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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Rick Perry's Path to Victory

(Editor's note: This post will be the first in a six-part series between now and next Saturday's South Carolina Primary. Each part will examine how each candidate might pull off a nomination.)

On August 27, you wake up out of a 30-week coma. Incredibly, you've retained all of your faculties. You put CNN on your hospital room's television to see what you've missed. You see its hosts at the Republican National Convention, getting ready for Day One. You see Anderson Cooper, the silver fox, staring at you with his miraculous blue eyes, and you don't quite believe the last four words out his mouth, spoken so confidently and without surprise. It's not until gnomish Wolf Blitzer confirms Cooper's matter-of-fact revelation that you believe it could actually be true. Somewhere, in the 30 weeks since January 14, the Governor of Texas became . . .

" . . . presumptive nominee, Rick Perry."

"How did this happen?!" you yell at your gorgeous brunette nurse during your subsequent bath.

"Well, I'll tell you," she seductively replies. "It all started when..."

Mitt Romney didn't have the Republican nomination in the bag after his narrow Iowa victory. He was out-raising everybody. He had a national lead in the polls. His SuperPAC was relentlessly negative against his chief rival, Newt Gingrich. He was airing ads in future states as nearly every other candidate was forced to live off the land. It seemed inevitable.

When he won the New Hampshire Primary on January 10, he moved to 2-0 after the first two primaries. But was the Republican Party satisfied? Not at all. They continued to be skeptical. They wanted their conservative alternative. In search for one, they had gone through the cycle of Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Gingrich, and most recently, Rick Santorum. Some even thought Jon Huntsman was on deck, but that never really took. Santorum's surge in Iowa was supposed to make him the one, but he never quite had the staying power. Romney's nominated seemed inevitable. Even the now enormously popular Presidential Politics for America thought Romney might even win all fifty states of the Republican Primary.

But he didn't. In South Carolina and beyond, the conservative base turned to the only candidate that they felt could compete with Mitt Romney across the nation. That candidate was Rick Perry.

You cough and hack the bath water after your attempted self-drowning was thwarted by the nurse and her buxom blonde colleague whom she called for help. "Rick Perry?! 'OOPS' Rick Perry? 'Kim Jong The Second' Rick Perry? 'I don't know anything about one-third of the US government's branches' RICK PERRY?! Blub blub blub."

Once again they pull your head out of the bath, pick up their sponges, and explain.

He just seemed to be this perfect candidate for the Republicans. He was this chief executive of a huge state that added jobs during a recession. He believed in conservative values. He talked tough. He hunted. He wore such relaxed clothing in his commercials. This guy was in their conservative wheel house.

But most importantly, he had campaign funds. Romney had raised the most amount of money, but Perry raise the second most. He even outraised Ron Paul and his fanatical base by millions of dollars. He far outpaced conservative alternatives Gingrich and Santorum. The conservative base simply realized that if anyone was going to take down Mitt Romney, it had to be the guy with money. It had to be Governor Rick Perry.

So in South Carolina, he placed third. In Florida, he placed second. One by one, the underfunded Gingrich, Santorum, and Jon Huntsman dropped out. No more mainstream conservatives left.

Except Rick Perry.

In the month after Florida, a conservative axis steadily coalesced around the Texas Governor. By Super Tuesday, Perry and Romney were not only neck and neck in the national polls, but they were neck and neck in fundraising. Romney continued to lose momentum throughout the month of March. By the end of April, it was over. He conceded. Rick Perry was the presumptive nominee.

Of course, Romney, at the end of his political career, positioned himself to be the VP choice. When asked who would be his vice-presidential nominee, however, Perry responded with, "Well, I have three people in mind. There's Marco Rubio, Jon Huntsman, and, um, who was that guy that was leading most of the time? I can't remember. Oops."

And that's how Rick Perry became the Republican nominee for President.

At this point, the two nurses help you back into bed. You ask for a computer. They buzz a colleague, and a beautiful redhead walks into the room with a laptop. "Ladies, can you get out of my hair please? I need to catch up on presidential politics." They walk out. You turn off Anderson Cooper and you google "Presidential Politics for America."

"Much better."

(Editor's note: This was the first in a six-part series on each candidate before the South Carolina Primary. Also, don't forget, I've been picked up by Construction online magazine and will write once a week for them with my friend and colleague, Stephen Kurczy. My first column ran yesterday. I hope to see you over there.)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Republican Primary Race Standings

(Note: if you've arrived here via a google search, the standings are probably out of date. Click here for the latest coverage.)

Don't read this post without reading yesterday's. It explained how delegates are allocated to each US state and territory for the Republican National Convention. I do, however, need to amend something I said.

Yesterday, I erroneously said that it's only the relatively few "district delegates" that are chosen by the voters. My exact quote: Voting caucuses and primaries which we follow on TV only make up the district delegates, not the total delegates, of a state. At times—particularly in the lowest population states—the delegates awarded through voting are fewer than the other delegates the state awards. I went on to discuss the additional presence of At Large delegates, Party Leaders, and a variety of Bonus Delegates, each of which I thought were not beholden at all to the voters. I then went on to use Iowa and New Hampshire as examplars of the people having little say in the process in the smaller states, as their few district delegates are outweighed by all the other ones.

Here's what I've learned since then. (And again, this won't make much sense if you didn't read yesterday's blog, which I still recommend because I was right at least three out of every five sentences.) The caucuses and primaries determine much more than just the district delegates. They determine where all those At Large and Bonus Delegates go, as well.

Maybe.

I wish I was kidding.

Counting the delegates of this fledgling primary is not as easy as you'd think. Take a look at Wikipedia's Iowa results, which tracked what AP, CNN, and MSNBC projected to each of the candidates after January 3's Iowa Caucuses.
  • AP projects that Mitt Romney's eight-vote victory earned him 13 delegates, while CNN gives him only 7 and MSNBC gives him 11.
  • AP gave Santorum 12 for his near second, but CNN and MSNBC each projected the same total they projected for Romney, 7 and 11, respectively.
  • AP doesn't give Ron Paul any delegates for his close third place showing in Iowa, but CNN gave him 7 and MSNBC projected him 3.
The only consistency was that 25 of Iowa's 28 delegates were projected from all three outlets, with three unpledged delegates remaining. However, the fact that these three enormous sects of the media don't agree on delegate projections shows you that the process is not as straight-forward as one would hope. It gets more frustrating if one looks at an explanation from one of them. Here's an excerpt from the Associated Press article that projected those allocations. The underlining is mine.

Iowa's delegates to the national convention are not bound by the results of the caucuses. But an Associated Press analysis showed Romney would win 13 and Santorum would win 12, if there were no changes in their support as the campaign wears on.

Twenty-five delegates were at stake in the caucuses. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas came in third in the voting but was shut out of delegates because he didn't win any of Iowa's four congressional districts.

Thus, according to the AP's analysis, the voting is not "binding" at all. Delegates can change their minds later, ahead of August's Republican National Convention. In other words, suppose Newt Gingrich pulls off a miracle comeback. All of Iowa's delegates could vote for him this summer.

Paul's bagel of a score from the AP is also curious. Remember: both CNN and MSNBC gave Ron Paul delegates! So was Paul "shut out of delegates" or wasn't he? How do these three massive outlets not agree on such a straight-forward circumstance of someone finishing in a close third despite not winning any single district?

I don't have answers. Before too long, though, I hope to unearth evidence from the deepest bowels of the RNC. Until then, here are the tentative Republican Primary Standings, with ranges of potential scores included.

1. Mitt Romney: 14-20 (7-13 from range explained above; 7 from New Hampshire), +13*
2. Rick Santorum: 8-13 (range explained above), +1*
3. Ron Paul: 3-10 (0-7 from range explained above; 3 from New Hampshire)
4. Jon Huntsman: 2 (New Hampshire Primary)
5. Rick Perry: 0-2 (from range explained above), +3*
6. Newt Gingrich: 0-2 (from range explained above)

*And there's yet one more wrinkle. Remember the maddening superdelegates from four years ago? They're baaack. And Rick Perry, somehow, already has three of them. Romney has 13 and Santorum has 1. Thus, perhaps more accurate standings are:

1. Mitt Romney: 17-33 (including his 13 superdelegates)
2. Rick Santorum: 9-14 (including his 1 superdelegate)
3. Ron Paul: 3-10
4. Rick Perry: 3-5 (including his 3 superdelegates)
5. Jon Huntsman: 2
6. Newt Gingrich: 0-2
---
Editor's note: Today marks my debut on the online magazine "Construction." I'll have a presidential politics column there about once a week, rotating with writer Stephen Kurczy. I hope you find your way over there.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Republican Primary Delegates

In the upcoming eight days before the January 21 South Carolina Primary, we'll surely take a close look at the state of the six remaining candidacies for the Republican nomination. Before we do that, however, let's first take a look at some quantitative factors that will determine the fates of those candidacies. The following are important reference points to which we can refer between now and South Carolina, probably through a self-referential link, if you’re not getting sick of those. (Apologies in advance if today's post comes across as too didactic, but I think there a lot of questions out there about how the delegation sizes work.)

Here is the Republican Primary Schedule through "Super Tuesday":
January 3: Iowa (caucus)
January 10: New Hampshire (primary)
----
January 21: South Carolina (primary)
January 31: Florida (primary)
February 4: Nevada (caucus)
February 4–11: Maine (caucus)
February 7: Colorado (caucus), Minnesota (caucus), Missouri (primary, won't count),
February 28: Arizona (primary), Michigan (primary) March 3: Washington (caucus)
March 6: (Super Tuesday) Alaska (caucus), Georgia (primary), Idaho (caucus), Massachusetts (primary), North Dakota (caucus), Ohio (primary), Oklahoma (primary), Tennessee (primary), Vermont (primary), Virginia (primary)

It's notable that with the exception of Florida, all of these states give “proportional” allocations. It's not until the primaries held on April 3 and later where we'll see allocations that are “winner-take-all.” This means two things for the unfolding primary:
--1) Florida, even with a 50 percent penalty on its 99 delegates (more about which later), is a huge wildcard if Romney doesn't wrap this up on the 21st.
--2) Ron Paul is a factor until April 3, but only until April 3. Thus, we can ask: to what extent is he a factor at all? More on that before South Carolina.

In addition to the primary schedule, another relevant factor for this primary process is the exact number of delegates that each state awards to the Republican National Convention. For that, I find this website, "thegreenpapers.com," particularly helpful. If you scroll down to "Republican Detailed Delegate Allocation - 2012," you'll see a terrific breakdown. You'll notice that each state accounts for more than just pledged, "district" delegates, which are delegates directly awarded for performances in primaries. In other words, in these primaries and caucuses, it's the district delegates for which the candidates are competing when they stump for votes. This number is determined by the state’s House delegation multiplied by three. (Connecticut, for example, has five members in the US House of Representatives; therefore, they get 15 district delegates awarded by their primary.)

As thegreenpapers shows us, however, there are also "At Large" delegates for each state. These are determined by total number of US Senators for each state, multiplied by five. Thus, every state has 10 At Large delegates. (US territories like Washington DC, Puerto Rico, Guam, and others also have At Large delegates, these determined by their population.)

Additionally, each state (and territory) is awarded three "Party Leader" delegates (the national committeeman, the national committee woman, and the chairman of the state Republican Party).

There are, furthermore, a variety of "Bonus Delegates" awarded. One is for voting Republican in the 2008 presidential election (McCain-Palin), one for currently hosting a Republican governor, and one for each (if any) of its Republican US Senators. Moreover, if 50 percent or more of its US House delegation is Republican, that’s another Bonus Delegate. Finally, having a majority in a chamber of the state legislature counts as a Bonus Delegate (one for each chamber, if any). For details on the specific breakdowns in each state, I strongly recommend the greenpapers site.

But again, the voting caucuses and primaries which we follow on TV only make up the district delegates, not the total delegates, of a state. At times—particularly in the lowest population states—the delegates awarded through voting are fewer than the other delegates the state awards. To clarify this convolution, let’s take a look at familiar Iowa and New Hampshire.

Iowa awards a total of 28 delegates, but of those 28, only 12 of them are district delegates awarded by the famed caucuses. The difference comes from Iowa’s 10 At Large delegates (10), 3 Party Leaders (3), and the fact that it has a Republican governor (1), a Republican US Senator (1), and one of its chambers is majority Republican (1); combined, that makes up the extra 16. In sum (literally): 12 from the voters + 16 from the rest = 28 total delegates from the state of Iowa.

New Hampshire awards 23 delegates (though it’ll ultimately be only 12 for reasons I’ll explain at the end of this paragraph). Of those 23, only 6 come from the actual New Hampshire Primary! Of the remaining 17, 10 are at large, 3 are Party Leaders, 1 is from having a Republican US Senator, 1 for having Republicans as a majority of its US House delegation, and 2 for having each chamber of its state legislature as majority Republican. However, since New Hampshire moved up its primary against the Republican National Committee’s wishes, the RNC placed a 50 percent penalty on the New Hampshire Republican delegation. Thus, New Hampshire, instead of sending 23 delegates to the National Convention, will only send 12.

The RNC, in fact, placed similar penalties on Florida, Michigan, Arizona, and South Carolina. Therefore, the aforementioned “winner take all” Florida Primary on January 31, which was originally scheduled for 99 total delegates (81 District, 10 At Large, 3 Party Leaders, one governor, one US Senator, one for its House delegation, and one for each of its Republican-dominated chambers of its state legislature), will actually only count for 50.

Fun, right?

Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at the Republican Primary standings, including the delegate count so far and the delegates up for grabs in the coming weeks. See you then.

-IC

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Hampshire Primary Analysis

That, PPFA readers, was a bust of a night.

That is, unless you're a fan of Mitt Romney. With about 40 percent of the vote (with 3 percent of precincts still to finalize, his current 39 percent could rise or fall a point in the next day or so), Romney met the, albeit adjusted, expectations. Moreover, the clear-cut second place finisher, Ron Paul, is not at all considered a threat to win the nomination, and the clear-cut third place finisher, Jon Huntsman, is not considered one of Romney's top rivals. Far back were the candidates that most pundits perceive as the only threat to Romney. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, also-rans fighting for scraps of the New Hampshire table--fourth place. Simply put, last night was a win for the Romney Campaign on several levels.

If you're a fan of any of the other candidates, however, or of a long, drawn out, complicated six months of primary pandemonium, you went to bed awfully disappointed. This race might be over in ten days. This race might be over now.

There is, however, some good news. My predictions were perfect. Every candidate placed in the order I predicted, including Gingrich edging out Santorum in an unpredictable squeaker, and all percentages were between their best and worst realistic case scenarios.

Now, the bad news. There's not much more New Hampshire analysis to do. There was nothing at all surprising from last night's primary.

What's more relevant, probably, are the primary's preceding days and their effects on the days to come. Romney's New Hampshire numbers certainly dipped over the last few days, and much of the field levied a counterintuitive, anti-capitalistic charge against Romney's overplayed sound byte concerning firing people who do a bad job and his history with Bain. I'll be interested to see if, moving forward, this settling of his polling numbers continues, or if his New Hampshire win will ensure that those numbers bottomed out on January 9 and now steadily rise as he saturates the airwaves in South Carolina and Florida.

As always, the most important aspect of a primary is how it shapes the next primary and beyond. Incredibly--though, considering the results, not surprisingly--no candidate dropped out. Camp Romney must be thrilled that six candidates remain heading into South Carolina, and many of them continue to split the conservative base.

Here's the breakdown for each candidate. As I did with Iowa, I'll discuss them in reverse order of finish.

6. Rick Perry--Less than 1% of New Hampshire vote
What New Hampshire represented: Nothing. Perry did not compete.
How New Hampshire results affect candidacy: Not at all.
What candidate must do moving forward: Drop out with anything less than third place in South Carolina.

5. Rick Santorum--10%
What New Hampshire represented: Rick Santorum doesn't play well away from conservative areas. New Hampshire might be the most conservative state in New England, but compared to the Midwest and Deep South, the Granite State is downright Bolshevik.
How New Hampshire results affect candidacy: No real effect on his own campaign, other than Romney pulling away after their Iowa virtual tie. Since nothing was gained by spending time in New Hampshire, perhaps he now realizes that my plan (found here before Iowa and here after it) for him to spend this past week in South Carolina in an effort to win the state--thusly getting the best head start in becoming the conservative alternative to Romney--was the better strategy than his failed attempt at campaigning in moderate New Hampshire.
What candidate must do moving forward: Pull an Iowa in South Carolina. Take his far right social conservatism to the south and deny Romney a third win. After South Carolina, not one of the subsequent nine states in the Republican primary schedule are in his wheelhouse. (Florida, Nevada, Maine, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri, Arizona, Michigan, Washington.) Anything out of the South Carolina top three and he's likely finished. With Perry facing similar circumstances, rest assured one or both of these two candidates will not make it to Florida.

If Santorum wins South Carolina, we won't hear that Romney has two wins and one loss in three states. We'll hear that Romney and Santorum each have one win, one loss, and one tie. And it'd be all square with two candidates left, one of them--Santorum--the conservative survivor.

4. Newt Gingrich--10%
What New Hampshire represented: His candidacy is on its last breath.
How New Hampshire results affect candidacy: Gingrich might be on his last breath, but with hate's sake, he'll spit his last breath at Romney. Mitt Romney, my friends, is rapidly becoming Newt Gingrich's white whale.
What candidate must do moving forward: He must pile upon the Romney's white hump the sum of all the rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down. If his chest is a cannon, he would shoot his heart upon it. (I hope that was as fun to read as it was to write. Any time you can squeeze in "pile upon the Romney's white hump" in a sentence, you just have to do it. Just call me Ishmael.)

Newt's anti-Romney ads are going to peak in South Carolina. Gingrich might lose the nomination, but he'll do everything to take Romney down with him.

And think about it--there are ten days until January 21st's South Carolina Primary. Ten days. After Romney was hammered over the weekend and lost five points on his home turf, I wonder what ten days in the South can do to a Massachusetts Mormon with a moderate past. His South Carolina poll lead might not last until the 21st, and Gingrich might be the reason why. It won't be pretty.

3. Jon Huntsman--17%
What New Hampshire represented: A week ago, 17 percent looked great for the Huntsman Campaign, but after the surge in expectations by primary day, he has to be a little disappointed he couldn't break 20.
How New Hampshire results affect candidacy: A second place finish might have led to the seventh national surge of a Republican candidate, but with a third place finish, that won't happen. But it was still a top 3 result, which kept his candidacy alive.
What candidate must do moving forward: Two options.
--1) Get a five million dollar check from his billionaire father who now sees his son has a chance if the voters get to know him. Through this strategy, he competes in South Carolina, probably limiting Romney's Carolinian numbers (which would only be fair as Gingrich, Perry, and Santorum split the conservative voters).
--2) Go directly to Florida. Florida is not a proportional primary; rather, it's a winner take all state. Could Huntsman repeat his Iowa-New Hampshire strategy and skip a conservative state (South Carolina) to compete in a moderate one (Florida)? It's an option. He has three weeks until the Florida Primary. He has a small surge. He can be there as the others fight in South Carolina. He seems to be hitting his stride on the campaign trail and debates. If Romney is limited in South Carolina by the conservative base and Huntsman steals Florida, then Huntsman will earn the 40 post-penalty delegates (50% penalty on their 80 due to holding their primary earlier than the RNC directed). Those forty delegates would be enough to thrust Huntsman into the delegate lead. And then, the last Republican candidate would surge, and the party might have their final anti-Romney. Food for thought.

Interesting note: Huntsman's recent speeches, including his speech last night, focused on immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan and appealed to the youth vote. Could he be courting Ron Paul voters? Probably yes, but Ron Paul voters are a tough group off of which to siphon. I don't think it'll work.

2. Ron Paul--23%
What New Hampshire represented: Nothing we didn't already know.
How New Hampshire results affect candidacy: Not at all. Chalk up another top 3 for the most passionate political minority constituency in recent history.
What candidate must do moving forward: Keep doing his Ron Paul thing. Last night he characterized himself as the true Romney alternative, but I don't think mainstream Republicans are biting at that bit.

Interesting note: Two of the top three spots in New Hampshire were won last night by anti-war Republicans. That is not the Republican Party of the last decade. Might it be the GOP of the next?

1. Mitt Romney--39%
What New Hampshire represented: It confirmed what we already knew. Homefield advantage is huge in politics.
How New Hampshire results affect candidacy: As mentioned earlier, not only did he meet his 40 percent goal, but the other candidates came in a perfect order for him. His win in New Hampshire also sets up South Carolina as High Noon for Romney and his rivals, and we can expect Romney to go for the kill shot on the 21st. Not only does he have a lead in the polls there, but he has a nice little moderate base on the coast that thinks differently than its rural, inland, more conservative cousin. Still, if someone else wins South Carolina, Romney would be vulnerable.
What candidate must do moving forward: Spend his time on South Carolina, but saturate the airwaves of Florida. I heard Florida referred to as Romney's "firewall," and that term works splendidly here. If a conservative candidate breaks through in South Carolina, Romney needs to make sure that this candidate's momentum is terminated in Florida before the primary process goes national.

A holistic look at the Romney candidacy reveals that he's run a brilliant campaign. Consider that no Republican candidate has won Iowa and New Hampshire if he wasn't a sitting president. Ever. Consider that from the outset he's been running a campaign against President Obama and letting his SuperPAC do all the attacks on his fellow Republicans. Brilliant. Consider that he's raised more money than any other Republican candidate and is always airing adds in future states, softening the ground for his later arrival, while campaigning in current ones. Genius.

Then, last night, note the hawkishness of his speech. He clearly considers Paul and Huntsman non-factors, so he has no reason to court their voters. Romney said that he would create "a military so powerful that no one would think of challenging it." Make no mistake, that saber-rattling rhetoric was his appeal to the Republican base in the south.

Like I said on Monday, he could win fifty states. And this would be as a Mormon from Massachusetts who once supported Roe v. Wade, gay rights, and universal health care for his state. And he's running for the Republican nomination.

Incredible.

Stay tuned in the coming days for the evolution of the primary as we head toward South Carolina.

Monday, January 09, 2012

New Hampshire Primary Preview and Predictions

How's that for alliteration?

Here are five of my biggest questions and curiosities for tomorrow's New Hampshire Primary. Below I have my prediction for their performance and include each candidate's best and worst realistic scenario.

1. Who will place second?
All the candidates are making their final push, but we know Mitt Romney has the New Hampshire Primary in the bag. Still, we wonder who will place second.

Most New Hampshire polls point to a Ron Paul as runner up. The Real Clear Politics polling average, which averages the last handful of relevant polls together, shows Romney with a solid 38.5 percentage points to Paul's 19.8. Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum sit tied for the important final top 3 spot at 11.5, and Gingrich has fallen to fifth place at 9.5. Rick Perry, spending his time in South Carolina this week, barely registers.

The reason this question tops the list is because a strong second place showing from Paul likely marginalizes Romney's real rivals for the nomination, namely Gingrich and Santorum. A Huntsman third place would reinforce this marginalization for the Speaker and former Pennsylvania senator. If you're a fan of an elongated primary process with the outcome in doubt, you are rooting against Ron Paul tomorrow. You want either Gingrich, Santorum, or both to succeed.

2. Can the candidates make Romney's win look like a loss?If Romney and Paul do finish 1-2, the remaining candidates have one hope remaining in the New Hampshire Primary. They have to hope that all their attacks, like the ones that cite his tenure with Bain Capital, limit Romney's win margin. If Romney wins with a percentage in the low 30s--this in a state where Romney has a home, where he ran the state next door, and where he once registered around 50 percent--Romney will seem as vulnerable as ever moving to South Carolina.

Recent New Hampshire poll numbers suggest this downward turn isn't completely out of the questioned. The aforementioned RCP average that cited Romney at 38.5 took into consideration the latest six New Hampshire polls. These were done, in chronological order, by the Washington Times/JZ Analytics, NBC News/Marist, Rasmussen, WMUR/UNH, Public Policy Polling, and Suffolk/7 News across the last five days. However, if we examine the trend across these five days, we'll see that Romney has not only leveled off in the polls, but is sinking a bit. The first four of those polls, whose polling began on January 4 and 5, registered Romney at 38, 42, 42, and 41. The final two polls, each of which took place on January 7 and 8, registered Romney at a considerably weaker 35 and 33.

In sum, Romney's lead, though safe, is slipping. Perhaps the balance of power has worked. Hope remains for the "Non"meys.

3. Did the Jon Huntsman strategy work?As I've written before, this strategy fascinates me. Is there something to be said for ignoring Iowa while all other candidates scramble for it while putting all your own resources into New Hampshire? We might find out. If Huntsman steals second place from Paul, I would say it did work. Still, perhaps he picked the wrong year to do it! This strategy, perhaps, would best work in a year where the New Hampshire winner is not decided, like it will be tomorrow.

Another wrinkle to this is that Huntsman's moderate conservative base seems to resemble Romney's. If Huntsman does well--and he has benefitted from recent attacks against Romney--that likely means he limited Romney's votes. If Huntsman disappoints, that could mean a big day for his fellow Mormon.

4. Will the New Hampshire results make clear around which anti-Romney candidate the conservative base can rally? Will any candidate of Santorum, Gingrich, or Huntsman soundly beat expectations and ride that momentum into South Carolina and Florida as the last, best hope to keep Romney from the Republican nomination? There are too many possible finishes for the three candidates to truly break down, but if any two of these candidates have a rough final day in New Hampshire, the third could be the biggest benefactor, and he could leapfrog Ron Paul into a strong second place. If any of them can get into the mid-to-upper 20s, and if they can all as a group limit Romney to the low 30s, then the viable, conservative alternative would finally be identified.

5. Are we about to see Romney clinch 50 states?If the answers to 2, 3, and 4 are No, the answer to 5 might be Yes. If Romney wins with, say, 40 percent of the vote, and if Jon Huntsman's similar base of support did not support their candidate enough and limit Romney, and if no clear Republican alternative emerges, then not only does Romney soundly win New Hampshire, but all the remaining candidates--none of which are eliminated by finishing too far behind their "Non"mey rivals--will push forth to South Carolina and continue to split the vote with each other. With Romney already in the lead in South Carolina, having Gingrich, Perry, and Santorum split the anti-Romney vote there will clinch the state for the former Massachusetts governor.

Then, with three primary wins and zero losses, he'll ride that momentum into Florida, where he's already running ads before any other candidate and already leading in Florida Primary polls. It then seems perfectly plausible that he runs the table, especially considering his solid national lead. Perry will be gone by Texas, Huntsman by Utah, and Gingrich by Georgia. Ron Paul will stay--and will finish with the second most delegates--but he can't carry any single state. Thus, we could, indeed, have Romney win 50 states.

After all the political fighting and drama of 2011, who saw that coming? If it does happen, hats off to the Romney campaign for playing it perfectly.
---
But it might NOT happen. For possible results tomorrow, see below. Here is a brief preview and prediction for each candidate tomorrow, in order of predicted finish.

1. Mitt RomneyOverview: I've said enough.
Best realistic case: Somewhere in the 40s.
Worst realistic case: 30. (I already know my first line to Wednesday's blog if he finishes in the low 30s. Hint: it'll be a quote from a boxing movie sequel.)

2. Ron Paul
Overview: Rock solid floor, as always. Just looking to continue to finish near the top of all contests, but not win enough to garner the nomination.
Best realistic case: High 20s (wouldn't matter for himself, but would benefit Romney)
Worst realistic case: Mid teens (wouldn't matter for himself, but could hurt Romney)

3. Jon Huntsman
Overview: He has the momentum. His numbers were climbing even before his great debate performance on Sunday, including the line of the debate talking about Romney's divisiveness. He registered at 8 or 9 in last week's polls, but this week, PPP and Suffolk have him at 16 and 13, respectively.
Best realistic case: Second place, maybe the low 20s, and a heartbeat.
Worst realistic case: Single digits and the end of his campaign.

4. Newt Gingrich
Overview: I feel pretty good about the above #'s 1-3 and #6 below, but I can't put my finger on who will finish 4th and 5th. I think Gingrich's crusade against Romney has resonated more with New Hampshire voters than Santorum's far right conservatism (including his spat with some New Hampshire youth, who might turn out to vote for a rival just to vote against Santorum.) I'm leaning Gingrich. Leaning.
Best realistic case: See Huntsman.
Worst realistic case: See Huntsman.

5. Rick Santorum--See Gingrich

6. Rick Perry
Overview: We only know two finishes for certain. Romney will win, and Perry will finish in last.
Best realistic case: 3%
Worst realistic case: 1%

Only one day until the first primary of the season! Stay tuned.

-IC

Sunday, January 08, 2012

New Hampshire Debate: Grades (Debate #2)

Was it enough? Was enough damage done to Mitt Romney? Was his inevitability at all stunted?

Probably not.

It was a great start for the "Non"meys. Their greatest advocate, it seems, was moderator David Gregory. When he set up Romney's rivals:


  • Newt Gingrich reminded voters that Romney, as the governor of Massachusetts, was fourth from the bottom in job creation. (Huntsman said the same thing last night, pointing out that Romney was 47th in the category.) He argued that Romney's national economic plan was timid and Obamalike. And he once again characterized Romney as a "Massachusetts Moderate."

  • Rick Santorum joined in, explaining to the American people that Romney's record as governor was so bad and unpopular that he didn't run for reelection. Romney responded by saying that he doesn't run for reelection for private gain, but for the people. Gingrich wisely leapt on that explanation, citing how often Romney loses elections as the reason he hasn't been in politics for a lot longer. Santorum also brought up Romney's moderate platform in his 1994 campaign, arguing that Romney "ran to the left of Ted Kennedy." Ouch.

  • Ron Paul got the next opportunity from Gregory. Asked about Romney's inconsistency, Paul agrees and adds that it'd be lunacy to nominate a governor that once supported single-payer health care who has friends on Wall Street to run against President Obama.

  • To get his dig on Romney, Jon Huntsman pointed to a moment from last night's debate. Last night, Romney was critical of Huntsman's role in an Obama administration. Huntsman argued that he put his country first. Romney, in potentially his worst moment of the debates, posited that putting the country first means espousing conservative values and opposing President Obama. Huntsman immediately and brilliantly seized on this divisive response, citing that, "This nation is divided because of responses like that." In other words, his President asked for his help so he served overseas. Romney, now, will certainly ease up on criticism of such an act.

  • Rick Perry never had his anti-Romney moment, probably still neutered from his disastrous confrontations from last year.

Like last night, however, cooler heads prevailed for the second act. Once moderator Gregory stopped directly asking about Romney's record, the candidates, surprisingly, did not find a way to incorporate anti-Romney remarks in their responses.

Herein lies the point and the "Non"meys' lack of success today. They should never have let up on Romney. Throughout the debate, their collective boot should have stayed squarely pressed on Romney's neck. Only then would Romney's numbers truly depress.

But they let up, and only Gingrich came back at Romney later in the debate, citing Romney's lack of honesty in his campaigning. No other candidate supported the Speaker, however, and Romney escaped relatively healthy.

Still, Romney was not strong and had questionable defenses. I don't see him getting less than 35 percent of the New Hampshire vote, but he survived to win the state by 10+ points. Romney grade: C+

Other thoughts and debate grades from New Hampshire Debate #2:

--I don't drink, but if there's a debate drinking game you're looking for, try taking a drink every time a candidate is asked a question and he responds with, “Well, let me first address” and answers something else. You’ll be passed out by the third round. (Note: if you play this game during a morning debate, expect little productivity for the rest of the day, and perhaps an intervention.)

--For the second day in a row, Rick Perry hammered home his "outsider" background. Perhaps he decided this was the only way to separate himself from the field. He continues to reach out to the Tea Party. South Carolina will be a good barometer for how effective these strategies were. They aren't bad strategies, but he should have started with that back when he first declared his candidacy. I also enjoyed his joke about wanting to get rid of the departments of commerce, education, and whatever the other one was. Perry grade: B

--Ron Paul: same old, same old. There is no more consistent candidate. Republicans love the first half of all his responses, nodding in agreement. Then he finishes the responses by offering money-saving foreign policy ideas, and Republicans run for the exits. Paul grade: B+

--Newt Gingrich drastically improved upon last night's debate performance, and he was the only one who consistently hammered away at the frontrunner to give everyone else a chance for the nomination. In addition to the attacks mentioned above, he chided Romney for ignoring the red light and his "pious baloney." Unfortunately for the Speaker, I don't see any way he solidified a top 3 showing. It's still possible, but his desire to limit Romney trumped his desire to limit New Hampshire top 3 rivals Huntsman, Santorum, and Paul. The other candidates owe Gingrich a debt of gratitude. Gingrich grade: B+

--Jon Huntsman was much better tonight in his desperate attempt for a top 3 in New Hampshire. In perhaps his last moment on a national stage, he effectively attacked Romney, boasted about his own experience with foreign policy and as governor, reminded voters that he has spent more time in the Granite State than anyone else, and even point out his conservative record. It was gusty to go after senior entitlements--seniors are the most likely voters out there--but I think he still earned a top 3 New Hampshire finish. Huntsman grade: A-

--Rick Santorum had the most disappointing performance. He came out strong against Romney, but then let up. As Romney's greatest challenger, he should have consistently drawn contrasts all night. Moreover, Santorum has picked up this Gingrichian habit of acting incredulous to too many questions from the moderators. It's as if he can't believe that someone has to ask about gay marriage or contraception. Senator, some people aren't as conservative as you, and they do want clarification on your far conservative social beliefs. Santorum now risks a 4th place New Hampshire finish and a plateau in his national numbers. Santorum grade: C-


Don't forget to check in tomorrow for my New Hampshire Primary Preview!

-IC
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