Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Washington Post Again picks Romney # 1

To the Line!


1. Mitt Romney: The former Massachusetts governor holds onto his top spot on The Line for a second month thanks to two main factors -- his continued strong polling numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire and his demonstrated willingness to use his personal wealth to help fund his campaign. If Romney does give $40 million to $60 million (or even more) to his campaign, it gives him a major leg up over his opponents, who will have to continue to scrounge for $2,300 checks all the way through the Iowa caucuses. Hurdles remain for Romney, however. He is far weaker in South Carolina than in either New Hampshire or Iowa, a fact that could provide a nice opening for former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.). And then there's the Mormon question. Romney's campaign is contemplating whether he should give some sort of speech in which the governor would further explain his religion and how he sees it influencing a Romney administration. He will not, they insist, ever engage in a discussion of the specific tenets of the faith. But will that be enough for GOP voters? (Previous ranking: 1)

2. Rudy Giuliani: The former New York City Mayor put together the best month of any of the top-tier candidate. He raised the most money (subtracting Romney's personal donation) in the second quarter of 2007 and ended June with the most money in the bank. His campaign has also picked up its organizational pace -- especially in Iowa, where Giuliani has been signing on supporters at a rapid rate lately. The main challenge for Giuliani over the coming months is to use the national good will he built up in the immediate wake of the Sept. 11 attacks to highlight his conservative positions on taxes and crime. That effort will be complicated by his rivals, who will try to make sure Republican voters in the early states are well aware of Giuliani's positions on abortion, gay rights and gun control. (Previous ranking: Tied for 2nd)

3. Fred Thompson: In a week dominated by news and speculation about staff changes in Thompson's organization, it's important to keep the big picture in mind. Without yet officially declaring that he is in the race, Thompson is pulling double digits in every national and state poll we have seen. That's a powerful testament to the desire within the Republican Party -- especially among social conservatives -- for an alternative to the current field. Growing pains are nothing new within a presidential campaign, and it's better to get the kinks worked out before anyone is officially keeping score. The danger for Thompson is if the staff departures speak to a larger structural problem within the campaign that continues to dog him even after he is a candidate. As we saw with John McCain's campaign collapse, not having a single person in charge can lead to devastating consequences. (Previous ranking: Tied for 2nd)

4. John McCain: Wow! We knew there were problems in McCain's campaign, but we never suspected that in the month since the last edition of the presidential Line that nearly all of his senior staff -- including longtime associate John Weaver -- would quit. Or that McCain would end June with less money in the bank than Rep. Ron Paul. Yeeesh. With less than 200 days until the Iowa caucuses, McCain is now in the process of starting over. As a result, the nature of McCain's campaign has totally changed: No longer the frontrunner, he must now campaign as an insurgent. Insurgency always seemed to suit McCain better, but can he find enough money and skilled staffers in the early states to make a serious run at the nomination? It's hard -- but not impossible -- to see. (Previous ranking: 4)

5. Mike Huckabee: The upcoming Ames Straw poll is a do or die moment for Huckabee. If he is able to come in second (behind Romney), it will be a sign that despite his stunning lack of money, Huckabee does have some level of organizational heft. A second-place showing might also shake loose some of the money that a number of GOP donors are currently sitting on as they wait to see what the field will ultimately look like. Thompson's campaign-in-waiting complicates that equation for Huckabee, but there should be enough money to go around. An increase in fundraising is absolutely essential for Huckabee to have any chance at winning the nomination. One side note: It's too bad for Huckabee that there isn't a GOP debate every week. (Previous ranking: 5)

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