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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

February 7 Analysis

Click here for the latest Republican Primary Standings.

How did February 7 affect each of the four remaining candidates? Below is a breakdown. Next to each candidate I will have their ranked finish in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri, in that order. Throughout the entire breakdown, keep in mind that none of the three contests actually awarded delegates, but networks and news outlets love their horserace coverage. If they wanted a real story, I’d say they should write about, as reader Dave F. from Connecticut described it, this “disgustingly undemocratic” procedure that is the primary process.

Ron Paul (4, 2, 3)—While those three finishes are the second-least impressive of the four candidates, it’s worth nothing that he still earned 12, 27, and 12 percent of the vote. The most marginalized of the candidates continues to produce double digits victories in these proportional contests. This factor is not to be dismissed; remember that the Gingrich/Santorum plan is to keep Romney under 50 percent of the delegates. From that perspective, Paul’s persistence and his steadfast supporters are huge factors in this race. If Paul wins 10 percent of the delegates, Romney has to win 56 percent of the remaining 90. (Sorry.)

I also wonder to what degree his consistently solid showings are indicative of reduced Republican turnout and passion for this crop of candidates. For example, in Minnesota last night, about 13 to 15 thousand Ron Paul supporters were going to vote for Paul no matter what. Since only 35 to 40 thousand total Republicans turned out to the Minnesota Caucus, Ron Paul will win about 25 percent of the vote (he’s sitting at 27 with 95 percent of precincts reporting). If the Republican turnout was twice as high, Ron Paul would still only have earned about 15 thousand votes, maybe a couple thousand more, but the other candidates would have nearly doubled their numbers, reducing Paul's percentage to the low teens.

The numbers support that turnout is as depressed as the Gingrich campaign. Ron Paul couldn’t be happier about it.

Newt Gingrich (3, 4, X)--In past analyses, when analyzing the effects of developments on the candidates, I would always save Gingrich and Romney for the last two. Not anymore. Simply, Gingrich has officially lost the mantle as the candidate most likely to challenge Romney for the nomination.

Yesterday, was an abysmal turn for the Gingrich campaign. Of course he lowered expectations and spun the heck out of it, mentioning that they were not binding caucuses and that he was focusing on Super Tuesday, but to finish next to last, last, and nowhere is just plain embarrassing.

Most relevant and disappointing is that his main argument--he can be the "conservative alternative," who can offer a "clear contrast with the Massachusetts moderate," and be the "last man standing with Romney"--is obliterated. Instead, that last man is…

Rick Santorum (1, 1, 1)--Rick Santorum has now won more states that Mitt Romney. Crazy, isn't it? But look at the map: Santorum has won Iowa (belatedly), Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri to Romney’s New Hampshire, Florida, and Nevada. The problem? His Iowa victory was too late to supply him the full "Iowa bump," and the other three states--especially Missouri--are all non-binding! What a system set up by the GOP.

Still, Santorum won by sticking on message while Romney and Gingrich continually coated each other with mud. "Tonight," he said after his victories, "we had an opportunity to see what a campaign looks like when one candidate isn't outspent 5- or 10-to-1 by negative ads, impugning their integrity and distorting the record." Very nice, Senator. Now get ready to be impugned.

Despite the lack of technical relevance to last night's contests, no one can deny their effects on the momentum and narrative of the 2012 Republican Primary. Rick Santorum clearly wrestled away the "conservative alternative" mantle from Newt Gingrich. He has won more states than Romney and he has all the momentum. If the bulk of the Republican Party that bristles at a Romney nomination has been waiting to consolidate, this is the time. Do it by Super Tuesday, and Santorum can stand toe-to-toe with Romney for that 11-state extravaganza. Unlike Gingrich, who has focused on a southern strategy in an effort to keep Romney under 50 percent of the total delegates, Santorum just made a case that he can compete in much more than just the south.

Mitt Romney (2, 3, 2)—Uh oh. Did my jinx work? Two nights after I wrote about Romney’s inevitability, he now looks vulnerable. I’ve moved his odds from 1:9 to 1:4, meaning he’s still a heavy favorite, but Santorum has a puncher’s chance here. (Gingrich has a snowball’s chance, if you know what I mean.) Those losses hurt. Romney carried Minnesota and Colorado four years ago. Now he loses them as the Republican favorite? Ouch!

Make no mistake, though, Romney still is the heavy favorite. In a gift from Joseph Smith, there is now a three-week break until the next set of primaries—winner-take-all Arizona and Romney-friendly Michigan (one of four “home states” for the wealthy Governor) on February 28. That means that Romney can count on winning Michigan while taking much of his superior money and organization to Arizona and make a leap in delegates. Moreover, the successful mudslinging tactics used against Gingrich can and will be used on Santorum in each of those states, depressing Santorum’s vote. (Note--10:1 this re-opens the door for a relatively unscathed Gingrich heading into the bigger states.)

Thus, Romney will win back momentum a week ahead of March 6's Super Tuesday and dominate the field across the country. Is this a sure thing? Not at all. But it’s the smartest bet.

For now, keep an eye on the media spin. Which storyline will win out: Santorum's momentum, or the lack of official delegates rewarded? Santorum as the conservative alternative, or Romney, still, as the man with the money who can kill any candidate when necessary?

At the very least, the race is once again interesting.

Until next time,

-IC

2 comments:

CM said...

Nice analysis. I thought Santorum would have been about even with Mitt, but this makes more sense!

Larry said...

Never count our Gingrich.

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