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Saturday, January 07, 2012

New Hampshire Debate #1: Review and Grades

I'll make this short. I have to get to bed and so do you. We need to be up for New Hampshire Debate #2--which is only ten hours from now--on Meet the Press (9:00 AM on MSNBC). Here were some thoughts from tonight's debate:

1. If we were to plot the attacks on Mitt Romney onto a graph, it'd look like an inverted bell curve. The other candidates came out with three quick attacks.

  • Rick Santorum criticizes Romney as simply a "manager" rather than a commander-in-chief or leader. Romney sidesteps the attack, claiming business leaders and entrepreneurs around the country serve as marvelous leaders.

  • Newt Gingrich lambastes Romney's record as a CEO with charges of bankrupting companies, laying off employees, and looking for a quick profit, flip, and departure. Romney parries the thrust, arguing that free enterprise necessarily leads to some failures among the many successes.

  • Jon Huntsman urged everyone to look at Romney's record as governor and compared his own as favorable. Romney doesn't respond. His attacker was, after all, John Huntsman.
But then they laid off Romney for nearly an hour. It wasn't until Huntsman reopened the attacks in the last round of the debate with a great line about Romney having the 47th best record on jobs during his term as governor. How was that stat not seized upon? How can Romney boast about his ability to "turn this economy around" with that kind of ranking? If jobs and the economy are the top issues, shouldn't the candidates remind the American people of such a record in every debate?

I do wonder why they stayed away from anything too aggressive. My guess is that they're waiting for tomorrow and don't want to give Romney a chance to defend himself in a full debate tomorrow. They want the last impression to linger. But I do wonder if they think his nomination is inevitable and don't want to wound him too badly for the general. (Nahhhh...)

Overall, Romney did exactly what he had to do. He held off all attacks, didn't make any big mistakes, and gave few any ammunition moving forward. Grade for Romney: A-

2. Ron Paul laid off Mitt Romney in favor of attacking Rick Santorum. Paul attacked Santorum as corrupt, a proponent of big government, and for working as a lobbyist. At one point, actually, Perry attacked Paul, and Paul retorted with an attack on Santorum! This strategy could mean that Paul is simply in it for the long haul, hoping to perpetually place in the top 3 and shape the debate, rather than take risks and go for the win. (This is not a new theory by any means.) Grade for Paul: C

3. Rick Santorum stayed on message. He did not throw any haymakers at Romney. He clearly wants to survive or, rather, outlast the other candidates, so it's just him and Romney down the stretch. I'm curious if he's been given advice from the outside about this. Are conservative heavyweights whispering to the Santorum camp, "Just be there after South Carolina, and we'll be there for you"? Grade for Santorum: B-

4. I was really looking forward to an enraged Newt Gingrich with nothing to lose. I was sorely disappointed. I can only hope he was saving all his ammunition for tomorrow morning. Pump that man full of coffee and push him out on stage. Grade for Gingrich: C-

5. Rick Perry had his best debate of the campaign, and it wasn't even that good. He was able to tout experience with the military, governership and his record as a job-creator. It's too bad it was too little too late. His flubs, as always, were noteworthy. I don't think anyone in the country wants to hear about his plan to send troops into Iraq for a third time less than one month after they just got out from a second. Plus, I'm sorry, Governor, but we cannot move our military at "literally the speed of light." Grade for Santorum: C

6. Jon Huntsman, a man in need of a miracle, was surprisingly tame all night, though he closed brilliantly. I think he found his message too late. His message for most of the campaign was this nebulous "trust deficit" that we have in Washington. It sounds great, but probably goes over the heads of most voters. However, when he pointed out that the US-Chinese relationship was the defining international relationship of the 21st Century, I'm sure many found themselves nodding in agreement. Such a relationship has huge effects on not only American foreign policy, but the American economy as well. Without question, he is the candidate most experienced with that relationship. (But as impressive as his Mandarin was... he did kind of show off. I liked it, though. Nothing wrong with a president that can show off intellectual skills. Since when did we believe shooting a gun or baskets was impressive qualities to have in the White House?) It was a great moment, but I'm afraid it came far too late. I'll have more on his New Hampshire strategy on Monday in the New Hampshire Primary Preview. I still wonder if it could ever work. Grade for Huntsman: B

But for now... bed. Set those alarms! If the gloves come off tomorrow, we don't want to miss it.


South Carolina Polls

South Carolina polls, released yesterday, crystallized what we already knew. Mitt Romney is the heavy favorite for the nomination, Rick Santorum is experiencing a massive surge, and Newt Gingrich is pulling his best Humpty Dumpty impression, which, if you've ever seen the rotund Gingrich wobble around, is unsurprising.

The polls--conducted by CNN/Time, Rassmusen, and the American Research Group--basically agree with each other on these developments (interestingly, Rasmussen has a 3-point bump for Gingrich). I've averaged them for you. In those three polls, one conducted late November/early December and the next conducted on January 4/5:

Romney rose from 21.67 percent to 31.67.
Santorum surged from a meager 2 percent of support to 22.
Gingrich, the once solid leader of the state, sank from 30 to 20.

Therefore, the current South Carolina Standings are:
1. Romney--32
2. Santorum--22
3. Gingrich--20
4. Ron Paul--11 (Up from 6)
5. Rick Perry--4 (Down from 8)
6. Jon Huntsman--2 (which doubled his support)

What this tells us for each candidate:
Romney--Though the 8-vote Iowa margin should be rather trivial, he still won the state, and that plays well. We know he'll win Tuesday's New Hampshire Primary, and it could be with as much as 45 percent of the vote. It's unlikely that a New Hampshire win will decrease his momentum heading into January 21's South Carolina Primary. Therefore, it is likely Romney holds his lead and wins South Carolina. He will have then won the first three primaries. Thus, he's trying to hold off Santorum for two more states. If he does: game over.

Everyone else--Because of this clear path to victory, they need to take Romney down. Like I said yesterday, they must enact the "balance of power." If they can make Romney's win in New Hampshire look like a loss, Santorum and Gingrich remain alive. They need Romney to place down in the low 30s in New Hampshire. Anything under 30 (unlikely but possible) would be an enormous victory for the anti-Romney crusade, the success of which Newt Gingrich guarantees. That's why you see the Gingrich camp considering re-airing McCain's attack ads against Romney from 2008, and that's why you can expect Santorum to hammer Romney tonight on his past pro-choice stances. And you can bet Huntsman, Perry, and Paul will all get their licks in, too. Tonight, it's Romney against the world.

All the more reason why tonight's New Hampshire debate (9:00 on ABC) is must-see TV.

Friday, January 06, 2012

A Preview of New Hampshire Weekend

One of my favorite facets of European history is the "balance of power." In this practical concept, if any one nation grew too strong, other countries allied in an effort to check the growing Goliath. European countries used the balance of the power against leaders like Louis XIV, Napoleon Bonaparte, and, most recently, Adolf Hitler. Simply, when one man or country grew too powerful, everyone around them looked at each other and said, "Something must be done before it's too late." (Anyone with the most basic experiences with the game of Risk is silently nodding their head right now.)

You see where I'm going with this.

Mitt Romney has a massive lead in New Hampshire. In the national polls, Gallup has him with 27 polling points to Newt Gingrich's 19, Ron Paul's 13, and Rick Santorum's 11. Rasmussen give him 29 with a quickly rising Santorum at 21, Gingrich at 16, and Paul at 12. Romney boasts the strongest national network of staff. Establishment Republicans continue to endorse him, like John McCain did this week (a head-scratcher, as I explained yesterday). In sum, there's a general consensus that he's the heavy favorite to be the Republican nominee. He has grown powerful. If anyone else wants to survive, his power has to be checked. This weekend, if Romney is Napoleon, the other five remaining candidates for the Republican nomination are the Eighth Coalition.

Of course, that doesn't mean they aren't lobbing grenades at each other, as well.

Take Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman. Both have their eye on a second place finish in New Hampshire. Huntsman, the most desperate candidate for a strong New Hampshire showing, went on the attack first with an anti-Paul ad. Paul (or one of his younger staffers who understand Twitter) came back with a taunting tweet, explaining he found Huntsman's "voter" in Iowa (note the lack of the s). Paul explained it was a staffer that Tweeted without the candidate's permission. Huntsman jabbed yesterday that Paul should have learned to stop letting others write under his name, a reference to Paul's controversial material from the early 1990s.

I wonder how worth their time these attacks are. Either candidate running ahead of the other in New Hampshire is not the ticket to the nomination. Though it might bring Huntsman a slight bump, and it would mean Paul yet again showing a "low ceiling but solid floor," Romney would continue to perform as expected.

To stay alive, both should join Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum in their attacks on the favorite. (Gingrich and Santorum seem to understand they're competing for the anti-Romney crown.) If any one of the other candidates wants to take down Napoleon, they must work together; they must act as a coalition. This subplot--Romney against everyone--trumps all others this weekend as we tune in for the debates on Saturday night and Sunday morning. It's more than a subplot actually; it's a full-fledged plot.

As for subplots, here's one for each candidate:

Jon Huntsman: I'm interested to see how his "ignore Iowa" strategy will play out. The Washington Post is asking if he can be the "Rick Santorum of Iowa." Will New Hampshire reward his dedication to their state like Iowa did Santorum? If he finishes in the top 2, it might be a model for future candidates. Then again, even a top 2 finish won't ultimately save his candidacy, which explains his attacks on Romney so that Huntsman might potentially pull off the great upset in primary history.
What to look for at the debates: Goes after Romney and Paul. Huntsman needs top 2, and they're in the way. He might also point out that he's not as extreme to the right as Rick Santorum, which should play well in New Hampshire and also identify him as someone who defeat President Obama in November.

Rick Perry: Weird week for him. He finishes fifth in Iowa, but at a not terrible 10% of the vote. At first he hints that he was dropping out, but then he ultimately stayed in. It's been suggested that his decision to remain in the race developed from a clamor from national conservatives who still thought he was the man who could compete with Romney coast to coast. The week will end, unfortunately for Perry, with debates. New Hampshire, however, means nothing. He'll finish in sixth place but his chips are in South Carolina.
What to look for at the debates: 1) Hilarity. 2) He'll consistently hit on two themes, both aimed at South Carolina: 1) He has the conservatism of Rick Santorum, and 2) He is the most capable candidate to engage in a long campaign against Mitt Romney, hinting that Santorum cannot.

Ron Paul: Will he run top 3 again? Romney is locked in at #1. Huntsman has spent months there. Santorum is thriving off his Iowa bump. Gingrich has Saturday and Sunday debates to make a run on Tuesday. It's a fascinating top 5. If Paul finishes in the top 3, it's yet more evidence of his diehard following.
What to look for at the debates: Who does he attack? Does he try to limit Romney's win? Does he continue his feud with Jon Huntsman? Does he try to hold off Santorum and his hawkish platform? If I know Ron Paul, the answer is "Yes to all of the above."

Newt Gingrich: Wisely, Gingrich has his crosshairs focused squarely on Mitt Romney. He's adopted a similar strategy to Romney, actually. While Romney seems to go out of his way to only run against President Obama--note how Romney has rarely attacked another candidate on stage since Rick Perry was dueling with him at the top of the polls--Gingrich wants to be THE anti-Romney option. And if he stands up to him more than anyone else, if he criticizes him more than anyone else, if he paints the primary as Romney vs. Gingrich, than Gingrich can steadily coalesce the anti-Romney votes, especially among voters who are skeptical of a Santorum candidacy. Any kind of success in New Hampshire will help him maintain his December leads in South Carolina and Florida, where improved finishes in each state could catapult this into a two-man race with Romney (discussed here and here).
What to look for at the debates: An angry Gingrich on a mission will be a joy to watch. Romney better wear extra make-up.

Rick Santorum: The man of the hour. I question his decision to spend too much time in New Hampshire this week. Of course he should compete in the New Hampshire debates, but no matter what, he'll finish well behind Romney. Romney will then ride that momentum (and more endorsements) into South Carolina as Newt Gingrich tries to hold onto what's probably a flailing lead. Romney could then steadily pull away and it'd be nearly impossible to catch him.

Rather, Santorum should have been stumping in South Carolina this week. Thanks to his Iowan success, he'll get many conservative votes in New Hampshire, but let's not forget that this man completely ignored the Granite State during his famed tour of Iowa. He'll get a natural bump in the polls, but many other New Hampshire voters won't be convinced to vote for him simply because he spent an extra couple of days there this week. Therefore, he should have gone straight to South Carolina and competed for a victory there. Spending two weeks there to everyone else's one would have gone a long way to not just competing in the conservative state, but winning it.

And what would happen if he won South Carolina? He'd certainly end the candidacy of Rick Perry and take most of his future voters in the process. Moreover, unless Gingrich finished second in the Palmetto State (a difficult task if Santorum wins it, as Romney and Paul will obviously compete), he'll be gone, too. Remaining will be Romney, Paul, and Santorum. Few Republicans are interested in voting for Paul if they haven't already declared their desire to do so, which leaves Romney vs. Santorum, and the conservative base finally has their clear cut anti-Romney.

But alas, to New Hampshire he went.
What to look for at the debates: Manufacturing (Jobs) and social conservative message (Romney alternative). Repeat.

Mitt Romney: See intro to this post.
What to look for at the debates: That man will have no friends on stage this weekend, which will be a fun scene for 70 to 75 percent of Republicans.

Enjoy New Hampshire weekend! I'll be back on Monday (with small updates before then, potentially) with a New Hampshire Primary preview. See you then.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Boston Globe Endorses Huntsman

The Boston Globe has endorsed Jon Huntsman in the 2012 Republican Primary.

It's an interesting move to endorse the last place candidate, though not unsurprising that a moderate to liberal newspaper endorsed the most moderate candidate in the race. It probably shows how the Globe and the Republican field aren't too cozy. Huntsman might benefit with a few percentage points in New Hampshire and place in the top 3--the bare minimum to continue his campaign, if not top 2--but I'm not sure it'll translate to anything down the road. A Massachusetts newspaper endorsing the most moderate candidate in the race is not exactly what Republican voters are looking for.

Most fascinating about this move has to be that the Boston newspaper didn't endorse their own former Governor, Mitt Romney. Romney's enemies will surely use this point against him, but unlike Huntsman, who's desperate for any kind of attention, I'm not sure a Globe endorsement is what Romney wants these days. I'm, frankly, surprised he accepted John McCain's endorsement so early. Isn't Romney trying to shed his moderate image? John McCain isn't exactly a darling of the conservative base.

A couple of head scratchers before a fascinating weekend of primary politics. A preview of New Hampshire Weekend coming tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Perry Stays

Rick Perry, contrary to his tone last night, is staying in the race at least through South Carolina. Earlier today, I explained why I thought he should.

And Newt Gingrich breathes a sigh of relief.

Perry is staying in the race for three obvious reasons.
1) He has a strong national network.
2) South Carolina voters are right in his wheel house.
3) Ummmm, uhhhh, welll. I can't think of the third one. Oops.

Bachmann Out

Michelle Bachmann has suspended her presidential campaign. No surprise there. See earlier post for Iowa analysis.

Iowa Fallout

Wow! Let's jump right into the breakdown. Starting with Iowa's last place finisher:

(But first, the Republican Primary Schedule)
January 3--Iowa Caucuses
January 10--New Hampshire Primary
January 21--South Carolina Primary
January 31--Florida Primary
February 4 to March 3--Nevada, Maine, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri (doesn't count), Arizona, Michigan, Washington.
March 6--Super Tuesday (10 states)

Jon Huntsman--1% (generous) of the Iowa voteWhat Iowa represented: Nothing. Ignoring it was not a tactical mistake. Yes, putting all his chips into New Hampshire is a Hail Mary pass on 4th and long, but exhausting funds by competing in conservative Iowa would have been running the ball up the middle.
How Iowa results affect candidacy: No single candidate emerged to knock Huntsman out of the New Hampshire top 3 with Romney and Paul. Santorum won't play as well in New Hampshire and Gingrich came off a little sour after falling well behind the top 3.
What candidate must do: Keep doing what he's doing and hope to run second to Romney in New Hampshire. Then maybe, just maybe, he emerges as the last candidate to pop in the polls.

Michelle Bachmann--5%
What Iowa represented: Ames was a long time ago. Staying in the race (so far) is a surprising move. Stay tuned--news conference scheduled for 11 AM.
How Iowa results affect candidacy: Turn over the piggy bank. When nothing comes out, pack it up and go back to the House.
What candidate must do: Don't endorse anyone unless a true Romney rival emerges. No need to lose twice in one primary (poor momentum for her House reelection bid in November).

Rick Perry--10%
What Iowa represented: He has a heartbeat, however faint. It's certainly stronger than Michelle Bachmann's.
How Iowa affects candidacy: Apparently, despite being stronger and better prepared for a long campaign, he also more quickly delineated (read: is lazier) than Bachmann. While a double digit showing should have been good enough to survive until South Carolina, Perry looks to be packing it in. Surely he had no idea what he was getting into when the party clamored for his entry into the race. Running for president is hard.
What candidate must do: It looks like he's dropping out. If, however, he stays in: Punt New Hampshire. The other five candidates are all going to the Granite State this week. Perry can be all alone in South Carolina and try to build on that 10% in a southern, conservative state. But alas, the Governor is tired and he wants to go home.

Newt Gingrich--13%
What Iowa represented: Just when you counted him out...
How Iowa affects candidacy: Fourth place is the bottom floor from which he must climb the staircase. This path was laid out here on Monday. If he can crack the top 3 in New Hampshire (bumping out either Huntsman or Paul), that could translate to a top 2 in South Carolina, which could lead to a win in Florida, where he's still leading in the polls. However, Iowa's other effects on the Gingrich Campaign is that Perry and Bachmann are likely finished, and Gingrich, as explained earlier, did not want that.
What candidate must do: With New Hampshire debates scheduled for Saturday evening and Sunday morning (morning?!), Gingrich has a puncher's chance to place in the top 3 in New Hampshire and start to play up the "Rising Newt/Comeback" plotline. To limit Romney's momentum of Iowa and New Hampshire wins, Gingrich will go on the offensive.

Ron Paul--21.5061%, rounded, for some reason, to 21
What Iowa represented: He's twice as popular in Iowa as he was four years ago.
How Iowa affects candidacy: It's the first of many top 3 finishes for the Texas Congressman. This finish was completely expected.
What candidate must do: Keep racking up top 3s and shape the debate down the stretch. As I said Monday: low ceiling, rock solid floor.

Rick Santorum--24.6132%, rounded to 25
What Iowa represented: He really did peak at the perfect time.
How Iowa affects candidacy: His superb showing coupled with the imminent terminations of the Bachmann and Perry campaigns was as good of a scenario he could have hoped for without winning the state. He's become the clear cut, true conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. Will the conservative base rally around him? Have both Bachmann and Perry received conservative pressure to get out of Santorum's way? Kudos to Santorum on a surprisingly strong speech last night. It was clear, humble, and, most impressively, even and controlled. He acted the part of a winner, not the part of a pumped up underdog.
What candidate must do: Ignore New Hampshire! A top 3 is not happening there. Go win South Carolina--very winnable for the strongest conservative in the race--and then sit back and let all of Perry and Bachmann's money and support come in. Getting their funding and ground troops are crucial, as Santorum has very little groundwork outside of Iowa. A Santorum win in South Carolina makes it a two-man race, which is exactly what Santorum needs and Mitt Romney dreads. If, however, he wastes time trying to compete in New Hampshire, he blows an opportunity to get a head start in South Carolina.

Mitt Romney--24.6198%, rounded to 25
What Iowa represented: Mr. 25 Percent lives up to his not-so-lofty name.
How Iowa affects candidacy: Some effect. People keep saying Romney’s inability to get over 25 percent in Iowa's polls, and now caucuses, shows that he has difficulty winning popular support among national Republicans. That’s not at all what it means. All his 25% in Iowa means is that he showed an inability to win over 25% of Iowa. And guess what. Neither did anyone else! There were seven candidates in the race, and four of them were contenders over the last month. It is unlikely that a candidate could win over 25 percent of voters in such conditions, especially a Mormon in Iowa. This result, ultimately, is not an accurate barometer of Romney's national strength. However, the withdrawal of Perry and Bachmann will be extremely worrisome to the Romney Campaign, for reasons explained in the Santorum section.
What candidate must do: Not panic! He'll win New Hampshire big and extend his delegate lead, earning momentum into South Carolina and Florida. Gingrich should take votes away from Santorum in South Carolina and Florida, but even if he doesn't, Romney's national money and infrastructure is built for the long haul and Super Tuesday, unlike every other viable candidate (Sorry, Ron Paul). Santorum is simply not ready to run a national campaign. Romney is still the favorite to win the Republican nomination, but I'd say he's moved from 2:5 odds to 3:5 (see left sidebar).

Holistic analysis:
Just like Mike Huckabee's victory in 2008, winning Iowa will ultimately be irrelevant. In fact, in this epic close caucus, each of the top three candidates will probably clear 7 pledged delegates from Iowa (with Gingrich and Perry each earning two). What’s most relevant about Iowa is not the winner, but how it shakes up the field, and how that shakeup affects the favorite for the nomination. Every relevant analysis of the Republican primaries must deal with this question, "How did this affect Mitt Romney?" I've attempted answers. Feel free to answer it any way you'd like, just make sure you're asking the question.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Percent Chance to Win the Republican Nomination

With one day before Iowa, below are the chances for each candidate to win the Republican nomination. Accompanying each are the most likely scenarios to affect their chances in either direction. For explanations, see previous post. (For odds, see the left side bar.)

1) Romney: 75% (Rises if a majority of the field remains in the race through the first three primaries; falls if Bachmann and Perry withdraw early.)

2) Gingrich: 10% (Rises with Perry surviving; collapses with Perry's early elimination.)

2) Santorum: 10% (Rises with Bachmann and Perry withdrawing early; falls if he doesn't finish top 2 in Iowa AND South Carolina. He MUST ignore New Hampshire and spend two weeks in South Carolina.)

4) Perry: 3% (Rises with a top 3 in Iowa; falls with anything worse.)

5) Huntsman: 1% (Rises with top 2 in New Hampshire; falls and he withdraws with 4th or worse.)

6) Paul: 0.5% (Basically no shot, but if he can go 1-2 in Iowa and New Hampshire, he might be able to string enough second and third places the rest of the way to make the process last until the Republican Convention. My personal favorite scenario. Also note from the last post, that his poor showing on this list doesn't mean he'll show poorly overall. Definitely top 3.)

6) Bachmann: 0.5% (Needs to follow Santorum's path, but much less likely to do so.)

I'll be back on Wednesday to identify what each candidate must do moving forward. (Why they haven't hired me, I have no idea.)

Iowa and the Republican Nomination

The Iowa Caucuses have arrived. Finally. What can we expect in the Hawkeye State, and how will those results affect the rest of the Republican Nomination process? Let's break it down by candidate.

First, the Primary Schedule is helpful:
January 3--Iowa Caucus
January 10--New Hampshire Primary
January 21--South Carolina Primary
January 31--Florida Primary
February 4 to March 3--Nevada, Maine, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri (doesn't count), Arizona, Michigan, Washington.
March 6--Super Tuesday (10 states)

The story of the weekend was clearly the rise of Rick Santorum. The first candidate to travel to all 99 Iowa counties, Santorum, sometime today, is becoming the seventh candidate to be the favorite in Iowa. At some point in the last year, each of Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul have had their turn atop Iowa's polls. If one were given today, it'd surely be Santorum on top. Popular theory is that he peaked at the right time. But will his excellent timing translate to success down the road?

As is the answer to every question asked about the effects of Iowa's results: maybe. We know Santorum won't play in New Hampshire. After he finishes top two in Iowa, he needs to go straight to South Carolina to work for a top 2 finish there. By then, other variables will determine the viability of a Santorum nomination.

Romney is not one of them. Ironically, the man most charged with hemming and hawing, flipping and flopping, is the most predictable finisher of the pack. He will finish top 3 in Iowa. He will win New Hampshire. He will finish top 3 in South Carolina. He will finish top 3 in Florida. He is the heavy favorite to win the nomination.

Who, if anyone, can stop him? To answer, we return to the Iowa Caucus and Rick Santorum's uncontrollable variables.

It won't be Michelle Bachmann. After finishing out of the top 3, she'll drop out. Where her support goes is crucial. If Perry also finishes out of the top 3, he, too, might drop out. (He's less likely to drop out, as his national support, structure, and money is much stronger than Bachmann's. Indeed, it might be as strong as anyone's but those of Romney and Paul.)

Then, Rick Santorum, the only irrefutably conservative candidate remaining, will get nearly all their votes, which makes him a contender for the nomination. (Astonishing if you think about where he was two weeks ago.) However, if Perry remains after Iowa (or if Bachmann does, for that matter), he'll keep conservative votes away from Santorum, splitting the far right of the party in their quest to avoid a Romney nomination. This development is more likely, keeping Santorum a longshot even with an Iowa victory (think Mike Huckabee in 2008).

While Romney has the least variables, Newt Gingrich has the most. He could finish anywhere from 3rd to 6th in Iowa. (I foresee 5th or 6th.) He can finish anywhere from 2nd to 4th in New Hampshire. (I foresee 3rd or 4th.) Then he can finish anywhere from 1st to 4th in South Carolina. (I foresee 2nd or 3rd.) Note, however, that among the variables is a pattern--a steady rise for the former Speaker.

Thus, we're right back to where we were before his collapse--Gingrich is the best chance to keep Romney from the nomination. He still clings to leads in South Carolina and Florida, and is with Romney atop the polls nationally. After finishing out of the top 3 in Iowa, his numbers will fall, of course, in those two states, but that doesn't mean it's over for him.

Like Santorum, Gingrich depends on a certain scenario developing. He need to finish top 5 in Iowa and top 4 in New Hampshire. At the same time, he also must hope that Perry is still in the race in South Carolina and Florida so he splits the conservative vote with Santorum. It's important for Gingrich that a clear, anti-Romney conservative does not manifest during the first four contests. Under this not implausible scenario, Gingrich will benefit from "Steady Rise/Rebound for Gingrich" headlines, the story being that he finished 5th in Iowa, 4th in New Hampshire, then 2nd/3rd in South Carolina will catapult him to 1st/2nd in Florida, and away we go. If, best case for him, he maintains his South Carolina and Florida leads to win each state, and consequently has the delegate lead after the first four contests, he'll get all the anti-Romney money and be able to match the former Massachusetts governor down the stretch.

Finally, the favorite: Mitt Romney. If Romney is winning in delegate count after the first four states, the nomination is his. He has by far the most money nationally (especially after everyone else exhausts their funds to survive the first four contests), and naturally plays well in the remaining states, the biggest of which are moderate (California, New York, Illinois (Perry will be out before Texas, and Florida is already done)). Plus, come Super Tuesday, he is best equipped to fund a blitzkrieg of national ads.

And if you're wondering why I haven't discussed Ron Paul, it's because everyone knows about his chances. His ceiling lies at about 15 percent of the vote. He's the most likely to finish in the top 3 for the nomination, but the least likely (save Bachmann) to win the nomination itself. Low ceiling, but rock solid floor.

In sum, there are three realistic scenarios for three realistic potential nominees:

1) Romney has a solid delegate lead after the first four states. Runs away with the nomination. Percent likelihood: 75.

2) If Perry and Bachman are gone by South Carolina, Santorum gets all the conservative support he can handle, and he can then compete with Romney down the stretch. (And Gingrich is done in this scenario.) Percent likelihood: 10.

3) Gingrich finishes 5 in Iowa, 4 in New Hampshire, 2/3 in South Carolina, and 1/2 in Florida, maybe even winning the last two, and he can then compete with Romney down the stretch. Percent likelihood: 10.

Shortly I will post the percentages for each candidate to win the nomination. See left side bar for odds.

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