Thursday, February 07, 2008

Free Publicity = the Dems Not to Lose?

So, Mitt Romney has officially withdrawn from the race for the Republican nomination (or "suspended his campaign," as the saying goes—if anyone can explain that one to me, I'd much appreciate it). His purported reason for doing so was that to remain in the race would "forestall the launch of a national campaign and . . . make it easier for Senator Clinton or Obama to win." [Really, Mitt, "Senator Clinton," but just plain ol' "Obama"?]

I'm pretty sure he's dead wrong. For at least the next month, Clinton and Obama will get free publicity, as they campaign for the couple states voting each week, and pundits endlessly dissect results that are far too close to call. Clinton has proposed four debates between now and March 4—free air time. One of them may even be on Fox News.

How does McCain stay on the air? Debating Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee? Spending his relatively small bank account on national ads? Sporadic appearances on the Daily Show? Living off Ann Coulter's hate?

Wouldn't a far better plan have been for the establishment to prop up Romney as long as possible, to continue to make McCain look principled and thoughtful by comparison? But presumably someone pointed out to Romney the benefits of McCain's quick exit in 2000. Unfortunately for him, he's not a Washington insider, so he will have trouble staying relevant for the next four years.

So while I think McCain is by far the most formidable opponent among a remarkably weak Republican pack, I think it's the Dems to lose at this point. There's so much time for Clinton and Obama to stay above the fold, talking about the issues and tearing into Bush, for the shine to stay on a lonely McCain and delaying his reengagement with the voters.

That's not to say that they won't find a way. They might do McCain's job for him, keeping him the spotlight by focusing on him rather than the issues. They may attack each other too negatively while McCain stays above the fray. Or perhaps most dangerous–and likely–of all, they may call into question the validity of the nomination process itself, by allowing the superdelegates to decide the nominee or suing over the Florida and Michigan primaries.

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