GOP Insiders Say 2008 Nomination Is Up For Grabs

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U.S. News White House Correspondent Kenneth T. Walsh gives us this item on what senior GOP insiders think of the field of 2008 presidential hopefuls:

Republican insiders are updating their assessment of the strengths and weakness of their presidential front runners. Their verdict: No one has a lock on the nomination and the campaign could last well into next year.

"Rudy Giuliani has had a really good couple of weeks," says a senior GOP strategist with close ties to the White House. The former New York mayor is proving himself a charismatic campaigner, very smart, and fully aware that he needs to address the concerns of conservatives that he is too liberal on social issues such as abortion, gay rights, and gun control. His answer: He would appoint conservative judges to the bench, including the Supreme Court, and won't let his liberal views interfere with that overriding objective.

This is proving to be an effective message to conservative activists, the insiders say, but these activists need further reassurance that Giuliani isn't too liberal.

And Giuliani still can't count on winning the Iowa and Nevada caucuses or the primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina--the first battlegrounds for the GOP nomination early next year. But if he can hold on until the mega-primaries shortly after that, including those tentatively planned for California, Florida, and other big states where his social views are more popular, he can reinforce his charisma with a barrage of TV ads and could go on to win the nomination.

John McCain, who trails Giuliani in some national polls, is still mistrusted in conservative circles for breaking with conservative orthodoxy on tax increases, campaign reform, and other issues. But he still benefits from a strong following among moderates and independents, and he seems to be more energetic and enthusiastic on the campaign trail than he was a few weeks ago. This is easing the concerns of some who had wondered if, at age 70, he was losing some of his fire.

Conservatives are also impressed by McCain's support of President Bush's surge of 21,500 troops into Iraq, which remains popular among many Republicans. This is reminding Republican voters of McCain's reputation as a principled leader who sticks to his guns despite adversity and someone who would be a strong general-election candidate.

Mitt Romney is doing well on the road but remains a questionable commodity among conservatives because he has changed his views on abortion and gay rights. Many GOP insiders think an image of flip-flopping would be devastating in the general-election campaign, as it was for Democrat John Kerry in 2004.

"It's wide open but no one has broken away from the pack, and it's doubtful that anyone will until early next year," says a prominent GOP strategist.