Racing for 'poll' position

The presidential primaries don't even take place until a year from now. The general election isn't until November 2008.

But political guru Dick Morris is theorizing that the Republican primary for president may already be over.

Since running neck and neck with Rudy Giuliani in polls the past year, Arizona Sen. John McCain has stalled in both fund-raising and in poll numbers, Morris says. Last December, Giuliani led McCain 31-27; but all Giuliani had to do was announce his candidacy to zoom ahead 41-24.

It could be merely a honeymoon for Giuliani. Or it could be, as Morris postulates, that McCain has simply lost traction by appearing "small, shrunken, weak, cowed and timid" on the Sunday talk shows - and by spending too much money on political consultants while simultaneously losing the maverick outsider image he once proudly sported in the 2000 election.

Or it could be that Giuliani simply has too much going for him: tough former prosecutor, mayor who cleaned up New York, strong leader who stood tall on 9-11. We will never forget, for instance, Giuliani's telling the Saudi prince where to deposit his $10 million in guilt money after 9-11.

Whatever the reason, if Dick Morris is right - and the GOP nominee is fast becoming clear - then that has all manner of implications for the two parties.

It would mean Giuliani could bank a lot of dollars he'd otherwise have to spend fending off primary rivals - and could avoid the bruises and blood loss incumbent in such a race.

Meanwhile, he could stand above the fray, waiting for the Democratic nominee to emerge from his or her protracted primary. That would be a huge advantage for Giuliani.

Democrats have long been a loose confederation of extremes anyway, but this primary is shaping up to be a bitter one. Their one unifying principle - that Republicans are bad - may not be enough, as it was in the November congressional elections.

We'll see if all this is true; a lot can happen overnight in politics.

But there's no disputing that the election cycle has already accelerated beyond anyone's expectations. And in that climate, the party that picks its nominee first may have the pole position in 2008.

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