For GOP, still no clear favorite

As the dust was settling from the South Carolina GOP primary, it has become clear that, while Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) has the momentum, there is still no definitive frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.

With the early contests split, only former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators The 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill MORE and McCain have been able to notch multiple wins as the inherent flaws of each of the candidates have come into focus more so than the state of the race.

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The next two big days that might help develop that focus and possibly narrow the field will take place on Jan. 29 when Florida votes and the following week on Super Tuesday. However, it is possible that those contest could cause even more upheaval for a party that is looking for a successor to President Bush.

Until then, though, McCain is leading the pack, even if he has not been able to clearly separate himself from the field. However, after winning the key first southern primary and leading in the polls, McCain will clearly become the hunted. History is also on his side. Since 1980, every Republican candidate who has won the party’s nomination has won the South Carolina primary first.

Florida is the next great battle and McCain’s next test. This was evidenced by the fact that, before the Arizona senator could even take the stage for a victory speech Saturday night, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s campaign was serving notice to its rivals that the former mayor has set up shop in the Sunshine State and he is waiting. Most analysts and pundits have freely questioned the wisdom of Giuliani’s strategy of skipping the early states and instead hinging his hopes on big wins in Florida and the Feb. 5 states.

The wide-open field with multiple winners in multiple states has clearly been music to the ears of Giuliani’s strategists, but it remains to be seen whether the former mayor really did himself any favors by essentially sitting out the first rounds.

Tony Carbonetti, Giuliani’s senior adviser, sent out an email to reporters shortly after McCain was declared the winner over former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in a tight race in South Carolina, essentially telling McCain, Romney and Huckabee that the game is just starting.

“While the race remains wide open, we welcome the candidates to Florida for a real discussion of the issues we’ve been talking about since day one,” Carbonetti wrote.

Giuliani’s camp has largely sat out the opening contests, watching as Huckabee won Iowa, Romney took Wyoming, Michigan and Nevada and McCain came out on top in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

In fact, much of the media has written off Giuliani as his name has disappeared from the headlines and the spotlight shone brightest on those early-voting states.

But Carbonetti served notice Saturday night that the campaign is prepared to fight hard to win what now looks like a four-person tie in Florida, where a win will be crucial heading into Super Tuesday.

“Florida voters know that in a field where one candidate twice voted against the Bush tax cuts and another wasn’t even sure they were a good idea, Rudy is the only candidate who has a record of cutting taxes, a plan for the largest tax cut in modern American history and a proven ability to jumpstart the economy,” Carbonetti wrote.

For the most part, the rest of the field does not seem to be intimidated by Giuliani’s longtime presence in Florida. Romney arrived in the state Saturday afternoon and both McCain and Huckabee said Saturday night they were heading that way shortly.

It does appear that the field will be smaller after South Carolina. Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.) reportedly withdrew from the race Saturday night, and former Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn.) hardly sounded like a man prepared to go the distance after a lackluster finish in the Palmetto State.