Senator John McCain has more than half the delegates he needs to clinch the Republican nomination for president. He has more delegates than former Governors Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee combined. His lead is strong enough than one of Governor Romney’s aides confessed to CNN on Wednesday that it will be difficult for his candidate to catch up to the frontrunner. They’re now longshots, but both Governor Romney and Governor Huckabee have vowed to stay in the race until the end. And Senator McCain is no doubt hoping they both their word.
If anything could stop Senator McCain’s march to the nomination it would be facing just one opponent. That would give the ABM-forces (Anybody But McCain) a single candidate to rally behind. The more conservative wing of the party still holds tremendous sway within the GOP. United, they might — emphasis on might — be able to avoid the nomination of the Senator McCain. So long as both former Governors stay in the race, however, there’s no chance at all.
Governor Romney and Governor Huckabee both have constituencies within the Republican party. Governor Huckabee has impressively leveraged his support among evangelical Christians to win several primaries. I was one of those who thought he’d be finished on Super Tuesday. His wins in the Bible Belt kept him in the hunt. I still don’t think he has a chance to win the nomination, but he certainly will be a factor at the convention.
Meanwhile, Governor Romney polled well among conservative voters who don’t trust McCain, but also don’t necessarily consider themselves evangelicals. He fared poorly in the Southeast, where Governor Huckabee did well, but he had respectable wins in the Midwest.
It’s not that dissimilar to what happened among the Democrats. Senator Hillary Clinton was, for much of the nomination marathon, the controversial frontrunner for her party’s nomination. Senator Barack Obama and former Senator John Edwards split the anti-Clinton vote. They had to compete not only with Senator Clinton to get their message out, but with each other as well. Once Senator Edwards withdrew from the race, Democratic voters were presented with a stark, either-or proposition. And Senator Obama benefited from this dynamic.
If either Governor Romney or Governor Huckabee were to drop out of the Republican nomination battle, the remaining candidate not named John McCain would benefit. Not only would the anti-McCain votes have only one place to go, but the remaining former Governor would have any easier time getting his message heard. Yet, so long as both the candidates remain in the race, Senator McCain will be able to accelerate his pursuit of the nomination.
That would be just fine with Senator McCain. In fact, the only thing better for his candidacy would be if both of his opponents withdrew from the race. So long as Governor Romney and Huckabee act in unison, Senator McCain should be happy.