Every so often during a long political campaign, it’s important to re-think your basic premises and determine where you are, given changing events. Seven months into 2007, we are at just such a point in the race for the Republican nomination for president in 2008.
Early this year, I tended to dismiss Rudy Giuliani as a serious prospect for the Republican nomination given his liberal positions on abortion, gun control and gay rights. I assumed no one with that profile could ever win over enough of the Republican Party’s religious right base to be a truly viable candidate.
The press, on the other hand, tended to dismiss Mitt Romney as a serious prospect given his Mormon faith and the unwillingness of the religious right to accept anyone of the Mormon religion as anything other than a member of a cult.
We both turned out to be wrong. With John McCain fading and Fred Thompson yet to emerge as a serious candidate, Giuliani and Romney are the real Republican front-runners and likely to remain so. How did this happen?
There are two factors: money and determined campaigns.
Let’s start with money. Giuliani has turned out to be an excellent fundraiser. He has that great political money center New York as his natural base, having served as a high profile mayor of New York during turbulent times. Less noticed is the fact that he joined forces with a Texas law firm…previously Bracewell and Patterson, now Bracewell and Giuliani. This has permitted him to tap into the Texas fundraising base which has become increasingly important to Republicans in recent years.
Romney has also excelled at fundraising. There are a number of financially successful Mormons and he has drawn heavily from that base, much the way Michael Dukakis drew from the Greek community nationally during his presidential run in 1988.
Additionally, Romney was a highly successful businessman and has drawn heavily from his investment contacts. And finally, Romney has been willing to write very substantial checks to his campaign from his own personal resources. No other candidate, on either side of the aisle, has reached into his own pocket the way Romney has.
Also, Giuliani and Romney have turned out to be energetic, enthusiastic candidates who have campaigned hard across the country. It helps that neither one has a full-time job and, unlike McCain who is still a senator, can devote all their energies to running for president. In recent years, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were basically unemployed when they successfully ran for president. Also, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had jobs as governors that were not particularly demanding when they ran successfully in 1992 and 2000.
McCain has just seemed to run out of energy. Maybe being a U.S. senator and 70 years old is just too much a burden for someone running in a highly competitive field. The rap on Fred Thompson has been that he does not have the energy level of a Giuliani or Romney. Only time will tell in his particular case.
And so here we are with two Republican frontrunners who are clearly outdistancing the field.
This does not mean that Giuliani and Romney are without flaws or that either one of them would win the general election against the ultimate Democratic nominee.
Giuliani has a somewhat abrasive personality and is really basing much of his campaign on fear – fear of another terrorist attack. His style may not play well during the intense scrutiny of a general election and it is interesting to note that New York City policemen and firefighters, the real heroes of 9/11, are not big Rudy fans.
His liberal social positions could also haunt him during a tough general election campaign where the enthusiastic support of religious conservatives will be vital in key swing states.
Romney has an equally serious problem dealing with his inconsistent public statements and positions (flip-flops) on key social issues, such as abortion, which are important to religious conservatives. Even if he does win the nomination, it is certainly possible that the religious right will not be enthusiastic about his campaign in the Fall and sit on their hands.
Giuliani and Romney are the real surprises of 2007. However, they are a long way from winning it all.
Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a partner at the law firm of Polsinelli, Shalton, Flanigan and Suelthaus. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.