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Watching the Signs

The race for 2008 is already underway on the Republican side, you just have to know what to look for.

11:00 PM, Dec 8, 2004 • By HUGH HEWITT
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NOT SINCE 1952 has a presidential election lacked a sitting president or vice president as a contestant, and Ike was about as close as one could get to non-official incumbent. Before that, it was the 1928 race, and there, too, Herbert Hoover was, like Ike, a figure of towering popularity. In other words, there has never not been a front-runner in at least one party in the modern scrambles for the presidency. Here is a bit of evidence that the race for 2008 also has a leader, one along the lines of Eisenhower and the Great Engineer.

The National Federation of Republican Women is one of those groups about which not much is ever written, but which functions as one of the circulatory systems of American politics. There's a Republican Women's, Federated in practically every county of every size, and their monthly gatherings are full of the stuff of Tocqueville. These are the precincts of the proverbial "blue haired legions," but also younger, more partisan activists as well.

I make a point of speaking to a couple of chapters of the Federation every year, more to listen than to inform. (These ladies have legislative chairman's reports that go on for an hour--and they take notes.) Last Monday, just before heading off on vacation, I went to Temecula, California to speak to more than 200 women from the Riverside County Republican Women, Federated. After a recap and an assessment of Arnold Schwarzenegger's plans for a special election in 2005 to confront gerrymandering, I announced the first straw poll of 2008. By a show of hands, I gave the ladies--and a handful of men who were their guests--four choices: Senator John McCain, former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Senator Bill Frist, and "other." The results astonished me.

RIVERSIDE COUNTY is as "red" as any county in America, and getting redder. Before I spoke, the group had been entertained by the local home-schooling association's girls' choir, and many of the questions I received concerned illegal immigration and Hillary Clinton's ambitions. In other words--this is to use the title of John Podhoretz's invaluable book on places such as Riverside County, Bush Country.

Giuliani swept more than three-quarters of the votes, with the other three choices receiving smatterings of support. Keep in mind that this isn't an exercise in name identification--these women knew each of the candidates--as well as every possible name in the "other" category. This was an informed choice. I stopped what I was doing, repelled the audience, and then conducted a focus group.

Like many other pundits, I have been wondering whether Giuliani can escape the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire in 2008 given that Pat Robertson won the former in 1988 and Pat Buchanan the latter in 1992. Giuliani is too "moderate" to win the GOP nod, right?

Wrong, if these ladies are to be believed. Among the many praises that gushed forth: decisive, experienced, loyal to "W"--an interesting positive, that--funny and, crucially, tough enough to take on the Clintons. There were many praises for Senator Frist, and some for John McCain, but Giuliani has their hearts--already.

I long ago revealed myself as a single-issue voter: I favor the most conservative Republican in the primary most likely to win the general election. The GOP has never had many of what I call this orientation: principled pragmatists. In fact, a debate is raging even now among bloggers such as Patterico, PrestoPundit, CalBlog, In the Agora, and Interocitor, over the arguments for principled pragmatism that I laid out in my last book.