Credit Chuck Todd for candor. The NBC News Political Director has acknowledged that the media is poised to take a third-place finish by John McCain in Iowa, declare him the winner and catapult the Arizona senator to victory in New Hampshire. Todd appeared with the Politico's Roger Simon on this afternoon's Hardball.
View video here.
ROGER SIMON: John McCain is trying to thread the needle perfectly here, not to spend too much time so people think he's trying to win, but enough to get third place. And if he gets third place, he hopes that Huckabee wins, so that independents will come out to slam the door on Huckabee like they slammed it on Pat Robertson [when he finished a strong second in the 1988 Iowa GOP caucuses.]
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Chuck, do you see the same results: if McCain pulls a third and Huckabee wins then John McCain goes right to New Hampshire and perhaps to the nomination?
CHUCK TODD: Yeah you know, I hate to be existential here, but the media -- and I say this as if I'm not a member of it -- but the media does seem to be ready to will John McCain out of Iowa [i.e., with his "ticket punched" for NH]. It is a stunning thing, and if I were Mitt Romney, or Giuliani or Mike Huckabee I'd be like "wait a minute. You're gonna take a third place finish and somehow use that to catapult this guy, with free media, and get him the victory in New Hampshire?" And frankly that is what's gonna happen. There's a reason John McCain is sort of the king of working the media. He's doing a great job of it.
MATTHEWS: Gary Hart back in 1984 got 17% in Iowa, Walter Mondale got 49%. Guess who "won"? Gary Hart "won." The media declared him the winner and he won in New Hampshire. You are so dead right, if it happens.
TODD: No, it happens.
Simon's point was also very interesting -- that McCain needed to spend just enough time in Iowa to finish third, but not enough to give the impression he was trying to win. It's all about exceeding expectations.