8 on ’08: Is McCain Out as 'Frontrunner'?

Our weekly roundup gives you everything you need to know to navigate the cocktail parties this weekend.

By: Garrett M. Graff

Here’s what you need to know from another news-packed week in the 2008 presidential race:

1) When all is said and done in 2008, this may be remembered as the week when John McCain lost the presidency. He suffered two major set-backs this week that combined to severely damage—or end entirely—his status as the GOP frontrunner. First, his first quarter fundraising numbers came in at a disappointing $12.5 million, which in any other year would be a shocking total but this year had him with only about half of Mitt Romney’s total. Second, McCain’s ongoing and unquestioning support of the Iraq War is beginning to look stranger and stranger. After a tiff with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer last week over whether Baghdad was safe to walk around in, McCain went to Baghdad to walk around—and proved that as long as you’re surrounded by 100 armed U.S. troops, 3 Black Hawk helicopters and 2 Apache gunships AND wearing a bulletproof vest, you’re safe. The images from the photo op did more to undermine his image in Washington’s chattering class than almost anything in the race so far. In the end, the April Fool’s Day Baghdad visit made him look, well, foolish.

2) Rudy Giuliani, meanwhile, had perhaps his best week yet in the race. He got mostly good reviews during an Iowa campaign swing and appears firmly committed to competing in the first-in-the-nation caucus there—a critical commitment for any serious candidate. His $15 million in fundraising—including $10 million just in March—puts him near the top of the GOP pack and proves that if he’s serious about running, he can put on a good show. The downside for this week? He just can’t shake the whole abortion question.

3) Hillary Clinton should have shone this week with her stunning $36 million (including $10 million from her Senate account), but Barack Obama managed to steal the spotlight by raising nearly as much—and when the final reports come out later this month, he might very well have more money because most of his cash came for his primary bid whereas Hillary was raising money for the general election too. Obama managed to also have twice as many donors, which means they’re donating smaller amounts and he can go back to them again and again.

4) The media is continuing to fuel speculation that Fred Thompson might enter the race sooner rather than later. Polls coming out of the field now include Thompson, who generally places in the top tier of candidates. Perhaps even more troublesome for the current front-runners, the continuing boomlets for Romney, Newt Gingrich, Chuck Hagel, Thompson, and Tom Tancredo (see next item) show the right’s general unhappiness with the field of GOP candidates.

5) The entrance of anti-immigration candidate Congressman Tom Tancredo into the race this week will ensure that the Republican field has to be a little bit more strident on immigration than they’d probably prefer. Tancredo has a pretty strong (albeit small) base of support among conservatives and received much praise during the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) earlier this spring.

6) Former Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, whose 2004 nomination as Homeland Security secretary was torpedoed amid various scandal allegations, is continuing to dog Giuliani and with word this week that Kerik might face federal indictment, Giulianin may face the uncomfortable and embarrassing prospect of having his business dealings undergoing court scrutiny amid a presidential race. Given that the business of Giuliani Partners is one of the mayor’s least favorite subjects to begin with, this is terrible news for Hizzoner.

7) Also in the money race this week, a handful of candidates on both sides risk being downgraded to “also rans.” Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, and Mike Huckabee all raised comparatively tiny amounts. Bill Richardson and Sam Brownback meanwhile raised just enough to keep them in contention, although not nearly enough to run the massive effort a top-tier campaign will entail in 2008.

8) With California sliding into place, the country is set for its first “national” primary day on February 5, 2008. The heavy early front-loading will mean that candidates will have to go into the Iowa and New Hampshire contests with the money and organization to scale up quickly to fight a national battle on television and at the polls. There won’t be nearly as much room for a late-breaking alternative to appear. The winners of the concept of a national primary day? Hillary, Obama, Edwards, Romney, Giuliani, and McCain. The losers? Every other candidate.