The latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll has some good news for Sen. John McCain, as it places him second in the GOP field, albeit far behind Rudy Giuliani. McCain also appears to be the Republican most likely to defeat Hillary Clinton in that poll.
Throughout this race, people have been looking for a candidate who could be a credible “dark horse” to challenge Rudy in the key primary states. First it was Fred Thompson, then Mike Huckabee, and now it’s McCain. What this tells us about the race is that it’s still wide open. While Romney seems to be winning in many of the key states and Rudy has the national advantage, anything could change between now and then. If McCain performs well in Iowa and New Hampshire (which is possible), it could give him enough momentum to knock out some of the challengers like Huckabee and get him from the second tier up to truly competitive status.
McCain’s advantages are clear: he’s a straight-talked who has appeal with independents. He’s the “maverick” who nevertheless has been one of the strongest supporters of the war in Iraq—based not on political expediency, but principle. At the same time, he can claim that he was against the way the war was being run, and it was only when the Administration started listening to him that things changed for the better.
His disadvantages: McCain-Feingold is (rightly, in my mind) reviled by conservatives, and he’s a squish on immigration. The campaign finance issue might be a minor roadblock, but immigration is what’s killing Sen. McCain in this race. Immigration will be a key issue, at least with GOP voters, and an advocate of the President’s non-amnesty amnesty plan is not going to be popular. The fact that McCain is willing to take an enforcement-first approach helps him, but it will take him time to persuade voters that he’s not lax on border security.
Right now, the GOP race is so fluid it’s impossible to say what would happen. There’s action on the top tier of Romney and Giuliani, and the next tier is crowded with Thompson, McCain, and Huckabee. The only thing that is for certain is that Tom Tancredo won’t be getting the nomination any time soon. It’s a free-for-all, and it may be a while before we have a firm grasp on who has the inside track for the nomination. Or, the situation may radically change and one candidate will step so far ahead that the rest cannot keep up. It’s all in the air right now, which makes any one poll only a data point and not necessarily a trend.