While it is possible Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Rudy Giuliani will all remain in the GOP race regardless of the outcome in Florida on Tuesday (Giuliani has at least stated he won’t exit the race), each of these campaigns would benefit greatly from an “Anybody But McCain” victory.
The reason? Each of McCain’s challengers are polling very competitively in a handful of Super Tuesday states, with their primary competitor being McCain in almost all of them.
A McCain victory in Florida could very well put the Arizona Senator on top in all but a few of the 21 primaries and caucuses on February 5th. If McCain stumbles and loses Florida (presumably to Mitt Romney), then several Super Tuesday states come into play—benefiting Romney to some extent and Huckabee and Giuliani to a much greater extent.
Looking ahead to Super Tuesday, McCain is poised to win his home state of Arizona (53 delegates) as well as Connecticut (30 delegates)—both states he won in 2000. (Despite its proximity to New York, McCain had a 23-point lead over Giuliani in a Connecticut poll released just 10 days ago). McCain also has a double-digit lead over Romney in a new Research 2000 poll out of Illinois (70 delegates).
Huckabee, however, is set to challenge McCain in several southern Super Tuesday states, but a McCain victory in Florida might just be prove to be too much for the weak-funded former Governor from Arkansas to handle. Huckabee will win his home state of Arkansas (34 delegates), and is currently leading or within a few points of McCain in polls released during the past week in Alabama (48 delegates), Missouri (58 delegates), Georgia (72 delegates) and Tennessee (55 delegates). Huckabee was also polling a few points ahead of McCain in a mid-January survey of GOP-ers from Oklahoma (41 delegates). If McCain is not the ‘inevitable candidate’ after Florida, southern voters may flock to Huckabee, especially with Fred Thompson out of the race.
Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani is polling competitively with McCain in his home state of New York (101 delegates) and its neighbor New Jersey (52 delegates). If Giuliani could defend his home field, that would be a big loss for McCain, as the primary is winner-take-all. A McCain win in Florida, or a Giuliani departure from the race would mean a big delegate count for McCain in the Northeast.
Mitt Romney, meanwhile, is poised to post wins in his home state of Massachusetts (43 delegates), Colorado (46 delegates), and Utah (36 delegates). He was also polling competitively with Huckabee and Giuliani early in the month in Montana (25 delegates). Since that poll, Romney has proved himself to be a formidable candidate in the mountain states—winning both the Wyoming and Nevada caucuses by wide margins against a field that was largely not well funded enough to launch campaigns in that region.
No recent polls have been conducted in the following Super Tuesday states: Alaska, Delaware, Minnesota, North Dakota, and West Virginia (combining for 144 delegates in total).
That leaves the big prize of California (173 delegates). Momentum coming out of Florida could be quite key here, as McCain’s lead over Romney has been just in the single digits in 3 of the last 5 California polls.
If McCain wins Florida, look for approximately two-thirds to three-fourths of the Southern, Midwestern, and Northern states to fall into his column. If he loses, the Republican nominee will not be known after February 5th.