I'M NOT RUNNING JUST TO BE AN ALSO-RAN -- I'M RUNNING TO BE THE TOP ALSO-RAN!
If The New York Times is right about John McCain's strategy, he's nuts:
... Senator John McCain and Mitt Romney have been mixing it up on the trail with increasing intensity ever since their feisty exchange at the last Republican debate....
[But] If Mr. McCain and Mr. Romney have been skirmishing, Mr. McCain and Mr. Giuliani have something between a nonaggression pact and a mutual admiration society going....
It is an unusual dynamic, to have the candidates placing second and third in most national opinion polls engaging one another fiercely, while allowing the front-runner a wide berth.
Er, yeah, I'll say. But we're assured McCain knows what he's doing:
Tactically, Mr. McCain and Mr. Romney are in direct competition because they have both invested enormous resources to compete in the early nominating contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Mr. Giuliani, though, seems to be leaning toward competing more heavily in the more populous states, including California and New York, holding their primaries on Feb. 5. Several state-by-state polls have shown Mr. Romney gaining ground -- even holding leads, in some -- in Iowa and New Hampshire....
Except that Giuliani and McCain are tied for second in Iowa, per the Real Clear Politics poll average, and Romney's a distant third in South Carolina. And Giuliani's a very close third in New Hampshire (where, by the way, a Romney victory can be discounted, as Paul Tsongas's was in '92, because he's practically a favorite son). And Giuliani will be extremely competitive in all of these states if Fred Thompson chooses not to run, or if he runs and his candidacy fizzles.
Oh and Florida's going to vote in January, and Rudy's taking that state very seriously. (Remember, a lot of ex-New Yorkers live there, as well as a lot of fellow Catholics.) Plus, nationwide, he's the damn front-runner -- and this year we're going tro have Ultra-Mega-Super Tuesday to (possibly) bear that out. So why ignore him?
For this reason?
On top of that, Mr. Romney and Mr. McCain are competing for conservative support. To some extent, that base of voters is up for grabs because of Mr. Giuliani's current support of abortion rights, Mr. Romney's former support of abortion rights and the distrust with which many conservative groups view Mr. McCain because of his sponsorship of campaign finance legislation and his initial opposition to President Bush’s tax cuts.
Actually, McCain is competing for any support he can get. He'd probably have non-conservative support locked up if Rudy weren't in the race; as for conservatives, a lot of them love Rudy -- much more than they love McCain -- though some have fallen for Mitt's pitch, a few are with Hunter or Huckabee or Brownback or Tancredo, and a lot are waiting for Fred Thompson (or, to a lesser extent, Gingrich) to get in the race. McCain is competing to be, at best, high in the second tier among wingnut voters. He's going to win only if he beats Rudy for the non-wingnuts.
The Times article and a Times blog post suggest another reason for the nonaggression pact -- Rudy and John really seem to dig one another. From the article:
Mr. McCain and Mr. Giuliani have something of a political friendship. Mr. Giuliani, after all, bucked much of New York's Republican establishment in 2000 when it tried to keep Mr. McCain off the primary ballot. The two men have taken in a number of ballgames together, not to mention meals in New York’s Little Italy.
Lose the election. Take the cannoli.