Just when his carefully-planned "early state strategy" to win the Republican Presidential nomination seemed threatened by the sudden emergence of Mike Huckabee as a contender in Iowa, other early-voting states, and nationally, Mitt Romney has found a powerful new ally in his quest.
His new friend's name? Mike Huckabee.
Romney just won the endorsement of National Review, probably the most influential of conservative magazines. I found the timing rather odd, since Romney has hardly been without critics on the magazine's staff (neither have the other candidates), and there was clearly no general consensus in his favor among the contributors.
Editor Rich Lowry explained to Hugh Hewitt that this was the last issue of the print edition which would appear before Iowa and New Hampshire vote, so it was now or never for an endorsement. Plausible, but hardly compelling reasoning. There are fully five candidates in the wide-open race now with some chance of winning, and at least two of them (Giuliani and Thompson) have strategies which don't count on wins in the earliest contests. There was plenty of time if they wished to reserve judgment.
As I see it, they decided they could not wait and risk seeing Mike Huckabee vault to a commanding lead. He runs particularly well with voters associated with "the Religious Right," and such voters comprise significant shares of the Republican primary electorate in states like Iowa, Michigan, and South Carolina. Should Huckabee win those three of the first five states (New Hampshire and Nevada are leaning towards Romney), he might have garnered enough momentum and media attention to beat Giuliani in Florida on January 29th, which could effectively have ended the race.
As our reader McGehee has pointed out, the Democrats won't touch Huckabee at all, in the hopes he will be the nominee. Negative ads in Iowa have a history of backfiring, so that strategy holds much risk for his opponents. Huckabee's record should be alarming enough to conservatives that we share National Review's concerns.
Perhaps there is a touch of irony in the way this is unfolding: Romney has been leading in Iowa all year, and the question has been, "Can anyone stop Mitt?" Now, just as he should be starting to worry about Huckabee, conservatives flock to Romney - because he's the only one "who can stop Mike."
Not an altogether surprising turn of events, though, because candidates often win elections by pointing out the alternative.
UPDATE: From Byron York at The Corner:
The National Review endorsement of Romney is news here, too. A lot of people are surprised - not that the editors endorsed Romney specifically, but that they chose to endorse anyone. It will be interesting to see if it comes up in today's debate.
This information certainly doesn't contradict my theory of the endorsement.