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Monday, February 20, 2012

The State of the Newton

(Editor's note: This week, I'll check in on the candidates by giving each of them one column. To see the latest standings, schedule, and polls, see Sunday's column here.

We'll start with the state of the Gingrich Campaign.)

Newt Gingrich
Estimated delegate count: CNN-38 (2nd), RCP-32 (3rd), Wikipedia-45 (2nd)
Official delegate count: 32 (2nd place)


Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings.

Newt Gingrich was once on top of the 2012 Republican Primary. Before Santorum's recent push, of all the mini-surges of the 2012 campaign--Bachmann, Perry, Cain, and even Santorum's first--Gingrich was the only candidate not named Mitt to ever actually top the Republican Primary's national polls. In December, his lead even reached 20 points, a gap which Santorum will be hard-pressed to ever duplicate. He even reclaimed a solid national lead in late January, days after his stunning South Carolina win.

But it all fell apart. Newt Gingrich is now an afterthought in national polling, battling with Ron Paul for third place, each far back of Santorum and Romney.

The collapse is even more stunning if we examine state polls of the early contests. He once sported a 30-point lead in Florida. He still edged Romney in Florida's polls a week before its primary, only to ultimately lose it by 16 percentage points. He once trailed Romney by only four in Nevada, but ended up losing it by nearly 30. His 19-point lead in Colorado became a distant third place finish that edged out last place Ron Paul by one. An 18-point lead in Minnesota disintegrated into a woeful last place finish, six points back of third.

Oh, how it all fell apart! In the upcoming states, we see the same downfall. Gingrich once had a 5-point lead in Arizona; his polling numbers are now more than doubled by both Romney and Santorum. A 2-point lead in Michigan has crumbled into a last place ranking, and a recent poll embarrasses him further by showing him at 5 percent, half of Paul's third-place support in the Motor State. He once boasted an 18-point lead in delegate rich Ohio but now finds himself almost guaranteed of a third place finish. Even his home state of Georgia, where he once outdistanced his closest competitor by 53 points, now shows his lead down to single digits.

This man once dominated nearly every headline of the primary. His debates were a spectacle. His press conferences led newscasts. His attacks on Romney were razor sharp. His crowds were abuzz, his campaign on fire. He was the anti-Romney candidate, ready to be the nominee when the "Massachusetts Moderate" inevitably collapsed.

But my goodness, did things fall apart. I mean, remember when this guy was attached to every development? Now he's an afterthought. Ever since Santorum's sweep, we simply haven't heard from Newt Gingrich. Where is he?

Actually, this position on the primary's periphery is partly out of necessity and partly out of design. If a case has to be made for another Gingrich resurrection (he's already had one more than Jesus), it's that his relative silence this month is actually pretty good strategy. He cannot compete with Romney's (nor, now, Santorum's) money and organization throughout February, so he's saving up his resources. Instead, he's moved all his eggs into the Super Tuesday 10-state bonanza basket on March 6. A boon to those resources was last week's announcement of another 10 million dollars from billionaire Sheldon Adelson for Gingrich's top Super PAC.

Unable to compete nationally for a month, Gingrich lays low, letting Romney and Santorum duke it out, before coming out strong in March. (If it were me, I'd be stumping in Washington state. It's the lone March 3 primary. If Gingrich gets a head start there while Romney and Santorum trade blows over Michigan and Arizona, he could win the state, and it’d be Gingrich with the last win before Super Tuesday. That one win in Washington could translate to major votes across the 10 Super Tuesday states. But that's just me.)

Ultimately, his hopes seem to be pinned on his home state of Georgia, whose 76 delegates on Super Tuesday are the largest prize yet. A win would be a nice boost to his campaign. However, a Georgia win coupled with 3rd and 4th place finishes everywhere else will not get Gingrich back into the race... yet. Rather, a strong showing in Georgia will all but lock out Romney from the state's delegate haul--the former Massachusetts Governor has trended down all month in the Peach State and is down to the mid-teens in the latest poll--hurting his chances at ultimately garnering 50 percent of the national delegates before the convention.

After Super Tuesday, if neither Romney nor Santorum pull away--and subsequently go on to pummel each other in the press--than Gingrich can shift his priority to April's delegate-rich Texas and make one last push to ensure a brokered convention. After all, he's still in 2nd place in two of the estimated delegate standings (CNN and Wikipedia), and he's comfortably in 2nd place in the official standings, his 32 delegates far outpacing Santorum's 4, whose victories have all been nonbinding caucuses.

Even the mere possibility of another Gingrich comeback was enough to convince Romney and Santorum to withdraw from a Georgia CNN debate ahead of Super Tuesday. Gingrich's debate ability combined with a home-turf appearance was certainly a variable with which the other candidates did not want to experiment. They like Gingrich right where he is--in a coffin that's one nail short of sealed.

Of course, this is all a pipe dream. The question is not, "How realistic is a Gingrich comeback?," but rather, "Should Gingrich drop out?" Remember, it was Gingrich who, before Florida, "nudged" Santorum to leave the race so one of them could consolidate the anti-Romney conservative vote. Now, with Santorum clearly the front-running conservative candidate, should Gingrich follow his own advice?

Well, that's for another time.

-IC

2 comments:

Hen said...

Good break down! I wonder if he has considered that Washington plan!

Anonymous said...

If he really wants Romney to fall he'd leave.

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