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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Romney Wins Maine, Slows Bleeding

Mitt Romney won the Maine Caucus tonight with a 39-36 victory over Ron Paul. Rick Santorum finished third with 18 percent of the vote, and Newt Gingrich brought up the rear with 6.

Analysis tomorrow.

Friday, February 10, 2012

What's Up with Maine?

(That's right, folks: a Maine Caucus Preview! Only on PPFA! My goal is to make you interested in it. Here goes...)

Lost in the week of the Santorum Sweep is that one other state went to the polls on Tuesday. As it did for the two days before. As it did for the three days since. As, too, it will tomorrow. I'm talking, of course, about the unique Maine Caucus.

Simply stated, unlike Iowa, Nevada, and all other caucuses, Maine does not hold their caucus on one day. Instead, Maine leaves it up to individual municipalities to pick their own caucus dates during the primary season. This year, the state party tried to coral its months-long caucuses into this week, but there are still as many as 15 municipalities that will have not yet voted when Maine reveals its results, however premature, tomorrow evening.

Fresh off his disappointing mini-Tuesday showing, Mitt Romney traveled to Maine to shore up some New England support. He won the state four years ago (by 30 points, no less), just as he did Minnesota and Colorado. Yet, four years after those victories, he might lose Maine, just as he lost Minnesota and Colorado on Tuesday. The Maine Caucus might only allocate 21 delegates (24 including un-pledged party leaders), but let's be honest--Romney wants to stop the bleeding as quickly as possible, and this contest will be his last potential tourniquet until February 28th's Arizona and Michigan primaries. That explains why he's resorted to buying Maine television and radio time, an unnecessary move before his Tuesday disappointment. And we know how well Romney does when outspending his competitors on the airwaves.

The best part about the Maine Caucus might be Ron Paul's chances. The 2012 Republican Primary has had many twists and turns. While a Paul win in the tiny Maine Caucus would be neither twist nor turn, it would be fitting if we have a fourth candidate win a state. A Ron Paul victory in Maine might only earn him a plurality of the 21 delegates, but it will be nice morale boost for his die-hard supporters. More importantly, it would be yet another contest where Mitt Romney loses a chance to make up ground on 50 percent of the total delegates. At the very least, Paul is looking at a top-two finish in Maine, as neither Newt Gingrich nor Rick Santorum has mounted a campaign there.

Polls are of no help here, as the most recent are from October. But maybe that makes it all the more interesting for this crazy caucus. Look for both Romney and Paul to clear 30 points, with the winner breaking 40, and maybe even 50. (Santorum's momentum will carry him into third; Gingrich, second in the October poll, falls to fourth.) If Romney's the winner, he slows his slide and maybe even stops it. If Paul wins, the story will be that Romney has lost his fourth state in a row--sixth overall of nine. Indeed, he will have lost twice as many states as he won. Put that way, he doesn't sound like the prohibitive favorite anymore, does he?

So count me excited for tomorrow night's Maine Caucus results. I hope that now you are, too.

-IC

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

February 7 Analysis

Click here for the latest Republican Primary Standings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time,

-IC

2012 Republican Delegate Count, 2/8

(Note: If you came here via a google search, or even if you didn't, these standings are outdated. Click here for the latest standings and coverage.)

Last night, Rick Santorum told the fat lady to sit down. I'll get to the February 7 analysis later, but in the meantime, here are the latest Republican Primary standings. Note that none of these outlets, appropriately, factored in the Missouri Primary, a state which will award delegates at their March 17 caucus. Though Minnesota and Colorado caucuses are non-binding, they are used, by some news outlets, as barometers, and use them to further their relentless horserace coverage.

While Santorum still looks like he's in a distant third, the Republican Primary's new narrative portrays him as a lot stronger. More on that later today. For now, onto the Republican Primary delegates count:

CNN Standings
1. Romney--106
2. Gingrich--38
3. Santorum--22
4. Paul--20

MSNBC Standings (has not factored in Colorado or Minnesota)
1. Romney--84
2. Gingrich--29
3. Santorum--14
4. Paul--11

Real Clear Politics Standings
1. Romney--87
2. Santorum--35
3. Gingrich--32
4. Paul--13

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Colorado and Minnesota Caucuses

Today are presidential caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota, between which 76 delegates will be unofficially rewarded. (There's also a Missouri Primary today, but it's worth zero delegates; they do their official voting at their March 17 Caucus.) Before we get to the latest polls, here are the latest standings for the Republican Presidential Primary:

CNN Standings
1. Romney--99
2. Gingrich--33
3. Paul--15
4. Santorum--11

MSNBC Standings
1. Romney--84
2. Gingrich--29
3. Santorum--14
4. Paul--11

Real Clear Politics Standings
1. Romney--78
2. Gingrich--28
3. Santorum--8
4. Paul--7

There have been two post-Florida polls taken in each of today's two caucus states--Minnesota and Colorado. The first was taken on February 4, the second from the 4th to the 6th, and both were taken by Public Policy Polling. And they said:

Colorado (33 delegates):
1. Romney--40%, 37%
2. Santorum--26%, 27%
3. Gingrich--18%, 21 %
4. Paul--12%, 13 %

Minnesota (37 delegates):
1. Santorum--29%, 33% (!)
2. Romney--27%, 24%
3. Gingrich--22%, 22%
4. Paul--19%, 20%

Three things to look for in tonight's contests:
1. Note the above surge for Santorum in both states. Perhaps the country is getting sick of the Gingrich shtick? If Santorum finishes ahead of Gingrich in both states, the former Speaker will be hard-pressed to push forward as the "conservative alternative" who will be the "last man standing with Romney." Perhaps, then, it would be Santorum, not Gingrich, who ultimately rivals Romney in the conservative south.

2. Can Ron Paul sneak into either top 3? As shown in the Republican Primary Standings at the top of this post, Paul is running neck and neck with Santorum for third place overall, and he even leads Santorum in the CNN estimates. If Paul finishes in 3rd in one or both states, whoever he finishes ahead of--whether it be Gingrich or Santorum--will not only be awfully embarrassed, but the pressure will rise for them to drop out, especially with no boost in cash flow after the disappointing fourth place out of four finish.

3. Will Romney's momentum be slowed? He certainly has all of it after Nevada's whooping, but look at those Minnesota and Colorado polls. In both states, all four men are in double digits. In both states, Romney has ticked down over the past couple days. If all men remain in double digits, and if the downward trend, however slight, continues for Romney, he will once again not reach 50 percent. Minnesota looks interesting, as Romney is surprisingly trailing Santorum. Romney could yet win it, but it doesn't look like 40 percent is in the picture, to say nothing of 50. If Romney finishes in the 30s (or if he loses it), the media will feed the country a steady diet of "Is Romney slowing down?" stories. But then Romney will have three weeks to pump money into the next two primaries--Michigan and Arizona on February 28--and regain all momentum before March 6's 11-state Super Tuesday.

Until next time,

-IC

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Romney's Inevitability

(All right, enough waiting for the other 29 percent. Hopefully this post conveys that it doesn't matter what slight changes they'll make to the final vote tallies.)

I don't know who's fooling themselves more--Newt Gingrich or the media. You get the feeling that Ron Paul knows that his run has always been a quixotic one. And I get the feeling that Rick Santorum has been on a quest to be his party's VP nominee, one who's pulling his punches and only attacks so it looks like he still has teeth. It seems, however, that Gingrich and the media truly think that this race is just beginning. But they're wrong. It's already ending.

We can now confidently identify Mitt Romney's win in Florida as the beginning of the end. While some had gut feelings of Romney's inevitability as Florida's results came in (some of us had that feeling at the momentum-shifting Florida debates), it is with recent polling from across the country that we see how the race will ultimately unfold. If Romney's win in the Sunshine State was the beginning of the end, last night's win in Nevada was just the continuance of it.

But what of Gingrich's long-game strategy, written about both here and at less popular websites? To call it a long-shot would be too generous. It's simply unfeasible.

The Gingrich Campaign is counting on leads in some March 6 Super Tuesday states to hold up during February. And, true enough, if they do hold up, he'd have a great shot to sweep the south and string together enough runners up elsewhere to extend the primary all the way to the convention.

But the numbers won't hold up. We've already seen the transnational collapse of the Speaker's polling numbers. Here's Real Clear Politics's polls for all the February contests. In Nevada, where in he trailed in a mid-December poll by only a handful of points, he lost last night by about 25. In Colorado, a December PPP poll had Gingrich up 19 there, but a poll published yesterday has Romney up 14, a 33-point swing. In Minnesota, two weeks ago, Gingrich was up 18. A poll yesterday reveals that his support has dropped 14 points and he trails Romney by 5. In Arizona, a November poll once had him up 5 on Romney. A poll from this past Wednesday had him trailing Romney by 24, a 29-point swing. In Michigan, a mid-January lead of 5 points for Romney has tripled in two weeks.

The reasons for Romney's capture or extension of polling leads--better organization, more money, primary victories--will simply continue throughout the month of February. As more and more polls measure the March 6 Super Tuesday states, we'll see Gingrich's leads evaporate and his deficits increase. RCP's polls for those contests show that Gingrich leads Georgia, his home state, by 13 after once leading by 53. And that's his home state! What will Romney's early primary successes and attack machine do to the other Super Tuesday polls? A November Ohio lead of 18 has crumbled to 1. Virginia's last poll--conducted in mid-December--showed Gingrich with a scant 5-point lead. Not only can we expect that lead to be obliterated, but remember that Gingrich isn't even on the Virginia ballot! Oklahoma hasn't seen a poll since a November survey had Gingrich up 19, which cannot be trusted for obvious reasons. The other two Super Tuesday states are Massachusetts and Vermont, two states Romney will carry in a rout.

In sum, the Gingrich path to victory just isn't there. The leads will fall and the deficits will mount. Indeed, national polls, which two weeks ago had Gingrich up by 7 to 9 points, now show Romney leading by double digits. The Gingrich Campaign will slowly die through attrition as Romney picks up steam, money, superdelegate support, and general calls for Gingrich to end the bickering and unite the party.

Yet, Gingrich keeps saying that he'll fight and win, and the media who desperately wants the race to stay competitive continues to consume and perpetuate the idea that he still has a chance. I, too, wish he did, if for no other reason than I'm running out of things to talk about, but Romney's nomination is inevitable.

Romney Wins Nevada Caucus

To no one's surprise, Mitt Romney won the Nevada Caucus.

For some reason, and I can't fathom what it is, only 71 percent of the precincts are reporting. I'd like to wait for the numbers to settle before writing up a brief analysis.
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