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Back when he was a Democrat, former Senator Lauch Faircloth used to say there were two things he didn’t understand: electricity and Republicans. I still don’t understand either one.

I especially don’t understand the Republican presidential contest:

  • John McCain seems to be shrinking before our very eyes. The strong, straight-talking, independent maverick of 2004 now seems old, tired, beaten-down and reduced to pandering to everybody he stood up to before.

  • Rudy Giuliani – a twice-divorced, stereotypical New Yorker who supported abortion rights and gays – is the front-runner.

  • No true-blue conservative has mobilized the Ronald Reagan/Religious Right/Values Voters who have been the strength and energy of the party’s electoral successes since 1980.

Meanwhile, Republican Governors in two big states – Arnold Schwarzenegger in California and Charlie Crist in Florida – have turned into bipartisan-talking, global-warming-bashing moderates.

A poll in The New York Times this week revealed the Republicans’ angst – and the risks for their front runners, McCain, Giuliani and Mitt Romney:

  • 40 percent of Republicans think a Democrat will win the White House in 2008. Only 12 percent of Democrats think a Republican will win.

  • 60 percent of Republicans aren’t happy with their choices for President.

Republicans are still looking for more information. That’s bad for McCain and Giuliani:

  • 41 percent said they don’t know enough about Giuliani. Wait until they see the pictures of him in drag. Or the clip where he says poor women should have a right to tax-funded abortions. That was exactly Jim Hunt’s position when he was Governor.

  • 50 percent said they don’t know enough about McCain! And he’s been on stage forever – and run for President before. Maybe they haven’t figured out which is the real McCain.

So there is an opening for a social conservative. But can Mitt Romney be it? He may be too squishy on abortion and gays, although he has changed his tune lately.

Romney’s real problem is religion: 51 percent of Republicans say they don’t think America is ready for a Mormon.

That is their polite way of saying they won’t vote for a Mormon.

Here is my bracketology for the Republican race:

  • Rudy versus Rudy: Can 9/11 Rudy overcome closet liberal/Rudy? I just don’t think the true believers will buy it.

  • McCain versus McCain: Too tired and too untrustworthy for the true believers. Out in the first round.

  • Romney versus Religion: Romney has to give a JFK-like Houston speech. My guess is he’s no JFK, but grovels enough to be acceptable.

  • The Smurfs: Somebody emerges from the Huckabee-Brownbeck pack to give Romney a run to the Right.

In the end, I predict Romney wins – then loses to Hillary in the general election.

I hope I’m right. Because if Rudy wins the nomination, he could win the election.

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