"Epiphany": Mitt doing well in early states, may actually win nomination

Big scoop on the left, apparently. Mitt’s strategy since day one has been to spend spend spend in Iowa and New Hampshire to sell himself as the true social conservative and then ride the buzz of primary wins there into Super Ultra Mega Tuesday. With one exception, he’s led in every major poll in each state since June. He’s right in the thick of it in South Carolina now, too, and has been since Insider Advantage put him within five points of the lead as far back as the first week of October. The more social cons learn about Rudy, the more Mitt markets himself as an alternative, the clearer his path is.

The one piece of real news in TPM’s graphs is that Mitt’s support has stayed firm even as Huckabee has gained. To me that suggests two things: (1) even if Huck upsets him in Iowa, Mitt still might have enough left to take New Hampshire and Michigan while pouring money into South Carolina to edge Huck, setting up Rudy’s last stand in Florida on January 29th; and (2) irony of ironies, it may now be to Mitt’s advantage to keep Fred in the race for as long as he can. Fred’s got 15% in his pocket and most of that’s probably southern and social conservative, just like Huck. It’s hard to imagine Fred doing so badly in Iowa and New Hampshire that he’d drop out before South Carolina, the primary he’s been banking on, but if he loses there then he may pack it in before Florida. That would leave Huck the lucky recipient of many Fredheads and, quite possibly, the beneficiary of some key evangelical endorsements around the same time — and remember, he’s already surging in Florida. The upshot? Mitt vs. Huck on Super Tuesday, each with a couple of primaries in his pocket, one with big cash and the other with big momentum. Or not. I don’t know.

Update: Or is the big winner here McCain? A reader e-mails:

Let’s say — just as a thought experiment — that Huckabee wins in Iowa.

Assume also that Hillary wins Iowa convincingly and thus becomes the presumed Democrat nominee.

Finally, assume that McCain continues to make gains in NH (he has been doing well in the polls there the past few weeks).

In this scenario, lots of GOP voters will be looking for someone who can beat Hillary.

Voters will be hearing a steady stream of very negative information about both Romney and Huckabee–especially Romney’s flip flops and Huckabee’s weakness on taxes, spending, immigration.

Both will be (accurately) considered weak candidates in a general election not withstanding the one recent poll that showed them ahead of Hillary.

NH independents will vote in the GOP race (which will still be unsettled), not the Democrat race (which will be considered over).

With the conservative vote split between Romney and Huckabee (with a sprinkling of conservatives voting for Thompson or Paul), I think McCain would carry NH. It would be a stunning upset and would give him a lot of momentum going forward.

The potential problem with this scenario is that Huckabee’s not registering in New Hampshire: Mitt leads him 33-6 in the RCP average and has the homefield advantage. There are only five days between Iowa and New Hampshire, too, making it hard for Huck to exploit an upset in the former. As such, it’d be foolish for Mitt to preoccupy himself by taking shots at Huck unless his Iowa bounce is enormous. Also, even if McCain did win, how much momentum can it give him in a deep-red state like South Carolina that loathes his immigration policies? He’d have to win either Michigan or Nevada before SC and Rudy and Mitt are both in front of him at the moment.