At first glance, it sounds very impressive when you see numbers like these. Wow, Mitt Romney must be very popular in South Carolina, huh? It looks like the fact that Romney’s been hunting fewer times than Rudy Giuliani’s been married — as James Carville pointed out — isn’t hurting him at all in Dixie. Hmmm, something smells a little fishy here…

Sure enough, these county “straw polls” are highly dubious measures of support, in which payola goes a long way to determining the winner. In fact, these early “contests” that are largely about money, and that have in the past served to whittle down the Republican field, might prove to be a liability for the party this time.

As we saw in 2004 and in the first quarter of 2007, the financial playing field has been leveled. It’s unlikely the Republican candidate will have any advantage in money in 2008, so doing things the old way — selecting a nominee based upon who the money men have lined up behind — could turn out to be a costly mistake.

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