The polling on the Republican race in both Iowa and New Hampshire is muddled enough that there seems to be little of which we can be certain, at least until the votes are counted. There is definitely a school of thought however, which holds that if Huckabee wins Iowa, then there will be a rapid effort on the part of economic conservatives to coalesce behind a candidate who can beat him. And if either Romney or McCain wins New Hampshire -- as right now seems quite likely -- then that person may be the one. (Plus, McCain really seems to be building up a head of steam.)
Keep that in mind as you read Patrick Ruffini's assessment of how to take down John McCain in New Hampshire. The logic seems sounds to me:
I think the answer here is to attack his strength. Muddy the waters and contaminate his message. Call into question his maverickness. Brand him with the tagline “Independent… When It’s Convenient.” Remind people that right before “rediscovering” his maverick roots, he was running as a standard Bush-issue Republican, taking cash from lobbyists, shilling for Cablevision, and running as George W. Bush’s rightful heir.
In New Hampshire, McCain brands himself as a longtime critic of our Iraq strategy. And yet for four years, he was one of the war’s staunchest defenders. He criticized Don Rumsfeld, and yet he campaigned strongly for President Bush in 2004, who could have fired the Defense Secretary at any moment and was ultimately responsible for the strategy. McCain is smart enough to know that the buck stops at the President’s desk, yet he conveniently “forgot” this just in time to run for President. Is McCain somehow implying — in a Republican primary — that the President was being manipulated by his own Secretary of Defense and Vice President? If so, he’s echoing the left’s insulting rhetoric...
I would envision a series of ads around this theme launching right after Christmas — tease them on the Web on the 26th and start running them on the 27th. Do one on some sort of questionable post-Keating quid-pro-quo that’s evocative of the Drudge hit of last week without referencing it directly. Then play back his pro-war rhetoric, in contrast to his disingenuous claim of being a war critic (it’s not that he didn’t criticize — it’s that he wants New Hampshire voters to think he was exclusively a critic before the surge).
Attacking off the beaten path is unexpected, throws him off balance, and is more likely to make him lose his cool. Save the immigration and taxes stuff for Michigan and South Carolina. It’s time to deflate McCain’s tires a bit with New Hampshire independents and buck up Obama, giving us a non-McCain nominee and dragging out the Democratic primary for as long as possible.
If Huckabee wins Iowa, Romney wins New Hampshire, and some third candidate wins South Carolina, that should muddy the waters pretty completely, right? Of course, right now Huckabee is winning South Carolina. If he wins there, then things have to coalesce pretty quickly anyway, don't they?