In a Cook Report/RT Strategies national poll conducted at the beginning of February, John McCain was the clear front-runner, garnering 39% of the vote. The rest of the field: Romney – 24%, Huckabee – 18%, Paul – 6%. Factor in the second choice of Huckabee and Paul voters, and there’s a dramatic upheaval in the standings. Romney marches into the lead, with 44%, while McCain slips to 38%. The anti-McCain vote was split among three candidates, and the fractured field eventually handed McCain the nomination.
A series of improbable events awakened McCain from his summer slumber. First, immigration, the issue credited with temporarily sinking his candidacy, largely disappeared from the media spotlight. His gamble on the surge also paid off, lending him crucial credibility on the war in the general election. Then, Huckabee upstaged Romney in Iowa, improving McCain’s chances in New Hampshire. McCain’s luck compounded as Giuliani had pulled out of the Granite State, leaving his moderate voters to McCain. Take any one of these dominoes out of the chain, and it’s likely another candidate would be claiming the nomination.