.
Romney is taking flack for his flip-flop-flip over abortion. Voters know that his statement that he changed his mind to become pro-life is belied by the fact that he had changed it before to become pro-choice when he decided to run in Massachusetts. His unreliability on this issue combines with his pro-gay rights comments during his Senate race against Ted Kennedy to raise doubts about him on the right.
The fact is that the only two things holding Romney aloft in the early states were the fact that he was the only alternative to Giuliani and that he was spending a bundle on campaign advertising.
For many months the other campaigns were not on the air in Iowa or New Hampshire. Why Giuliani didn’t advertise is a mystery and likely the subject of future political science classes. Huckabee, of course, was broke, and Thompson couldn’t get his act together in time.
But now that everybody is on the air, Huckabee is emerging as a new alternative to Giuliani for socially conservative voters. Reliably pro-life and anti-gay marriage, he is now emerging as the real thing — a social conservative alternative to the ersatz Romney version.
And, of course, he’s not a Mormon. Many Republicans remain fearful that nominating a Mormon would be tantamount to handing the election to the Democrats.
If Huckabee beats Romnney in Iowa, it may imperil the rest of the four-state sweep which Romney is anticipating.