Room for one more?

Dateline: 18 July 2007

At the beginning of the year the GOP had a ‘big three’ group of presidential contenders: John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. McCain and Giuliani dominated the polls, but Romney was putting together a very professional campaign under the radar and looked poised to strike. The only discussion about an outsider joining this group focused on Newt Gingrich.

Giuliani had not officially joined the race, and some believed that if he did, or if Gingrich jumped in, Romney would not be able to stand the competition. He was the ‘anti-McCain’, and all it needed was someone with a higher profile to squeeze him out.

This proved not to be the case. By the time Giuliani formally jumped in, it was McCain’s campaign that was struggling: weak opinion poll performances – second to Giuliani nationally and third in the early states – and poor fundraising left him looking exposed. When a buzz started to build behind Fred Thompson it was McCain, not Romney, whose ‘big three’ placing came under threat.

But if the top tier is already decided, who will be the outsider. One of the top four (five if Gingrich jumps in) will have a decidedly rocky start. Someone is going to get beaten by one of the minor contenders and lose all momentum. Currently, it looks as though that will be McCain, but who will be the outsider?

The chances are that it is down to two men: Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee.

Brownback is the Senator for Kansas, and a former Agriculture Secretary in a state where agriculture matters a lot. This background, combined with his passionate campaigning on social conservatism – especially life issues – could play very well in Iowa. His passion on the abortion question and his devout Christianity – he is a convert to Catholicism – has led some to label him the candidate of the religious right. But he is more complex than that. His Christian conservatism is not the one you see portrayed in the media: it contains more compassion than hate. He is passionate about aid to Africa and something of a skeptic on Iraq. His biggest problem with the social conservatives might turn out to be his stance on immigration. Many conservatives consider him decidedly liberal on this question – though, again, that probably doesn’t do justice to his nuanced position.

Mike Huckabee is probably best known for losing a great deal of weight while serving as governor of Arkansas. Observers have suggested that if there was a televised debate every week between now and January, he would end up winning Iowa. He was witty and relaxed in the debates, and seems to have impressed almost everyone. But there won’t be that many debates, and only dedicated nerds are following the current ones.

Can either break through? They are devilishly short of money, at least when compared to Romney and Giuliani. They lack the name recognition of McCain and Gingrich. But Iowa and New Hampshire both love to throw up surprises. One of these men could be that surprise.

And always remember my old rule: come November, the outsider always wins an open race. If, as seems likely, the Democrats choose a serving or former Senator, the GOP needs someone from outside Washington to win. That’s Giuliani, Romney or Huckabee.

Quentin Langley is editor of an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly.

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