Conservative Void: Republicans around the country are now talking about the possibility that a conservative candidate outside the big three could suddenly catch fire and suck support away from both the frontrunners and several of the minor candidates. A push poll for the 2008 Iowa presidential caucuses is instructive on the reality of conservative discontent with the current "big three" GOP candidates. The poll gives Sen. John McCain 20.5 percent, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani 16.3 percent, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney 3.5 percent. The candidate for whom the push-poll was conducted, former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore (R), leads them all with 31 percent.
1. This is not legitimate survey, of course -- it's a "push poll" that tells respondents positive and negative things about various candidates. The pollster peppered respondents with tales of the liberal deviations by McCain, Giuliani and Romney, and the true-blue conservatism of Gilmore. But it proves a point that is widely accepted in Republican ranks: None of the "big three" is a natural fit for the nation's right-of-center party. A conservative void unquestionably exists. The question is whether there is anyone who can fill the void.
2. The name usually mentioned as the void-filler is not Gilmore but Newt Gingrich. A straw poll by the right-wing Citizens United organization of contributors to its political fund showed Gingrich ahead with 31 percent (followed by Giuliani at 25 percent, Romney at 10 percent and McCain at 8 percent). But based on his record as speaker of the House, Gingrich's conservative record is far from flawless.
3. Before the "push" element of Gilmore's poll, the unadulterated results showed McCain leading in Iowa with 33 percent, followed by Giuliani at 31.5 percent and Romney at 8.8 percent (the unknown Gilmore took just 1.3 percent). That the pollsters could cause so much movement by pushing -- or "informing" -- respondents that McCain opposed tax cuts, Romney took a pro-choice abortion stance in Massachusetts, and Giuliani supported Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo's re-election in New York, for example, is very telling as to just how committed voters are to the "big three," even the ones who say they support them. Giuliani dropped by nine points with pushing, Romney lost five points (McCain actually rose 2 points).
4. Then the pushers went to work projecting Gilmore as a tax-cutting, job-creating governor of Virginia, head of a congressionally appointed commission on terrorism, chairman of the Republican National Committee and a National Rifle Association member. With that buildup, Gilmore finished first, well ahead of the field. That suggests that, under the current conditions, a campaign knocking down the conservative credentials of the "big three" could make a nominee out of even a long shot such as Gilmore -- at least theoretically.
5. With Gilmore a latecomer to the presidential fundraising game, it is doubtful that he will have sufficient funds to tear down his opponents and build up himself nationally or even in the state of Iowa. But he or any other long shot will have a lot of help beating up on the "big three." This week, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) will attract right-wingers from all over the country. They will receive a 23-page attack on McCain from the right-wing group Citizens United, declaring: "He's no Ronald Reagan." (McCain is the only announced Republican presidential hopeful not scheduled to attend CPAC.) At then same time, McCain operatives are putting out material casting Guiliani as a throwback to the old Tammany Hall Democratic machine that rode into City Hall on the shoulders of the New York Liberal Party, which cross-endorsed him in New York.
6. There is plenty of time for such negative campaigning to tear down the Republican front-runners as having inadequate conservative credentials. At this point in the 2000 election cycle, Bush was far in front with 45 percent in the polls, with Elizabeth Dole second at 29 percent, and McCain at a forgettable 3 percent. McCain went from that 3 percent to run a strong insurgent campaign that nearly delivered him the nomination.
7. The lesson is that the prominent coverage of the "big three" is by no means an indicator that they will remain out front. The conservative void on the Republican side is simply too great. Nature abhors a vacuum, as does the political world
If Jim Gilmore gets into this officially, he has my support. He would be a throwback to what a Republican is suppose to be, a '94 Republican. His values and policies mirror mine more than anyone else on the GOP side. I think he leaps over Romney, but in the end it hurts Guiliani the most. I personally think disaffected conservatives are leaning towards Rudy right now because of his strong leadership skills and the confidence he inspires in people. But Gilmore changes that, and soaks up many of the traditional conservative voters. So that leaves Rudy fighting with McCain for the rest of the votes, dividing them and leaving Romney on the outside.
Gilmore's problem is that it might be too late. All the big names, advisors, and money is going to the current candidates. These guys have organizations being built around the states already. But if Gilmore can catch lightning in a bottle, and its flashing all over, he could become a force to reckon with. But in the end, how will Gilmore match up against Obama/Clinton/Edwards - the Dems are the clear frontrunners in this race (its still very early). So many questions.