The Shape of a Hillary-Rudy Race

Current national polls show both Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani with solid leads for their respective party's nominations. Clinton holds about a 20% lead over  Barack Obama in national polls , and is rated by London odds-makers a near 60% probability to be nominated.  Obama has faded a bit as a serious contender despite his early fund-raising success, following a series of what appeared to many to be naïve and contradictory statements on foreign policy issues. 

Giuliani's lead for the GOP nomination over still unannounced candidate Fred Thompson has grown to about 10% in recent weeks.  The London odds-makers give Rudy a near 40% shot at the nomination, with Mitt Romney second at 23%.  Romney's strength in Iowa and New Hampshire means he is likely to be in the race for the duration, and given his substantial personal financial resources, he has a decent shot to be nominated. Thompson does not lead in any of the initial state contests and could fade as quickly as his star rose a few weeks back.  I think the national surveys in coming weeks will show an up-tick for Romney and a decline for Thompson, a trend that began in the past two weeks.  On the other hand, if McCain falls out of the race at some point, much of his support will go to Giuliani.

In head-to-head polls for the general election, Giuliani runs better than any other Republican against possible Democratic nominees (McCain runs second best, and Romney the weakest ) and he and Hillary are approximately tied when they are paired in the polls. Rudy's national strength as a candidate is one reason why liberal media outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post have started to rough him up a bit.  In the case of the Times, Giuliani weathered this for 8 years as mayor, so it is nothing new. The Senate duel between Hillary and Rudy in New York that never happened in 2000 due to Giuliani's prostate cancer may instead play out on a far bigger stage next year.

John Edwards, who has almost no chance to be the nominee for the Democrats, and has gone the farthest in pandering to the left wing activist base of the Democratic Party in an attempt to gain some media attention and  traction against his celebrity opponents for the nomination, runs better in head-to-head races against the GOP candidates than either Hillary or Obama. Could it be that a white male is a safer bet than a woman or African-American for the Democrats?

The 2008 Presidential contest is shaping up to be similar to the 2000 and 2004 races. Those two races had very similar red - blue maps.  In 2000, Bush won 30 states (including all the states in the South), and in 2004 Bush won 31 states. He picked up Iowa and New Mexico in 2004, in each case winning by less than 10,000 votes, after losing both states by similar narrow margins in 2000, and Bush lost New Hampshire in 2004, after narrowly winning the state in 2000.  This was similar to the pattern in the 1992 and 1996 races, when but 5 states changed from one election to the next (Clinton gaining Florida and Arizona in 1996, and losing Colorado, Montana and Georgia that year). Clinton won 32 states in 1992 and 31 in 1996.  The big shift was from 1996 to 2000, when the GOP picked up 11 states it had lost in 1996: Ohio, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Nevada and Arizona.

Looking at the map for 2008, Giuliani would bring strength to the GOP in the northeast (where it is now weakest), and maybe the Midwest region among suburban voters, and would likely run weaker than Bush did in the South (where the Party has been the strongest) and Southwest.  In 2004, Bush won Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada and Ohio by less than 3%, and Florida and Colorado by 5%. All six states will be very competitive in 2008.  John Kerry won New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by less than 3%, and Michigan, Minnesota and Oregon by 3 to 4%. All six states are likely to be competitive, with the possible exception of New Hampshire, which is trending Democratic.  Giuliani probably puts New Jersey and its 15 Electoral votes in play.  On the other side, Virginia (13) and Arkansas (6) are the most winnable Southern states for the Democrats (other than Florida), and Missouri will likely be a close race as well (Bush won by 7% in 2004).

As in 2000 and 2004, the election race is likely to be played out in about a dozen states, at most probably 15-16. Each party starts with similar numbers of seemingly safe Electoral College votes (183 by my count for the GOP, and 167-171 for the Democrats, depending on whether New Hampshire is still competitive). 

This is where the VP selection can matter to each party. The Democrats can improve their chances in one or two states by selecting a Southerner for the number two spot. In particular, Mark Warner could be a big help in winning Virginia. While the Democrats won the Governor's race and the Senate race in Virginia the last two years, in the 2004 Presidential race, Bush carried the state by 9%. Governor Phil Bredesen might make Tennessee more competitive but native son (of sorts) Al Gore could not win the state as the Presidential nominee in 2000.

If Senator Bill Nelson of Florida were the number two pick for the Democrats, that would improve the Party's chances of winning the state's 27 Electoral College votes.  Bush won Florida by 5% in 2004, and in an otherwise bad year for the Republicans, Charlie Crist won the open seat Governor's race by 7% in 2006.  The GOP starts out as the favorite in both Virginia and Florida in 2008.

On the GOP side, assuming the nominee is Rudy Giuliani, he could improve his appeal to social conservatives and Southerners by picking for his VP nominee a candidate such as Mike Huckabee of Arkansas. That would likely secure that state's 6 Electoral votes, and might enhance his margin in other Southern states as well. But the GOP nominee will be favored in all the Southern states to begin with.

A more strategic choice might be to pick Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, who survived a re-election race last year when his party lost badly in the state's other races.  Pawlenty could help Rudy in Minnesota and Wisconsin, which Bush lost by a very small margin in 2000 and 2004, and also in Iowa, which leaned to the Democrats in the 2006 election. The GOP has scheduled its nominating convention for the Twin Cities, suggesting a push for the Upper Midwest.  

Another possible number two pick could be a Midwestern congressman, such as Mike Pence of Indiana, or Rob Portman, the current US Trade representative and former Ohio Congressman, who might help the ticket in Ohio, which might be the toughest state for the GOP to hold in 2008, after the Republicans were routed in all statewide races in 2006.

There are of course potential wildcard nominees on both sides.  If Hillary were nominated, she could pick Obama. But I think having two national ticket nominees who were first-of-a-kind may be too much of a risk for the Party, especially since both Hillary and Obama have appeal to the same groups.  Bill Richardson of New Mexico, on the other hand, would help the Party in the very competitive heavily Hispanic western states of New Mexico (42%), Colorado (17%) and Nevada (20%). Richardson may have hurt his chances, however,  with some unnecessary whoppers on the campaign trail (e.g that he is both a Yankees and a Red Sox fan). 

On the GOP side, the Party might want to make a wild card pick of someone* like Michael Steele of Maryland or Ken Blackwell of Ohio, African-Americans who lost statewide races in 2006. If the GOP were to increase its share of the African-American vote from 10% to 20% from such a selection, it could improve the GOP's chances in several close states with significant African-American population, such as Ohio (11%), Pennsylvania (10%), New Jersey (13%),  Michigan (14%) and Florida (14%).

It seems likely, though not certain at this point, that the Democrats will hold control of both the House and Senate after the 2008 elections, and could enlarge their majority, especially in the Senate.  The Presidency, however, is very much up for grabs, and with it the President's potential ability to appoint a few Supreme Court  justices in the next few years. I think we are headed for a fierce, bitter, extraordinarily expensive fight ahead.

*Editor's note: Note: An earlier version of this article listed Sen. Mel Martinez as a possible VP selection. Martinez was born in Cuba, which makes him unable to succeed to the presidency and thus his selection as a VP highly unlikely as was pointed out by reader  Ed Arcuir

Richard Baehr is the political director of American Thinker.