Conversely, two candidates took significant hits to their chances. Romney was clearly dealt a blow tonight. Now, he's in a position where anything other than a win in New Hampshire will likely drive him out of the race. Fred Thompson also suffered a big loss today because Huckabee has laid claim to the Evangelical vote. With Huckabee and either McCain or Romney likely to be major players in South Carolina, it's hard to see Thompson's Palmetto State plan working out. I'd be a little surprised if Thompson doesn't drop out and endorse McCain sometime between now and South Carolina.
Let's take a look back at Marc Ambinder's paths to the nomination:
Mike Huckabee's pathway.... Huckabee wins Iowa convincingly, helping John McCain to beat Romney in NH narrowly, causing Romney to falter; Huckabee, skipping Michigan, wins South Carolina handily, having grabbed conservatives from Fred Thompson... he loses narrowly to Rudy Giuliani on Jan. 29, in Florida, but Huckabee has enough momentum, delegates and money to make a run at the southern states (Georgia Alabama) who hold contests on Feb. 5; Giuliani wins the northern states, and for the next few weeks, Huckabee and Giuliani battle for d decisive delegate edge. Giuliani's social positions prove too onerous; Huckabee cleans up in debates, and Huckabee slides to victory, narrowly.
Now Huckabee has step one of the program down. Since a win in New Hampshire looks unlikely, his strategy now centers around South Carolina. He needs to come out of there with a big win so that he can take Giuliani (and his money) on toe to toe in Florida. To do that, he needs McCain and Romney to split New Hampshire and Michigan. If one of them wins both, they could be a credible challenger in South Carolina, at the very least making it impossible for Huckabee to become the sole anti-Rudy.
John McCain could win the nomination if.... McCain comes in a surprise third in Iowa, or not; he wins New Hampshire, wins or ties in Michigan, which merits him a second look in South Carolina. Those big fundraisers recruited by John Weaver and co. finally are able to find donors willing to contribute the max to a candidate on the rise, and money swarms in via the Net. The press writes the McCain rising story. By this point, Huckabee and McCain are competing for the votes of conservatives and Giuliani is a non-factor, his support having dissipated. McCain edges Huckabee in South Carolina (or comes close) and puts himself in the catbird's seat for Jan 29. What would help: Thompson drops out and endorses McCain. Clinton beats Obama and independents vote for McCain in New Hampshire.
This strategy is intact after Iowa. The only part that isn't is the hope that Clinton would win in Iowa so that additional independents could help McCain in New Hampshire. McCain looks to be in pretty good shape there anyway.
Rudy Giuliani could win the nomination if.... He finishes dismally in Iowa, but the press doesn't really cover it that much because they're covering the vanquishing of Hillary Clinton; Giuliani finishes a strong third in New Hampshire, a strong third in Michigan, fourth in South Carolina...by this point, he'll have not won a single contest (with the exception, perhaps, of Nevada) but won't be all that far behind in the delegate race. He'll have spent millions on television in Florida; he wins Florida; and suddenly the momentum swings back to him and he wins enough contests on Feb. 5 to turn the race into a two-man sprint ... Giuliani and a social conservative. And he beats the conservative.
This strategy is still intact. It could really start to crumble (not that it hasn't already) if Giuliani drops below third in New Hampshire and Michigan.
Mitt Romney could win the nomination if.....Romney wins in Iowa and New Hampshire; wins or places second in Michigan; South Carolina becomes a firewall...either Huckabee re-emerges...Romney outpolls Giuliani in South Carolina and turns the contest, by Florida, into a two-man sprint with Giuliani; or, Giuliani's support crumbles without an early state victory...Well, there goes the easy road. Now he needs a New Hampshire win plus a Michigan win to get back to front-runner status. Then a second-place finish in South Carolina to Huckabee would leave Willard locked in a two-man race with Huckabee. That fight would take place in two rounds: 1) Florida, 2) Super Tuesday. If nothing else, Romney's money ensures that he'd last through a prolonged delegate fight and might even win one.
Fred Thompson could win the nomination if..... Thompson hangs in there, benefits from a Huckabee fall in Iowa -- i.e., Huckabee CANNOT win Iowa in this scenario, which means that Romney wins Iowa which means that Romney probably wins New Hampshire; Thompson somehow wins South Carolina and wins Southern states on Feb. 5; Romney and Giuliani battle in some northern states (and Romney maybe even wins one), and Thompson lives to fight Giuliani or Romney as the conservative alternative.This is totally shot. He needs Huckabee to hurt himself somehow.
Outlook for New Hampshire:
This is an elimination game for Romney and McCain. For Huckabee and Giuliani, the name of the game is a solid third place to show some staying power. Paul would also love to get that bronze medal, which would encourage his supporters and donors to keep it up. Thompson is just trying to avoid losing to Hunter or Keyes.