WASHINGTON -- Americans say they are weary of political polarization and pugnacity. If so, the current situation in presidential politics is unstable: The leading Democratic and Republican candidates, Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, are the most polarizing and pugnacious candidates, respectively. Hence Barack Obama and Mitt Romney might be stronger than national polls suggest.
James Carville, political consultant and aphorist, says: Nothing validates a candidate to voters as much as other voters. If Romney wins Iowa and New Hampshire -- no Republican has ever won both -- and then Michigan, where his father was governor, he will reach South Carolina very validated indeed.
Giuliani has a double-digit lead in Florida, but if he wins the nomination after starting the delegate selection events 0-4, he will do something not done since prehistoric times. In 1952, Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson was nominated by bosses, an extinct species, who would not countenance the candidacy of Tennessee Sen. Estes Kefauver. The New York Times of May 11, 1952, proclaimed:
KEFAUVER WINS VOTES
BUT NOT PARTY LEADERS
Kefauver had won every primary except Florida's, where he narrowly lost not to Stevenson but to Georgia Sen. Richard Russell.
Giuliani's strategy might be shrewd. Before Florida votes on Jan. 29, only 154 delegates will have been chosen. Florida, where Giuliani leads by 17 points, will allocate 57. Seven days later, 20 states vote, including California (173 delegates), where Giuliani has another double-digit lead. Romney's campaign serenely notes that in 2004, when John Kerry won Iowa and New Hampshire, he shot from about 9 percent to 52 percent among Democrats. That is validation.
An Obama victory in Iowa might be initially injurious to Romney, but beneficial to him four days later in New Hampshire. If Romney, who leads in Iowa, wins there and Obama beats Clinton, the latter story will overshadow the former. But an Obama win in Iowa would radically raise the stakes of the Democrats' New Hampshire primary. Independents there can vote in either party's primary. In 2000, they flooded into the Republican contest, dooming Bill Bradley's challenge to Al Gore and propelling John McCain to victory over George W. Bush, who won the Republican portion of that primary. If this time independents are drawn to the Democratic primary, that will hurt not just McCain but also Giuliani, whose strength with independents supports his claim of superior electability.