Monday, January 29, 2007

Is it time to start laying John McCain?

Most of the attention focussed on the 2008 US Presidential race this side of the pond has been focused on the battle for the Democratic nomination, the rise of Obama nicely counterpointing the return of Hillary Clinton to centre stage.

But the race for the Republican nomination could turn out to be just as wide open. As Toby Harnden points out the momentum behind McCain's bid seems to be failing. Alongside fears that as chief cheerleader for the surge strategy now adopted by the Bush Whitehouse McCain is tying himself to the fate of the Toxic Texan (toxic in electoral terms certainly), questions are being raised about his health and fitness for the job. As someone who is bidding to become the oldest man to be elected to the Whitehouse (in 2008 he will be two years older than Regan was when he won the 1980 election) letting himself be caught nodding off in the middle of the State of the Union was not the best idea. Throw in the fact that many Republican's don't trust him because of his (undeserved IMO) reputation as a moderate, and you can understand why Harden thinks that he is now no longer the front runner for the GOP's nomination. As alternatives Harden citing the popular appeal of Rudi Giuliani and the organisation of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

So is there value in laying John McCain given that he is still the strong bookmakers favourite? Probably not in the long-term.

First off his opponents aren't as strong as they look. Harden points out some of Romney's flaws, his Mormonism, and the fact that he has flip-flopped on social issues taking liberal positions when campaigning in Massachusetts but now casting himself as a Conservative. Throw in the fact that in the past he has given money to Democrats (hat tip to Political Wire) and he is steadily shaping up to be an attack ad writers dream. Given the fact that he is deliberately targeting the conservative core despite being a former Governor of one of the most liberal states in the Union makes him particularly vulnerable to charges of being a sheep in wolf's clothing.

As for Giuliani well he may be leading in some polls of Republicans at the moment but as Stuart Rothernberg argues he is far too socially liberal win the Republican nomination, it would be the equivalent of the Lib Dems electing Ann Widdecombe as their next leader. Once the campaign proper starts and the Republican base hears about his views on abortion, guns and gays, plus his three marriages (again and again and again) I think he will fade away.

Secondly history shows that frontrunners almost always win the GOP nod. Ford in 1976 despite being tied to his pardon of Nixon, Bob Dole in 1996 despite obviously not being up to the job by the time the election got going, Bush in 2000 despite McCain's win in New Hampshire. Having spent the last 6 years preparing for 2008 McCain is way ahead of his rivals in terms of money, organisation and endorsements .

If you are looking for value on the Republican side of the race you probably can't go far wrong in putting a little on Sam Brownback (currently at 28/1 with Blue Square). He's an authentic Conservative unlike Romney who although he doesn't have the organisation or the money of the latter, can tap into the republican activist base amongst the religious right (hat tip The Fix). Remember how Howard Dean was able to use his ability to fire up the Democratic base to surge briefly into the favourite's slot for his party's nomination in 2004. I'm not sure Brownback can do that, but in the retail politics of Iowa and New Hampshire he may be able to make some waves especially if one of the big three stumble, thereby allowing smart punters to lay him off at a profit.


Anonymous SKTortoise said...

Brownback is a fairly solid bet if he can place in Iowa to at least last a fair chunk of the race. If he wins it turns the race upside down. The odds being offered are a little short though IMHO. I would expect to see him at about 35-40/1 given that he is still only polling single figures.

If Hagel runs that would turn things a little on its head too. If you have an anti-war Republican joining the race (which is still very much just a floating idea) then it makes Giuliani and Romney seem all the more conservative. I expect that they'll be hoping he does run.

Gingrich has a good chance *if* he declares in the next few weeks. Certainly a Gingrich-Clinton battle would fill this political geek with a healthy dose of nostalgia for the mid-90s.

For now I'd agree that the best value bet would be Brownback - he's an outsider but as you say, there's a gap for him if one of the big three falls.

10:21 am  

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