Matt Towery

Bandy is right, of course, and his observation is a reflection of the frustration that most announced and possible candidates are expressing privately -- that the race for the White House is starting way too early.

So what will break someone out of the pack in this critical early primary state? Interestingly, it won't have much to do with the religious right. South Carolina is a conservative state, but the days have passed when an organized Christian conservative movement in Southern states can catapult a candidate into the lead. Whether those days will ever return, no one knows for sure.

Immigration could be the issue that makes the fundamental difference here. So far, reaction to the Senate's new immigration bill has been disastrous among the GOP faithful, whether or not that's justified on the merits of the bill.

Iraq could be critical. South Carolina is a pro-military state, but its citizens are growing as weary as everybody else over The Battle With No Battle Plan.

I believe the current polling numbers are as much a reflection of name identification as anything else.

That aside, a few clear trends are emerging. Of the announced and potential candidates, Giuliani leads among women and Gingrich among men.

This shouldn't be a shock. Giuliani's more moderate social philosophy actually helps him in a crowded field, where moderate Republican women and voters of both sexes who call themselves independents are more likely to appreciate his positions than do other voters.

And remember that it was largely male voters who helped propel Newt Gingrich and the Republicans to power in the 1994 elections. Many of these men see Gingrich as someone who's dealt successfully with issues they care about, such as cutting the capital gains tax rate.

The "primary" concern is for the GOP candidates to survive until January with enough cash on hand to stage a strong fight down the stretch.

As for Newt Gingrich and Fred Thompson, neither of whom has announced that they're running, it's probably going to be a matter of which of them will first jump into the pool -- and whether that first swimmer will float or sink.

We'll be in the lifeguard stand all along, watching as the race unfolds.

Matt Towery

Matt Towery is a former National Republican legislator of the year and author of Powerchicks: How Women Will Dominate America.
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