In a new FoxNews poll, McCain leads Romney nationally 48-20 with Huckabee at 19 and Paul at 5, along with 5% not knowing and 2% refusing to vote. If you reduce it to a two-man McCain v. Romney race, the result among Republicans is McCain 62, Romney 29, 6% not knowing and 3% refusing to vote. These numbers are almost the reverse of Bush v. McCain at this stage in 2000. Granted, this is a national poll and is not terribly reliable for predicting actual voting, but what this seems to show is that most of the Huckabee and Paul voters simply will not go for Romney. You do have to assume that anti-Mormonism has something to do with this, particularly among Huckabee supporters, but it is also hard to miss that Huckabee supporters have made clear in state after state that their second choice is McCain. Perhaps these are the voters who are drawn to candidates on the basis of personality and biography and are not issues voters, in which case they align with the candidates who have received the most favourable media coverage and who appear through that coverage to be the most appealing characters.
Romney appears to have picked up most of the hard-core anti-McCain vote by default: two months ago with the same question about a two-way race, 23% said they would not vote. Over half of those since went to Romney, and McCain has gained only a few points. This seems to mean that more than half of Romney’s current supporters nationwide are only coming to his side grudgingly because the McCain v. Romney match-up has now become the reality, and their preferred candidates are no longer likely to win. That implies that Romney has a very weak base of support that has settled for him for lack of other competitive options. Romney has managed to end up in an almost unheard-of bind: he is getting trounced nationally in a three- or four-way race, and he then actually loses ground in the two-man race his campaign is trumpeting in its latest communications. Strangely, Huckabee’s persistence in the race, while slowly but surely killing Romney’s campaign, is also preventing McCain from delivering the fatal blow right away. This means that a vote for Huckabee is not so much a vote for McCain as it is potentially a vote for chaos. Indeed, at this point chaos may be the anti-McCain forces’ best and only real friend.