Fred Thompson

Good News for Anyone But McCain

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Ryan Sager parses the new Quinnipiac poll on the GOP race and finds bad news for Giuliani, good news for McCain.

Compared to Quinnipiac's last national poll in February, Mr. Giuliani fell to 27% from 40% — a huge tumble. Mr. Romney barely budged, going to 8% from 7%. Mr. McCain also barely budged, going to 19% from 18%. And Mr. Thompson burst onto the scene, coming in at 14%, having not been included in the last poll (and, as usual, stealing third place from Mr. Romney, despite not having lifted a finger).

So, the bad news for Mr. Giuliani is obvious: a big tumble, and the appearance that it has been caused almost entirely by Mr. Thompson stealing a big chunk of his support out from under him. The bad news for Mr. Romney is equally obvious: that he's being overshadowed by a guy who's not even in the race. As for the good news for Mr. Thompson: He's doing great for a guy not doing anything.

What's less obvious is why this is mixed news for Mr. McCain. Given that his support in this poll has hardly budged since February — when he's just gotten finished with a major "re-launch" of his campaign — one might be tempted to call it unadulterated bad news. Sure, his main rival, Mr. Giuliani, has taken a hit, but he also now has to contend with Mr. Thompson nipping at his heels.

Digging into the internals, Sager sees the makings of a possible McCain comeback. I'm not convinced. I see more evidence of an iron-clad anti-McCain vote that goes as high as 80 percent. McCain has been trying to lower that threshold with his bullishness about the Iraq War, which most Republican voters still support. But if Fred Thompson gets in, he'll be saving the exact same things about Iraq, sounding better doing it, and halting McCain's advance on the issue. And if Thompson doesn't get in, most of that anti-McCain vote swings back to Giuliani.

But Sager sees some potential in Giuliani's dip in evangelical support and McCain's rise.

They are evidence that Mr. Giuliani's liberal social views are catching up with him, while Mr. McCain is having some success reminding social conservatives that, though he's had some spats with the religious right, his views aren't that far out of the Republican mainstream.

McCain's done more than "had spats" - he's done more to screw over the right-to-life movement than anyone in the GOP field, or most of the Democrats. Whether McCain can rise much higher with evangelicals depends on how many of those groups turn their guns on him before the primaries.