When Fred Thompson dropped out of the race on Tuesday there was lots of speculation on who he might endorse, with most bets focusing on John McCain with Rudy Giuliani in second place. Thompson is being cagey and hasn’t endorsed anyone yet, and may not make a pick until next month. In the meantime, one of his most influential backers has made his endorsement which may make a great deal more difference than what happens with Thompson’s paltry 8 delegates.
Back in June when Thompson was a promising dark horse undeclared candidate he got the endorsement of highly respected former 3-term New York Senator Alphonse D’Amato. When Thompson dropped out of the race D’Amato wasted no time endorsing Senator John McCain in the Republican primary.
You may wonder how important an endorsement from a former Senator who’s been retired for almost a decade and whose main current political role is as a lobbyist for competitive poker players can be in such a hotly contested election. Those not familiar with New York politics may not realize how enormously popular the charismatic and colorful D’Amato is with Republicans and even with Democrats in the Empire State. He was brought low by minor scandals and the growing strength of urban Democrats in the state, but he is still much loved and respected.
Where D’Amato comes into play is on Super Tuesday (February 5th) when New York, Florida and New Jersey are all up for grabs, controlling over 200 delegates. In all three states McCain and Giuliani are running neck and neck, with most polls giving McCain a narrow lead. Current front-runner Mitt Romney is a distant third. With his influence in New York and spillover influence in Florida and New Jersey, the D’Amato endorsement is likely to be enough to push McCain to a decisive win over Giuliani, perhaps even a 2 digit win, especially since more Thompson votes are likely to go to McCain than Giuliani over and above those drawn by the D’Amato endorsement.
If this gives McCain the strong victory he needs in these key states it will spell the end for Giuliani, and may well doom the Romney campaign as well. Romney is not polling terribly well in any of the larger states and is already trailing McCain by more than 10 points in California polls. With only two weeks to go until the election it may be impossible to counterract the D’Amato factor, especially if it is part of a deliberately timed effort to keep McCain in the public eye by following the D’Amato endorsement with a Thompson endorsement sometime late next week. Take a look at the polls and add Thompson’s numbers to McCain’s and you see a decisive victory with a likely snowball effect which will sweep the other candidates out of the picture.
Mitt Romney may be the choice of party insiders, FoxNews and Rush Limbaugh. Mike Huckabee may be the choice of the religious right. But with the backing of Thompson, D’Amato and more and more of the very stirred-up centrist Republicans who want to take their party back, McCain may well take the nomination in the kind of landslide you need to carry momentum over into the general election. As Al D’Amato said on Tuesday, “If you want to win in November, John McCain is the man.”