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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Florida Weekend: Romney Reasserts

What a turn of events. I'm still stunned. Of the myriad candidates who aggressively attempted to make themselves palatable to the GOP, it's Mr. Vanilla who looks to be the last to raise Republican taste buds. Mitt Romney's combative, confident, and crafty debate performance on Thursday night sewed up Florida, and it sewed up the Republican nomination. Others might characterize this prediction as premature. I do not.

Many factors make this development astonishing. First, consider that Republicans had seemingly been searching for an anti-Romney candidate that could compete with him for close to a year and finally found one, only to lose him in a matter of days.

Second and similarly, Newt Gingrich had all the momentum heading into this week. But of all the candidates' surges over the past six months, has any candidate's momentum so quickly and visibly been squashed? I think not.

Third, and perhaps most surprising of all, debates are considered by many pundits, me included, as the former Speaker's finest strength. Indeed, it was his debate performances--and the numerous debates--that allowed his campaign, for so long, to survive on a shoestring budget and pathetic national organization. While Romney poured millions into ads and a metropolitan infrastructure, Gingrich used the free debates as opportunities to engage and court the Republican voter, and he did it better than any Republican candidate since Ronald Reagan.

But then there was Thursday night. When writing Gingrich's post-mortem, we will point to January 25 as the end of his campaign. So outclassed was he by Mitt Romney that I have altered the left sidebar's odds of the three major candidates without seeing any new polling data (I'm allowing 36 hours for polls to reliably gauge debate effects), to say nothing of not needing to see the Florida Primary's ensuing shake up.

And how did he do it? By taking the gloves off and being proud of it. In past debates, he'd either attempt to focus on President Obama, or he would admonish his competitors while sporting an uncomfortable smile. Early in Thursday's debate, however, Romney confidently chided Gingrich's evaluation of Romney's immigration stance ("The idea that I'm anti-immigrant is repulsive."). Boot placed squarely on Gingrich's neck, Romney never let Gingrich breath all night. In response to an abrasive--and ultimately withdrawn--Gingrich ad, Romney charged "I think you should apologize for it, and I think you should recognize that having differences of opinions on issues does not justify labeling people with highly charged epithets."

Gingrich squirmed. Countless times he tried to win the crowd--something that in the past had come so easy to him--but it just wasn't happening on Thursday. At one point, like a football team waiting to use a trick play, Gingrich attacked moderator Wolf Blitzer for his "nonsense question," hoping to rally the crowd as he did against Blitzer's colleague, John King, in the final South Carolina debate. But his trick play was snuffed out behind the line of scrimmage. While the crowd did momentarily rally to Gingrich's Antimedia Crusade, deus ultimately did not vult. First, Blizter stood his ground. Then Romney helped the moderator fight back ("Wouldn’t it be nice if people didn’t make accusations somewhere else that they weren’t willing to defend here?"). It came to nothing for the Speaker, and Romney capitalized. Gingrich, it grew increasingly clear, was stuck on the treadmill for the night, which is probably the only time anyone has ever written that down.

Romney wasn't perfect ("you're fired" and his forgetful nature about the ads he approved come to mind), but he didn't have to be. He just had to be better than Gingrich. Moreover, he was able to win the crowd. In fact, so popular was Romney with Thursday's audience that some began to wonder if the GOP stacked the crowd with Romney supporters, just so the party could more quickly arrive at the inevitable nominee before the party's centrifugal forces tore it apart.

If you're wondering about Rick Santorum and Ron Paul's roles in this ostensible dichotomy, I'll get to them soon. Truth be told, IC is awfully busy. While writing here about the Election of 2012, I'm also writing a Master's Thesis on the Election of 1948. Perhaps I can cap a PhD off with a comparison between the two!

Anyway, for Santorum and Paul analysis, and more Mitt v. Newt, check back in again as we close in on Tuesday's Florida Primary. As always, thanks for reading.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

GOP Florida Debate LIVE BLOG

7:45--Good evening, and welcome to Presidential Politics for America's first live blog of the 2012 presidential election. I'm joined by fellow writer, Stephen Kurczy. The two of us host the "Wing Nuts" section of Construction Lit Magazine, posting Mondays and Fridays. For the next 90 minutes, we'll make live updates throughout the second Republican Debate in Florida, aired on CNN. To follow along, refresh the page every so often and see us update the night away.

Without further ado, Stephen Kurczy everyone!

SK (7:49): Hey there gang. It's an honor for me to share the blog-o-stage with PPFA's Dear Leader for the 19th GOP debate of the 2012 presidential race and the final debate before the Florida primary on Tuesday. The GOP field has dwindled to four, after about eight other candidates "oops-ed" themselves out of the race. Why the live blog? Cause this is like "American Idol" for me and Ian! But also because debates DO matter. In the debate one week ago, Newt Gingrich's first comments were enough to win the night and the South Carolina primary two days later. Can Newt do it again? Or will Mitt Romney come out swinging? Can Rick Santorum turn this into a three-man race? Or will he be relegated to the Never Land of Ron Paul? Stay tuned!

IC (7:52): Great questions, Steve. Big picture, we're looking for similar things. I was taking a look at the current Florida polls from RCP. It looks like Romney re-established a lead, even if it's a lot slimmer than it was two weeks ago. After peaking with a lead in the mid-20s, his lead over Gingrich evaporated by the end of last weekend. Then, Gingrich took the lead in three different polls while a fourth showed a tie. Since, however, Romney re-gained the lead and has built it up to 7-8 points. Gingrich, tonight, MUST stop that growing gap. If Gingrich wins Florida, we're in for a month of havoc. If Romney wins and take a large delegate lead (remember that Florida is winner-take-all) heading into a national campaign (where his massive war chest can seal the deal), the primary might effectively be over.

IC (7:58): Filling in for Steve as he works on technical problems... How does Santorum edge back into this race? I don't see it. His Florida numbers fell and flatlined after Iowa, and this is with three other candidates--two of which were his main conservative competitors--dropping out. If he finishes a distant 3rd, he'll likely drop out. And the question remains: to whom, if anyone, does he throw his support?

IC (8:00): Here we go! Cue the CNN movie trailer music.

IC (8:01): Answering our first commenter: CNN!

IC (8:03): Wolf! Does he bring anything to these debates?

SK (8:03): Wolf Blitzer is such a blow-hard! Guy drives me crazy.

SK (8:04): The ties worn tonight: Mitt’s is aqua blue. Newt’s is navy with red stripes. Santorum’s is blush red. Paul’s is striped red and maroon. Mitt is the only candidate wearing an American flag pin.
SK (8:05): I love watching these guys walk onto the stage. Ron Paul, quick steps and hurried. Romney, slow and assured. Gingrich, waddling. Santorum, like a nice guy walking into your back yard for a bar-q-que!

IC (8:06): Romney and Santorum singing the anthem. Typical. Ron Paul: "Hey, Mitt, you know why they sing this song? So you don't have to. PS. The Fed sucks."

SK (8:06): Check out whose singing the national anthem, Santorum and Romney. Meanwhile, Paul and Gingrich stare at the flag, their eyes moving around the crowd.

SK (8:08): What are these guys writing on their notepads? I think Mitt is playing hangman against his alter-ego. Not that he just has one.

IC (8:09): ZING!

IC (8:09): Starting with immigration. Santorum to kick things off? Weird.

SK (8:10): Ron Paul is the only person whose intro actually addresses some policy issues, aside from just saying that his mom and kids are in audience. Leave it to Paul to be TOO sincere.

IC (8:11) Tonight, I'm looking for how many times Santorum agrees/pulls his punches with Romney. I really think he's shifting into VP mode. For Exhibit A, I bring you his very first response.

IC (8:13): How well does turning one's self in work with, well, I don't know, everyone else who breaks the law and gets away with it?

IC (8:15): If you guessed "15 Minutes In" in your "When does Ron Paul get his first question?" office pool, congratulations!

SK (8:17): Santorum says "we need immigration." Going for those Latino votes. Gingrich takes harder stance, says "self-deportation will occur" if the proper penalties are put in place, except with the old Latino grandma's. So... ? Romney's answer is way too complicated. Paul says "you can't deal with immigration unless you deal with the economy. ... Businesses need workers. ... I think we spend too much time worrying about the border on Afghanistan and Pakistan and we need to worry about our own borders." [applause]

SK (8:19): Romney goes for jugular. Says to Gingrich, "The idea that I'm anti-immigrant is repulsive! It's the kind of over the top rhetoric that has characterized American politics for too long!"

SK (8:20): Hey, lay off the Grandmas!

IC (8:21): Do we have a pro-Romney crowd? How will Gingrich respond? He has had every Republican crowd wrapped around his pudgy little finger. I'm betting a pro-Romney crowd brings out Newt's best.

IC (8:22): Okay, I'll say it. Mitt might have just taken his campaign back.

IC (8:25): If you had 8:25 in your "When will they talk about Honduras?" office pool... congratulations!

SK (8:27): Little action on Cuba now. Paul says, “I think it’s time we had friendship with Cuba.” Which is true, this ain't the Cold War, people! Santorum disagrees, says Obama sided with Chavez and Castro when he didn’t support the Honduran coup. Pleeease.

IC (8:28): Commenters, keep the comments coming! But we do ask for your first name or initials so we can respond specifically or maybe share your thoughts on here.

IC (8:29): Whoa! Great, rare debate moment. Romney gets caught on an add he approved that he earlier claimed to have no clue about. They fact checked MID-DEBATE! How does this not happening more often?!

IC (8:30): Was Romney wearing the same suit in the previous debate footage as he is in the current one? This might explain why he has no friends.

SK (8:31): I agree! CNN should have a team of fact-checkers analyzing every word these guys say.

IC (8:32): Same with FoxNews and MSNBC... assuming they have fact-checking departments.

IC (8:33): Romney going hard after Gingrich's investments! I think he's doing serious damage. This is NOT what Newt had in mind in his last Florida debate.

SK (8:34): That's right Ian, Gingrich is on the losing on almost every question. He wants to know how many home foreclosures enriched Romney. Romney replies that all his investments are “blind,” accuses Gingrich of investing in Fanny and Freddy, AND of lobbying for the two US home lenders. Gut-punch. (Luckily Gingrich has a big gut)
IC (8:35): Ron Paul bails out the leaders, marking the only time Ron Paul has ever been in favor of a bailout.

IC (8:36): Rick Santorum reaching for the "stop with the petty, personal bickering" vote, which I have to assume is sizeable these days.

---Commercial Break #1---

SK (8:37): Santorum took a swing at Romney before the first commercial break. But he'll need to swing harder if he's gunna break out of his rut.

IC (8:37): Agreed. It takes a lot more to cut the Russian.

Comment from Anonymous (8:38): This is beautiful. Beautiful. One guy accuses another of doing something bad. The guy says he didn't do it, then accuses the other of not doing it, too.

IC (8:39): Good one. Again, guys, please use the "Name/URL" option, one spot above the Anonymous bubble.

---End of Commerical #1---

IC (8:42): These two are just getting awkward.

SK (8:44): Gotta say though, Mitt is doing a better job this time at addressing Newt's criticisms. Newt is looking petty.
IC (8:44): I couldn't agree more. We're coupling Newt's worst debate with Romney's best debate since Iowa.

IC (8:46): Rick Santorum: Vote for me, I only make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

SK (8:47): Little tax talk now. Santorum says, “What’s good enough for Reagan is good enough for me.” Wolf asks Paul if he agrees. Paul says Reagan’s taxes are still too high!

IC (8:48): Nice history lesson by Paul there. Historically, a transfer of wealth from the poor to the elite does precede a social collapse.

IC (8:49): Steve, you know you want Ron Paul as your grandfather.

SK (8:51): Yeah, both my grandpa's are dead. Thanks, Ian.

*Chirp chirp. Chirp chirp.*

IC (8:53): I like the idea of reviving space competition in a non-nationalistic way. If we get to Mars or beyond, I don't want it tied to a country, but rather the entire race. Generally a good job by Newt there, until he closes with a chest thumping, "I want an American to get there before the Chinese."

IC (8:54): Santorum's idea to scale down the NASA budget is much more congruous to the conservative ideology. Romney and Gingrich are too busy out-promising each other to notice.

SK (8:56): Newt says Lindbergh flew to Paris for a $25,000 prize, so let’s have a moon prize. All disagree with the spacey idea. Romney says "I’m not looking for a colony on the moon." Santorum says saving $$ is more important. Ron Paul makes the most sense: “I don’t think we should go to the moon. I think we should send some politicians up there.”

IC (8:56): Ron Paul breaking out the Old Man Zingers!

SK (8:57): Did Newt really just compare himself to JFK? That could haunt him.

IC (8:58): Speaking of haunting, does Mitt really want to say, "You're fired" in a debate?

IC (9:00): Ron Paul calls out Gingrich on his "I balanced the budget" mantra. That's unusual for Ron Paul to pick out one candidate. He usually prefers to lambaste the field. Gingrich is hurting tonight. I think Romney's thinking about how to seat his delegates in August.

IC (9:02): Ron Paul at his most vulnerable: when a voter says, "I need help."

SK (9:02): Wow, what is this woman questioner wearing? Leopard-print dress and a fo-mynx scarf? No wonder she's unemployed. I'd fire myself for wearing that.

IC (9:02): Dude.

SK (9:03): Dude, wear's my leopard-print jumpsuit?

IC (9:04): The Republicans are rallying! And their battle cry? "President Obama ruined the country in two years."

IC (9:06): Santorum keeping Michelle Bachman's "Obamacare" and Rick Perry's "Romneycare" spirits alive. I'm waiting for "trust deficit" and "9-9-9" so Santorum can consolidate all the failed candidacies into one.

IC (9:07): Santorum at his best is always when he reminds everyone that he actually is, historically, the truest Republican in the pack, and it's a true Republican that should go up against President Obama.

IC (9:08): Romney once again defends his popular Massachusetts health care plan. Take a drink.
SK (9:10): OK, I'm getting bored. Bring back Herman Cain.

IC (9:11): Okay, I temporarily take back Santorum's run for Romney's #2. He is relentlessly attacking Romney's health care plan.

IC (9:12): Romney to Santorum: "First of all, it's not worth getting upset about." Yikes.

IC (9:13): Paul: "I think they're all wrong." That's more like it! (Re: 9:00 post)

SK (9:15): "Let's move on," Wolf says. Santorum objects, "Mitt, your health care mandate is the same mandate as Obama’s mandate." Wolf asks Ron Paul, "Who’s right?" Paul answers, "I think they’re all wrong." Paul recalls the olden days when nobody was sick or needed government health care. Ah, grandpa. He lives in a Jimmy Stewart film.

IC (9:16): "Paul recalls the olden days when nobody was sick or needed government health care." Classic.

---Commercial Break #2---

SK (9:18): Questioner wants to know about Marco Rubio’s prospects for the White House. All the candidates say they LOVE the Florida senator. All are hush-hush about Rubio’s drug-ties laid out in a recent New Yorker article.

IC (9:19): I, for one, can't wait for vice-presidential politics. Maybe you should make a blog. Vice-Presidential Politics for America has a great ring to it.

SK (9:20): Ian, what question would you ask the candidates?

IC (9:21): "What do you think of Barack Obama's effectiveness as President?"

---End Commercial Break #2---

IC (9:23): I would have given a paycheck if Romney answered, "Why would your wife make a good First Lady?" with "Which wife?"

IC (9:26): Santorum bringing the emotion.

SK (9:30): Q: Why would your wife be a good First Wife? Paul says cause she’s been his life for 53 years and wrote a cookbook. Romney says cause his wife can relate to cancer survivors and victims. Santorum says cause his wife knows the pain of a miscarriage. Gingrich says they all would be great first ladies, and Calista would be no better. On the couch tonight, Newt!

IC (9:32): I continue to question if "Reign of Terror" is an accurate characterization of Cuba. Do they know anything about the real Reign of Terror?

IC (9:33): Q: "What would you say to Raul Castro if he called the White House?" Ron Paul: "I would ask what he called about." Classic Paul.

SK (9:35): Ron Paul on relations with Cuba: “The Cold War is over.” Didn’t I just say that?

IC (9:36): That you did, Kurz! And here I was still ducking under my desk.

IC (9:38): Tough Palestinian question from a Palestinian-American. Courageous question. My hat's off. Candidates extend their standard wrapping of arms around Israel.

SK (9:41): You can read between the lines on the answers to the Palestinian-American's question: A Jewish vote is more important than an Arab vote in Florida.IC (9:42): Rick Santorum is not qualified to say "give a shout out."

IC (9:48): Santorum says that the US is the only country whose government is tied to its religion. Apparently he's overlooked every Muslim country.

SK (9:48): Oh boy, aside from Ron Paul, all the candidates say they'd consult "God" as president. I feel uncomfortable. What if God told Santorum to kill his son? Or if God told Romney to dig for the golden plates?!

IC (9:49): Or raise taxes on the wealthy.

---Commercial Break #3---

IC (9:52): And the last question is... "I want you to tell voters . . . why you are the ONE PERSON, on this stage, that is more likely to beat Barack Obama."

IC (9:53): Ron Paul points to polling. Oh, now he likes polling.

SK (9:54): Gotta love Andy Borowitz's tweets on the debate: Paul: "My only religious belief is that Ben Bernanke is Satan, and so I would kill him with my bare hands." @BorowitzReport
IC (9:55): Romney caps a strong debate performance with a confident closer. He's my prediction to win Florida right now (he wasn't when I woke up today), and I think he can do it by 5-10 points.

IC (9:57): Gingrich did not get it done. He came with a 7-8 point deficit, and he leaves without making his mark, and this is even with a noisy crowd. There are no more debates for the Debate King. All that's left is ads and commercials. Advantage Romney.

IC (9:59): Santorum returns to his bread and butter: I'm the only conservative mainstream Republican up here, and that's what it takes to beat President Obama.

IC (9:59): And that's it! Back with closing thoughts in a minute.

---Debate over---

SK: No question about it, Ian: Newt simply did not get it done tonight. The great debater, the supposed only candidate who can challenge Obama in a one-on-one, was thrown off balance by Mitt’s persistent attacks. Mitt wins, while Santorum remains the conservative alternative and Paul remains irrelevant.

Again, I think Andy Borowitz says it best. "Debate Winners/Losers WINNER: Barack Obama LOSER: Anyone who watched. ... If the Chinese were watching they must wonder what kind of country they've bought." @BorowitzReport

IC: As a fan of dramatic presidential politics, I loved Romney's long-awaited assertiveness with Gingrich, and Gingrich at times seeming speechless as a crowd went against him for the first time. However, as a fan of dramatic presidential politics, I think Romney just won Florida and built what might amount to an insurmountable delegate lead heading into a national campaign for which his campaign is built.

I disagree with Borowitz. Tonight's winner was, without question, Mitt Romney, and Gingrich was its loser. Santorum did very well as the conservative alternative, but it's too little too late. His only shot now lies with Gingrich withdrawing after Florida and throwing his full-throated support behind the former Pennsylvania Senator. Paul was tonight's entertainment; what else is new?

And now it's time for Florida Primary Weekend! Check back in over the next few days to keep yourself abreast of the latest developments. Thanks for reading!

-IC (10:10 PM)


See you here at 8:00, as Stephen Kurczy and I try to bring you a live blog during Florida Debate #2. No guarantee it'll work, but we'll try!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Republican Primary Schedule

I'm eager to look forward to Florida and beyond, but let's set things up first. The Republican Primary schedule below and tomorrow's LIVE BLOG for Florida Debate #2 should set the stage for the analysis in the days to come. I'm calling Friday through Sunday "Florida Weekend." It deserves its own title. You thought the South Carolina Primary was important, but the 2012 Florida Republican Primary could very well be the moment where A) Mitt Romney wins the nomination, B) Newt Gingrich wins the nomination, or C) The Republican Party collapses in on itself like a dying Red Giant gasping for its last bits of helium.

Here is the GOP Primary Schedule through "Super Tuesday":
January 3: Iowa (caucus)--WINNER: Santorum
January 10: New Hampshire (primary)--WINNER: Romney
January 21: South Carolina (primary)--WINNER: Gingrich
**Note: three different winners in the first three states for the first time in history**
January 31: Florida (primary)--99 delegates (50 after 50% penalty)
February 4: Nevada (caucus)--28 delegates
February 4–11: Maine (caucus)--24 delegates
February 7: Colorado (caucus)--36, Minnesota (caucus)--40, Missouri (primary, won't count)
February 28: Arizona (primary)--58 (29 with 50% penalty), Michigan (primary)--59 (30 with 50% penalty)
March 3: Washington (caucus)--43
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)--437 combined

In theory, if the nominee isn't clear by Florida's conclusion, the nominee should be known by Super Tuesday, so I won't post what lies beyond. If you're curious, though, click on the link at the top of this entry. Also, it's notable that with the exception of upcoming 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."

So what does it all mean? How does this schedule affect the candidates and the 2012 Republican Primary? What role can and will Florida play? Can Mitt Romney hold on? Can Newt take the delegate lead? How might the Republican Party react to a Romney-Gingrich showdown? Is there any remaining path to for Rick Santorum? To what extent is Ron Paul a factor?

Those are the types of questions we'll look to answer during Florida Weekend.

Before then, I hope to see you back here tomorrow night for the Florida Debate #2 (with, hopefully, Stephen Kurczy as my co-host!).

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Florida Debate #1

With ten days between the South Carolina Primary and the extremely important Florida Primary, I'm surprised that there are only two debates in between them. If you take a look at the Republican debate schedule, however, you'll see that there's a huge gap between this Thursday's CNN debate (Florida Debate #2) and the next GOP debate, scheduled for February 22. That makes me think that more can hastily be scheduled, and perhaps we'll be treated to one on Monday. The GOP debate schedule, after being so dense for so long, is surprisingly light for the next month. I expect them to fix that.

Now, with my LIVE BLOG* coming up for Thursday night's CNN debate, I thought I'd attempt a trial run last night for the NBC debate. Here were my running thoughts from my seat in the IC Coliseum:

9:00: Brian Williams is our anchor. He's always good for one or two smarmy lines. Is it the eyebrows? It think it's the eyebrows.
9:01: Man-of-the-hour Newt Gingrich gets the first question. Brian Williams recites Romney's attacks of the day and questions Gingrich's electability against President Obama. Gingrich reminds voters of Ronald Reagan's (take a drink) immense 30-point deficit at the outset of 1980 before dominating Jimmy Carter in that year's election. Not one pause, stutter, "um," uncomfortable smile, or grammatical mistake. Classic Gingrich.
9:04: Mitt Romney hits on Gingrich's record as Speaker of the House. He says "resigned in disgrace" twice, bringing his day's total to roughly 572,827.
9:06: Either out of rage or awe/envy, Gingrich notices Romney lied five times in one rant.
9:08: Romney cites Gingrich's history with Freddie Mac. (Take a drink.)
9:09: Williams presses Romney on the justification for his attacks after earlier saying he'd focus on the incumbent President. It is notable that Romney was not singing this tune during the December destruction of Gingrich in Iowa, and only after he thought Gingrich's doomed campaign was coming after him hard in revenge.
9:10: Gingrich: Romney "may have been a good financier but he's a terrible historian." Ladies and gentlemen, the winner of the award for best back-handed compliment of the night!
9:11: Wait, Santorum's on the stage?
9:12: Santorum characterizes the media as always saying this was a two-man race between Romney and Gingrich. Actually, Senator, the theme has been all of the different contenders who competed with Romney for the top spot, and you were one of them. Then you blew it by going to New Hampshire against my explicit instructions.
9:13: Williams questions Santorum about losing his home state in his last Senate race. Santorum makes excellent points in response. In 2006, LOTS of GOP senators lost. Moreover, President Bush had a 35% approval rating, and Santorum stuck by him. Defending conservative values in a year where the conservative party was getting demolished, Santorum was swept out, while others moved to the middle. Santorum characterizes himself as choosing conviction over politics. Very nice job.
9:14: Wait, Ron Paul's in the race?
9:15: Asked about his electability, Paul cite his enormous popularity with the under 30 crowd. Yeah, Congressman, I don't that's enough. Middle-aged and old people vote, and they're terrified of your limited benefits. Additionally, Paul is yet again asked about running third party (take a drink), and yet again says he has "no plans" but does not live in "absolutes" (take another).
9:17: Gingrich goes after Paul's supporters on the Fed, gold, and monetary policy. That was a sweet moment for the two grey-hairs. It's too bad there's a canyon in between them on foreign policy.
9:18: Romney asked about his tax returns, which he released today. He does a nice job pivoting into his larger tax plan of reshaping tax code, looking for Herman Cain solid Floridian support. He did everything but recite "9-9-9."
9:21: Gingrich brings up Romney's father as someone who released tax records. Eh. I wouldn't have brought up someone's father.
9:23: Romney asked if he's been surprised about his income becoming an issue. Nice answer: No, but I expected it from the Democrats.
9:24: Santorum was careful to note he did not attack Romney for Bain. Positioning for VP?
9:25: Gingrich defends Freddie Mac some more. And defends his "lobbying," if we can even call it that, very nicely, including the mention of an expert who would testify saying he and his businesses never lobbied.
9:27: Romney once again challenges Gingrich on lobbying and Freddie Mac. (Take a drink.) Romney hasn't directly attacked this much since Rick Perry joined in.
9:29-9:32: Gingrich and Romney with the first back and forth of the night. I'm not qualified enough to say who is right, but you know what I like? That was a real debate! Back and forth, exchanging ideas--not canned stump speeches for 60 seconds with a canned 30 second rebuttal.
--Commercial break #1--
9:36-9:39: Williams throws out token questions to Santorum and Paul. Apparently the break extends beyond the commercial.
9:39-9:40: Classic Ron Paul rant against the Federal Reserve. (Take a drink.)
9:43: Romney would thank God if Castro dies? Seems tasteless. And decidedly un-Christian.
9:44: Then Gingrich hints that Castro would go to Hell? Really?? We can say this stuff publicly?
9:45: Ron Paul: "I would pretty much do the opposite." Well, that about sums it up, doesn't it? Makes great points about talking to people instead of fighting. Nice appeal to Cubans there. Could earn a few thousand votes.
9:47: Santorum says that the doctrine of the US is to ensure Western Hemisphere countries are "folks we can deal with." Hear that? That's James Monroe rolling in his grave. Santorum also implies that not only can Iran have nuclear weapons, but that they can and will ship them to Central or Caribbean America without the US knowing about it. I find that unlikely.
9:50: The foreign policy portion of the debate could be called "Three Hawks and a Dove" and get its own Broadway show. Gingrich says that we had no interest in going to war when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Whaaat? Surely he misspoke.
9:51: Paul argues the people don't want a war with Iran. I tend to agree with that assessment. Yet, other Republican candidates seem so willing to quickly go over there. What an interesting disconnect between the Republican Party and Independents/Democrats. Why is this tied to political ideology?
--Commercial break #2--
9:59: Santorum supports Iran bombing. Says they're a threat. Says Iran is like having Al Qaeda in charge. An exaggeration.
10:02: The candidates want English as an official language, but Gingrich and Romney are courting Floridians in Spanish. Good one. Acceptable answers, though, especially once it's validated by small-government Ron Paul.
10:07: On his stance on illegal immigrants, Romney tries to clarify the difference between "Rounding up and deporting" and "sending them home to the back of the line." That was fun.
10:11: Romney back to attacking Obama. Remember when all of his answers had to do with that? Or, as the Romney Campaign calls them, "The good old days."
--Commercial break #3--
10:17: Medical issues. End of life. Santorum asked about his decision to use government intervention in the Terry Schiavo case. This question is probably part of larger government intervention issue also regarding abortion and gay marriage. In other words, is he for small government or isn't he; Is he for small government unless he disagrees with what a state wants?
10:20: Dr. Ron Paul recommends a living will for everyone. (Especially if he becomes president.)
10:21: Should Space exploration be a priority? Romney says yes! Wow, that's an expensive commitment for someone who claims to want to shrink government.
10:23: Gingrich suggests free enterprise is the way to kick-start American space program. Hmmmm... I think I like that!
10:24: Gingrich defends Bush tax cuts saved the economy, which Democrats say is nonsense. Interesting, though when Democrats make similar claims about President Obama's strategy, Republicans bristle. Man I'm sick of these two parties
--Commercial break #4--
10:30: Question: What have you done to further the cause of conservatism??
Romney: Raised a family, worked in private sector to create jobs, worked as a governor in a Democratic state, accomplished a lot. Romney is excellent when reading off talking points.
Gingrich: Went to a Goldwater session, worked on supply-side economics, helped Reagan win election, built a majority in the House for the first time in 40 years. Great answer.
Santorum: Tries to separate himself from both others. Says there are differences between himself and them. Points to bailout. Said they rejected conservatism when it was hard to stand. Picks up his passion! Says on key issues there "no difference between Obama and these two men."
10:34: I've descended into sentence fragments. Tired. School tomorrow.
10:35: Paul asked if his competitors are sufficiently conservative. He says no. They'll cut food stamps but not overseas spending. If you're conservative, you reduce government and you protect liberty. Says follow Constitution and everything will be okay. (Take a drink, almost time to pass out.)
10:37: Romney once again has to defend his Massachusetts health care plan. For the record, I always thought he had a good answer here. It's state's rights. It's what Massachusetts wanted. He was their governor. And he never said it should be used for the entire country. What's wrong with that?
10:38-10:40: To close, candidates get to summarize their talking points. That's always good television, right?
Debate over.

General thoughts:
Gingrich rather calm. No huge swings. Wants to show he can be cool, collected, and presidential.
Gingrich's momentum was NOT broken.
Romney made no headway, nor did the others.
Another debate like this and Gingrich should hold onto his recent Florida lead. If Gingrich wins Florida and the party rises against him and Romney... what then? Smoke-filled room! Smoke-filled room!

And with that, I'm done. I'll take a look at Florida tomorrow. And don't forget...

*For the LIVE BLOG on Thursday, I'm hoping to be joined by my Wing Nuts co-writer Steve Kurczy, with whom I share our Construction Lit Magazine column. We need to get the technology worked out, and if we can, expect updates from both of us during Thursday's debates. I (we) hope to see you then.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Updated GOP Primary Standings

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

Below are the ever-confusing Republican Primary standings. To understand how delegates are allocated to states and awarded to candidates, read my posts here and here. Those posts will explain why the standings below show ranges of pledged primary delegates, instead of a clear number.

1. Mitt Romney: 30-36 (14-20 pledged delegates, 16 superdelegates)
2. Newt Gingrich: 24-28 (23-27 pledged delegates if you include Perry's Iowa delegates, 1 superdelegate)
3. Rick Santorum: 7-12 (6-11 pledged delegates, 1 superdelegate)
4. Ron Paul: 3-10 (all pledged delegates)

Thoughts on each candidate's standing:
4. Ron Paul--Expect him to finish last among all active candidates until he's mathematically eliminated. And he's fine with that. He knows Santorum is the next to drop, and then he'll share the podium with only two others. He'll win some delegates here and there and hold onto the national microphone for as long as possible. Everyone but the most rabid Paul supporters knew he never had a shot at the nomination. The best they can hope for is to shape the debate... and maybe the Zombie Apocalypse.

(Honestly, I'm beginning to feel like a broken record with the Paul analysis.)

3. Rick Santorum--It was a good run. Quixotic even. He traveled to every coffee shop in Iowa. He stood up for conservative values. He stuck with a campaign that had him stuck on the end of every debate stage. It was a good run.

But it wasn't enough. He simply didn't have the legs to make a deep run into the primary. Every resource was spent in Iowa, and when he didn't win it--even though he did--the bounce just wasn't there. The train he took out of Iowa stalled in New Hampshire and never got going again.

Moving forward, he seems to be most relevant because his endorsement--if he drops out--could tip the balance. Many wonder if he'll even drop out at all, or if he'll push forward, as he indicated Saturday night. (He might also stay in until two days before the Florida Primary then drop out, a la Rick Perry last Thursday.) The implications for this decision are clear: if he drops out, conventional wisdom says that Gingrich picks up even more momentum as the "Nom"mey candidate, and he perhaps would sew up 51 percent plus of Republican delegates the rest of the way. If Santorum stays in, however, the sizeable anti-Romney faction remains split. With Florida as a winner-take-all primary, a lot hinges on Santorum's decision.

(Still, let me make known that I'm not convinced Santorum, if he does drop out, endorses Gingrich. They have their differences, too. Moreover, a Romney-Santorum ticket makes a lot of sense and could be Santorum's best route to the Oval Office; if Santorum agrees, he'll avoid picking a horse before the race's result is clear.)

2. Newt Gingrich--The man of the hour. His ground-shaking 13-point win in South Carolina changed the face of the Republican Primary. When Mitt Romney won New Hampshire, he was 2-0 and had a solid lead in South Carolinian polling. But here's what I wrote on January 11, the day after the New Hampshire Primary:

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.

Well, there you have it.

1. Mitt Romney--Romney started the week at 2-0 looking for a third straight win, which many said would have clinched the nomination as the other candidates deferred to his inevitability. Instead, his Iowa win over Rick Santorum was overturned, and then he suffered a 13-point loss to Newt Gingrich in South Carolina. In other words: that was a rough week for Mitt Romney.

Can he rebound? If so, how? Can Gingrich continue his momentum? What is Rick Santorum's plan?

For answers, check back here throughout the week. A reminder that there's a debate tonight, and I'll try to share some thoughts about it tomorrow.

Speaking of debates, I'd like to make my first announcement of a scheduled LIVE BLOG for Thursday night's CNN debate. I hope you'll join me. For now, I apologize in advance for the constant reminders I will post before then.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Gingrich Wins South Carolina Primary

"He's cut! The Russian's cut! And it's a BAD cut!" -American blow-by-blow announcer in Rocky IV

In Rocky IV, Ivan Drago was considered unbeatable. He was a giant. He used steroids. His punch packed 2000 pounds psi. He killed Apollo Creed in an exhibition match. His subsequent Christmas Day match against veteran Rocky Balboa wasn't even sanctioned by US professional boxing, thus the bout's a placement in Moscow. Everyone was sure Rocky was over the hill, his career behind him and one step from retirement. The Russian boxer was too big, too strong, too good. He was the future of boxing. Rocky was the past.

Rocky Balboa, however, had other plans. Still, come Christmas, Rocky seemed outgunned; after two brutal early knockdowns from the Soviet belligerent, everything was unfolding as it should. But then, late in the second round, when Rocky was backed into a corner, he came out with a vicious right hook, slicing a cut above Drago's eye, stunning the Russian goliath. And then the world realized: Rocky can win this thing. The giant is vulnerable.

Mitt Romney was also considered invincible. He outraised and outspent all other Republican candidates. He had essentially campaigned for six years in Iowa and had a house in New Hampshire. In the debates, he had all the tools of a calm frontrunner. He killed Rick Perry. Meanwhile, everyone was rather certain that Newt Gingrich's long career was behind him. Mitt Romney, it became increasingly clear, was the future of the Republican Party. Newt Gingrich was the past.

Gingrich, however, had other plans. Still, after taking a beating in Iowa and New Hampshire, Gingrich looked outmatched. Romney was winning, just as he was supposed to. The script unfolded as we expected.

But then, last night in South Carolina, Newt Gingrich, backed into a corner by Romney's enormous spending ability and unrelenting Pro-Romney SuperPACs, landed a right hook. His primary win was the moment Mitt Romney finally looked vulnerable. And now every pundit and insider is looking around and regaining our bearings. And we can't believe what we're saying as we're saying it: Mitt Romney is cut, and he could lose.

And in fact, there's a case to be made that he WILL lose. There's a case to be made--incredibly and against most odds--that Newt Gingrich is the favorite to be the Republican nominee. I'm not saying he is; I'm just saying there's a case to be made. In the coming days, I'm going to see if I can make it and believe it at the same time.

What most interests me, moving forward, is not what Rick Santorum will do or how Florida Latinos will vote--though both are mildly intriguing--but how Gingrich will be portrayed by the Republicans who don't want him as their nominee. More specifically, remember that we've all been looking to see which Republican would emerge as the "anti-Romney." Now that it looks to be Gingrich, I'm eager to see if there's an equally large faction and interest in nominating an "anti-Gingrich." Remember, such a storyline was irrelevant as the party scrambled to find someone with a consistent conservative background to replace the heavy favorite, Mitt Romney. But with a new co-favorite, will we see a quiet faction of Republicans who fear a Gingrich candidacy just as much as so many feared a Romney nomination, only they've had little reason to make themselves known because Gingrich hasn't been a factor in voting until now?

We have nine days to see if this faction makes itself known. The Florida Primary is not until January 31. Until then, the bell just rang for the next round. Sit back and enjoy the fight.

On the left sidebar, I've moved Gingrich from 4:1 to 2:1 to win the primary, and Romney has been moved from 2:5 to 4:5. Yes, Romney is still the favorite. He'll scramble to find his bearings in the ten days before the Florida primary, and between his head-start in advertising, Florida's left of Carolina tendencies, Gingrich's long history in politics, and Romney's massive campaign war chest, I do expect for him to slow the bleeding from above his left eye.

Certainly more on these developments as the week continues.

(Editor's note: If you didn't earlier, I do recommend watching the youtube excerpt from Rocky IV to see exactly how well the American commentator seems to characterize and foreshadow Gingrich vs. Romney. It's some nice unintentional comedy to replace two buff boxers with two aged Republicans.)
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