Fred Thompson’s entrance into the Republican race arrived amidst much fanfare from the conservative base dissatisfied with the three leading candidates at the time. But since his delayed announcement, Thompson has failed to live up to the lofty expectations. In Iowa, Thompson registers a paltry 4th place, while in New Hampshire, Thompson’s at the back of the pack in 6th place. However, the campaign has made it no secret that the first test comes in South Carolina, where the Tennesse senator hopes to capitalize on his southern appeal.
Right now, Thompson is running a close third behind Romney and Giuliani in the Palmetto State and has begun running television advertisements. But the way the nominating calendar has shaped up, focusing on a state that goes third is a losing strategy.
Let’s examine the likeliest scenarios for Iowa and New Hampshire.
- Romney maintains his leads in Iowa and New Hampshire and takes both states. Buoyed by the two victories, he comes into South Carolina with momentum. Giuliani doesn’t suffer too much because he’s been discounting the importance of the early contests (but still actively participating in them). No chance for Thompson to increase his numbers, and Romney romps to victory.
- Romney wins Iowa, but Giuliani manages to steal New Hampshire. Giuliani benefits from a wave of positive press and enters South Carolina with momentum. Giuliani goes up, and Romney may dip slightly after a loss in a heavily-invested state. A small chance for Thompson to increase his numbers by chipping away at Romney supporters, but Giuliani’s gain is too large to overcome. Either Giuliani or Romney takes the state.
- Huckabee triumphs in Iowa, and Giuliani benefits from Romney’s devastating loss to win in New Hampshire. This is the most beneficial scenario to Thompson, as Romney’s candidacy would effectively be dead. Still, Romney supporters would be split across various candidates – Huckabee, Thompson, Giuliani – and Giuliani benefits from the same momentum as in Scenario 2. Bottom line: Thompson loses to Giuliani.
In all three scenarios, Thompson loses out to a candidate that benefited from momentum in the prior states.
On the Democratic side in 2004, Wesley Clark skipped Iowa to focus on New Hampshire and present himself as the alternate to Dean. However, Kerry and Edwards were the two big stories coming out of Iowa due to their one-two finish, getting momentum while Clark missed out on the chance to get a bump. This time around, Thompson’s basically skipping the first two states, leaving significant opportunities for other candidates to break through.