The Rudy v. Hillary race

John Podhoretz:

WEDNESDAY brought two key developments in the 2008 race for the White House. Together, they make it increasingly likely we're finally going to see that Hillary-vs.-Rudy match-up we were denied in New York's 2000 Senate race.

First, Democratic candidates for president appeared in a debate in New Hampshire - and Sen. Hillary Clinton's rivals failed to act in any way to slow or derail the bullet train that is her bid for the party's nomination next year.

...

At this point, a little more than three months before voters show up in Iowa and New Hampshire, it's clear that none of Hillary's foes has the stomach to fight with her. Any that did would have been making a major issue on Wednesday out of her campaign's relationship with indicted mystery multimillionaire donor Norman Hsu.

...

Sorry. It's all but over for the Democrats.

That's not so on the Republican side - but Rudy Giuliani got very good news Wednesday: A new poll in New Hampshire has him one point off the lead. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney still tops the field with 25 percent, but Rudy is right there with him at 24 percent.

Two months ago, Romney was running away with it in the Granite State, leading everyone by double digits. But he had spent a lot of money there on advertising and mail - and nobody else had.

Seven weeks ago, Giuliani began radio ads, sent out some mail and made five appearances in the state. The results are unmistakable, and appear in all four New Hampshire polls this month: Romney down, Rudy up.

This is significant because (aside from the "unforeseen event" risk), the only plausible scenario for stopping Rudy depends on him losing in New Hampshire.

The strength of Giuliani's candidacy lies in his appeal in larger states - he holds leads in Florida, New York, New Jersey, California, Illinois and Pennsylvania.

In the past, that wouldn't have mattered: Those states held their primaries too late to matter. But this time, all have their primaries within 28 days of New Hampshire's balloting.

The Giuliani campaign figures that if he can stay aggressively in the mix through January, the super-duper, 21-state primary day of Feb. 5 can leave him with a triple-digit lead in delegates over any other GOP candidate.

Part of the secret is this: Giuliani's stronghold of Florida holds the only January primary where the winner gets all the delegates. Every other January state - New Hampshire, Michigan and South Carolina - parcels out delegates to candidates piecemeal. (It's based either on the size of their victory or on who wins which congressional district.)

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Giuliani has been the most effective candidate at attacking the Democrats and he has already directly challenged Hillary on her refusal to disavow the MoveOn slanderous ad. He has also been very effective at framing the argument over the war. Democrats have painted themselves into the defeat corner and are now trying to find a way out. Rudy is unlikely to give them one.

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