Patrick Ruffini sees the leading GOP candidates carrying the banner for three distinct camps in the Republican Party.
“Despite the different actors and alliances in different states, we are beginning to see the real dividing lines of this campaign. It’s the battle of the moderates (McCain), metro conservatives (Romney), and rural conservatives (Huckabee). Stripped of all other hangers-on (Fred, and increasingly, Rudy), nationwide this divide seems to work out to about 40-40-20, or 35-40-25. Conservatives ought to be winning this battle, but Huckabee’s lock on the rural vote (just 16% of the vote in Charleston County, btw) will prevent any kind of clear two-man race before February 5th. Every day that Huckabee’s nice guy act is allowed to continue is a gift to John McCain — and he knows it.
“Mitt Romney is fast becoming the candidate of conservatives in the suburbs and the exurbs. In Michigan, he dominated Oakland and Macomb counties with 46% of the vote in a multi-candidate field. In Nevada, he won most convincingly in Clark County. In Iowa, he did better in Des Moines than elsewhere in the state.
“The Romney and McCain coalitions also overlap. They represent two different sides of the establishment coin, with McCain representing an older, mainline establishment — the Republican Party of Gerry Ford, Howard Baker, and Bob Dole — and Romney representing the brasher, post-Reagan establishment that was built on the tax issue and whose alliance with modern-day Huckabee voters allowed them to take control of the party in 1994.”
I agree with Ruffini’s analysis of Romney — Most of the Republicans I know from Montgomery County, Md. or Fairfield County, Ct. are supporting him. I also think he hits the nail on the head for Huckabee — He clearly is a favorite among rural, religious voters. But McCain is a more difficult candidate to figure out. He’s done well in the suburban counties like Charleston, S.C. but also in areas where the religious Right has a strong presence like western Michigan.
The most interesting county nationwide may have been Kent County, Mich., home of Grand Rapids. As Gerald Ford’s hometown, it’s where his presidential library and Gerald Ford International Airport are located. Ford’s legacy is still strong in Grand Rapids, so by Ruffini’s analysis, McCain should have had an upper hand there. But Grand Rapids is also a very religious and culturally conservative county and has a very strong Dutch Reformed Church presence. Many pundits thought this fact would play well for Huckabee.
But it was Romney, and not McCain or Huckabee, who won Grand Rapids. Romney took 38% to McCain’s 31%. It’s a suburban county, so Ruffini’s analysis works, but the county has enough demographics cutting different ways to make it interesting.