Fred Thompson bowed out today, a week before the Florida primary. We’ve seen signs in Florida of a sharpened race, a race that appeared to be between three men – Rudy, Romney, and McCain.
Conspicuously absent from that list is Mike Huckabee, still considered by many to be a force, if not a contender, in the GOP race. Huckabee is also a man that shared many traits with Thompson, and for that reason, some feel that Thompson’s departure will benefit the man from Hope (see here, for example).
Going on that assumption, Mike Huckabee is once again a contender in the Sunshine State. And how exactly is that good for the Mayor? It seems a safe assumption that there isn’t much cross-over between the Thompson camp or the Huckabee camp and the Giuliani camp – that is, folks left out in the cold by Fred’s departure aren’t likely to flock to Rudy, and Giuliani backers aren’t likely to be swayed by a rising Huckabee. So Rudy’s numbers probably won’t change much.
Those who could be swayed by a rising Huckabee, it seems to me, are social conservatives who like Huckabee but have felt that McCain is a safer bet. Were Huckabee to start moving in the right direction, if it seemed like he might have a shot, those on-the-fencers currently standing by the Senator might jump ship for Huckabee. Recall from an earlier post (“Florida Polling”) that of the three current front-runners, McCain’s supporters were the least committed, with 22% going so far as to say that they very well could change their minds.
The final piece of this puzzle is that with Huckabee rising at McCain’s expense, the net effect is a McCain-Huckabee battle over a subsection of the GOP primary voters which ends up in a stalemate. That is, they more or less split a small subset of the votes needed to carry Florida next Tuesday. With the attention of McCain diverted, Huckabee working simply for a solid showing, and the two splitting a group of voters, the door is open for Rudy (appealing to a rather different constituency) to claim a strong plurality on the 29th.
This is admittedly very hypothetical and conclusory. And much could happen that would totally change the calculus – Fred could endorse (gasp) McCain. But barring some such major event, the scenario painted above is not implausible. The general ideas – a rising Huckabee collides with an unsteady McCain, taking both out of contention and leaving Rudy standing on top of the pile – seem reasonable enough. Any thoughts?