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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Mitt Romney's "Mitt Romney Problem"

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

For the "Gospel of Paul," click here.
For "Right as Rick, click here.
For live blog coverage of Wednesday's Arizona debate, click here.
We'll conclude with the state of the Romney Campaign.

Mitt Romney
Estimated delegate count: CNN-127 (1st), RCP-98 (1st), Wikipedia-123 (1st)
Official delegate count: 91 (1st place)

Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.

On Tuesday, I wrote that the best part about Ron Paul was that he means what he says and he says what he means. With Mitt Romney, however, we don't really know what he means, even as he's saying it. Of course, we don't know if he's lying, either. That's what's so frustrating about his candidacy.

He has a serious connection problem with the electorate. Despite being the primary-long frontrunner, despite the label of inevitability, despite the support of the Republican establishment that generally awarded him "Next" status, Mitt Romney simply can't connect with the people. He's long honed his skill of telling the people what they want to hear, but that's finally coming back to bite him. He ran moderately for US Senate in Massachusetts, then again for Governor. Now, despite his conservative talk--I mean, what does he say that isn't conservative these days?--he can't seal the deal. In future elections, we're going to refer to this as the "Mitt Romney Problem." This has been the creation of the label.

There are three main symptoms of the MRP. First, the candidate must be the clear favorite heading into a primary; in aggressive strains, they'd even be considered inevitable to win it. Second, despite the inevitability, the connection to the voters never fully takes place--due to either rhetorical problems or untrustworthiness--leaving everyone scratching their heads. Finally, the desperate need to win over more voters--and the extremist tendencies to which that leads--leaves the inevitable candidate vulnerable for the next stage.

Romney clearly embodies the first symptom. He has been the favorite to win the 2012 Republican nomination since 2009. He's essentially been running for the nomination since 2007. Early in the current primary season, he grew a war chest and national organization unmatched by his Republican rivals. Besides a week in December and then now, he's led national GOP polls for over a year. The reason for his lead and position as favorite, aside from his superior money and infrastructure, is that he's generally thought of as the most electable candidate in the race.

But is really electable? He's actually lost a majority of the Republican contests. He's only once garnered 50 percent of a contest's vote, and that was by the slimmest of majorities--a 50.1 percent in Nevada. Regarding his most recent win--the Maine Caucus, which stopped his three-state losing streak--the New York Times wrote, "Mitt Romney averted embarrassment on Saturday when he was declared the winner of a presidential straw poll in Maine’s nonbinding caucuses." Apparently, finishing with under 40 percent of the vote, in a next-to-home-state contest, where only one other candidate tried to win, and that one candidate was Ron Paul, and the victory over Ron Paul was by only three points, is "averting embarrassment."

Then we have his inability to connect, which is the cause of his often-a-plurality-but-never-a-majority results. As Sarah Palin recently claimed, Romney can't "get over the hump" with conservatives. It must be frustrating for him. Ever since he began running for the Republican nomination for president, he's actually saying and doing everything right. He uses conservative rhetoric. He puts forth conservative proposals. He attacks the Democratic President. He models himself after Ronald Reagan. He says and does everything right, including, of course, claiming to be ideologically "right."

It just hasn't been good enough. It has taken far too long to finish the other candidates, and even now it's only about to happen because none of the other candidates were serious enough contenders. Romney's past moderate statements and positions on abortion, gay rights, and health care, among others, have proven too much to overcome. It smacks of political convenience and a weathervane ideology. He might actually have grown to be a true conservative in the last fifteen years, but it's very difficult for many in the GOP to believe that it's simply a coincidence that he grew more conservative when he decided to run for the Republican nomination.

Still, he'll be the nominee. His strong plurality should be enough to eventually make clear that no other candidate can win, and that if the Republican Party wants some semblance of unity, they'll need to rally around him well before August's convention. With his big lead in winner-take-all Arizona and his reclamation and extension of the lead and momentum in Michigan, he'll win both of those, extend his lead, then subsequently extend it even more on Super Tuesday. The suspense, so soon after its zenith, will plummet to its nadir.

Eventually, however, we will look with eager eyes to the general election, and the third symptom of the Mitt Romney Problem will rear its ugly head. One of the more fascinating facets of the general will be how this contentious primary affects Romney's campaign against President Obama. Has the primary irrevocably damaged Romney for the general election?

I don't mean this in the way most others do. If anyone is discussing how an extended primary season hurts Romney, they usually mean that his rivals have provided countless sound bites and immeasurable ammunition for the President and his campaign to use this summer and fall. The Obama Campaign could come out, guns blazing, and dismantle his opponent using Republicans' words against him.

I'm thinking, however, that the extended primary hurts Romney in a different way, a way related to the MRP. The premise, here, is that Romney's inability to quickly put away his rivals has ultimately driven him further and further right in an attempt to win over the conservative base of the party.

However, he has driven so far right that there is simply no way he can maneuver back to the center. Barely 40 percent of the GOP likes Romney as it is. The rest think he's a phony (or a Mormon). Come general election season, either he stays far right and loses just like Santorum would, or he goes back to the middle, marking the second enormous ideological shift of his career. The flip-flopping charges against John Kerry will pale in comparison to what the Democrats will do to the moderate-turned-conservative-turned-moderate. He'd lose the Republican right, fail to win over the suspicious center, and the left would laugh all the way to four more year.

The "Mitt Romney Problem" will be seen again in future primaries. By then there might be a cure. For now, however, it looks to be terminal.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Right as Rick

(Editor's note: This week, I'm checking in on the candidates by giving each of them one column. To see the latest standings, schedule, and polls, see Sunday's column here.
For the "State of the Newton," click here.

For the "Gospel of Paul," click here.
For Stephen Kurczy and my live blog regarding the Arizona debate, click here.
We'll continue with the state of the Santorum Campaign.

Rick Santorum

Estimated delegate count: CNN-37 (3rd), RCP-44 (2nd), Wikipedia-44 (3rd)
Official delegate count: 4 (4th
(Wins were non-binding)

Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow.

The run is over. Someone has to say it. We have to stop pretending that Rick Santorum, just because he's up on Mitt Romney in national polls, is still in good position to upend Romney. Sure, his position looks strong, but it won't be after he loses both states this Tuesday (he's down big in winner-take-all Arizona and has lost his large lead in Michigan), which means he'll fall even further behind heading into and on Super Tuesday, when the party finally decides to rally around one man. Therefore, the far more interesting question, to me, is not if Rick Santorum can upend Mitt Romney, but rather, why hasn't he been able to put Romney away. Is this not a Republican Primary, and is he not the most Republican in the field?

After all, it seemed like all the variables had lined up for Santorum. He was clearly the most conservative candidate of the contenders. He secured as many victories (Iowa, Minnesota, Colorado, Missouri) as Romney (New Hampshire, Florida, Nevada, Maine). He outlasted the charge of every other anti-Romney candidate to be the last one standing heading into the crucial eight-day, 13-state that begins this Tuesday. And even if he did barely make it through this Tuesday, can he really financially compete with Romney on Super Tuesday's 10-state day? I don't see it. The question remains, then: why has he never really taken off as a frontrunner, despite the lined up variables, or come close to earning the "inevitable" moniker his rival once had and will soon reclaim?

Well, for one, Romney carpet-bombed airwaves with anti-Santorum ads. To be sure, all candidates have become experienced mudslingers, but since Romney and friends outspend all of the other candidates combined, it's Romney's ads that fling the most dirt, saturating TV markets across upcoming states.

Besides the attacks, however, what probably hurts Santorum most is that he has never been seen as a legitimate general election candidate. Take, for example, Santorum's surprising loss to Romney in the Conservative Political Action Conference's straw poll. If there was ever a time for the conservative base of the party to point to a conservative and say, "This is our guy," that was it. Yet, they went with Romney.

It's funny how one event has shown us all we need to know about the 2012 Republican Primary. The Conservative Political Action Conference was a who's who of conservative American titans. Speakers included Bachmann, Cain, Coulter, Jindal, McConnell, Palin, Rubio, Ryan, Walker, and Republican candidates Gingrich, Romney, and Santorum. For three days, conservative throngs packed the conference. It was Santorum territory.

Is what transpired, ultimately, not a microcosm of the entire primary? Paul was marginalized, Gingrich went all anti-establishment, the crowd swooned for Romney, but still Romney won... with under 40 percent support. You'd think such a crowd would have ultimately supported the tried and true conservative, the mainstream Republican, Rick Santorum. Yet, when they held a straw poll near the conference's conclusion, Romney won with 38 percent of the straw poll vote to Santorum's 31. It's clear that conservatives, especially evangelicals, love Santorum, yet they feel it's Romney's turn, as the so-called "electable candidate," to go up against President Obama. A microcosm, indeed.

So we must ask ourselves: is it that Rick Santorum is too conservative? Is he further right than even mainstream conservatives are? How right (or left, for that matter) can a politician go and, though enormously popular with one party and ideology, still be considered a viable leader for the entire nation?

To be sure, Republicans would love to see a man as conservative as Santorum in the White House, but have they, perhaps, ultimately acknowledged that he is unelectable? Do they see a man that terrifies the moderates of the country--especially moderate women--and realize that if the Election of 2012 is as important as they say it is, then they can't risk a far right candidate?

Santorum's positions on abortion, gay rights, and even contraception are already coming into focus. Many of his defenders argue that the capacity of a president can do little to affect those issues--that instead the focus should be on being the CEO of a flailing economy--but voters are notorious for choosing to focus on whatever they want. If the economy is their number one issue, so be it; but it could be abortion, the death penalty, Planned Parenthood, what have you. They choose. Candidates don't.

Simply, Republicans don't want to nominate someone that they believe is likely to lose. Thus, with Santorum being criticized for his ultra-conservatism and faith, the GOP could be worried that they're heading toward an election resembling 1964's Goldwater blowout. He looks great to conservatives and they wish he could be president, but they are honest about his vulnerabilities against the Obama war machine, a candidacy that will spend record amounts of money on a campaign.

If they could only reign Santorum in. It's funny, a big criticism of Mitt Romney is that he's too scripted. With Rick Santorum, he's not scripted enough. He wears his heart on his right sleeve. He's proud of his ideologies and faith. This conviction, alone, would be fine, but it's this all-too-readiness to share his personal, conservative beliefs that make him a dangerous nomination for the Republican Party. It's why his run is over, and it's why he will never be the nominee.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Republican Arizona Debate LIVE BLOG

7:45--Good evening, and welcome to Presidential Politics for America's second live blog of the 2012 Republican Primary. (The first was the second Florida debate, found here.) Soon I'll be joined by Stephen Kurczy, fellow Wing Nuts columnist over at the online lit magazine, Construction. We post Mondays and Fridays. For the next 90 minutes, we'll make live updates throughout the second Republican Debate in Arizona, aired on CNN. To follow along, refresh the page every so often and see us update the night away. And feel free to make comments!

Without further ado, Stephen Kurczy everyone!

SK (7:48): Thanks, Ian. Big question for me tonight: Can Rick Santorum rise to the occasion? This is his first debate since surging past Mitt Romney in national polls last week and replacing Newt Gingrich as the "not-Romney" candidate. How will the candidates respond to that? You made a good point in your debate primer, Ian, that Romney was in this position two weeks ago going into the Florida primary, and he deftly took the steam out of the Gingrich surge. Tonight, how will Romney try to cut Santorum down to size? Can Gingrinch, the best debater on stage, stop the bloodletting at his own campaign? Will Ron Paul stay awake all evening?

IC (7:51): Right on, Steve. Santorum has indeed surged ahead nationally. Three of the last four national polls have Santorum up between 8 and 12 points. The thing is, Santorum's national lead will not last if Romney wins Tuesday's primaries. Arizona polls already show a huge lead for Romney, and he surely has won the early voting that, four years ago, accounted for 1/3 of total votes. In Michigan, they're neck and neck and Romney has the momentum. Thus, it's clear that if Santorum falters tonight, Romney will win both states Tuesday, which then means he'll also win Super Tuesay, which will all but end the primary.

In sum, Santorum needs a way to hold momentum for the next 13 days so he can compete on Super Tuesday, and tonight is essential to that end.

It's not evening in Arizona, so perhaps the biggest threat to Paul is an afternoon nap. Short of that, we know what we'll get out of Paul, and that's consistent libertarianism, holding the others' feet to the fiscal flames, and a couple good one-liners that will earn widespread chuckles. As for Gingrich, I wonder if he is more concered with limiting Romney or reclaiming the #2 position from Santorum. I suppose there's nothing saying he can't do both.

IC (7:52)--And a quick add on to the above thought: Unlike most of the media, I think there is more pressure on Santorum than Romney to win Michigan.

(7:55)--Reader question from Vic: Who are Democrats rooting for?

IC (7:57)--Great question. I think Santorum for three reasons. 1) His success now extends the primary longer than Romney success would. 2) They feel they can more easily beat Santorum in November. 3) If Santorum became President, he'd hand the White House back to the Democrats in four years.

SK (8:00)--Here we go!

IC (8:02)--Gotta love the movie trailer intros for these things.

IC (8:03)--John King is back to moderate. You think he's been working on a comeback for another Newt Gingrich attack on his moderating skills? I bet he'll bring, "Oh yeah? The jerkstore called, they're all out of YOU!"

IC (8:04)--Romney got the biggest ovation, Santorum got the smallest. Sounds like Romney's ads are working quite well.

SK (8:04): Gingrich rocks the purple tie. Gay pride?

IC (8:05): Haha, maybe. Is it safe to say Rick Santorum has never worn a purple tie?

IC (8:07): Huge pop for Romney. I think he packed another house.

SK (8:08): Whoa, whoa... did Romney just quote Seinfeld?

IC (8:09): He did! And at 8:03 I thought it would be John King. I was way off!

SK (8:09): Intros set a tone as Santorum mentions Middle East unrest and Gingrich mentions high gas prices.

IC (8:10): Ah, Gingrich wins question #2 from my Arizona preview.

SK (8:12): Rick Santorum vows to not cut the humongous defense budget. Instead, cut health care. And Santorum is a compassionate conservative?

IC (8:13): You can't be a conservative country if terrorists are everywhere, Steve.

IC (8:14): Round 1 for Romney vs. Santorum. Ding ding.

SK (8:14): Oooo, Santorum accuses Romney of adopting the "Occupy Wall Street" rhetoric by attacking the top 1%. Low blow!

SK (8:15): Hey Ian, how long until moderator John King pisses off Newt Gingrich?

IC (8:16): I give him four questions. That's one.

8:15--Comment from reader TakeOurCountryBack: 15 mins and no Ron Paul. Gimme a break.

IC (8:17): CNN saw your comment, TOCB! Paul's up.

SK (8:18): Oh man, Newt Gingrich just tried to flash some historian cred by saying today is birthday of George Washington's. Duh, like, it's a holiday!

IC (8:20): Ron Paul points out that it's weird that conservatives like spending overseas. Nailed it.

SK (8:20): Ron Paul is bringing the heat to Rick Santorum. Love it. "If you're a strict fiscal conservative "you don't vote for spending."

IC (8:21): Romney challenged on what the heck "Severely conservative" means. I wish he used "morbidly" instead.

SK (8:23): Re: last comment--Not much from Gingrich, either. This is a two-man debate so far.

IC (8:23): Gingrich has the professorial tone down. I think I'm going to bring it into my classroom.

IC (8:26): Where the party ultimately decides Santorum lies on the fiscal spectrum might decide if he has the legs. His explanation of earmarks is subpar. I think Romney has a winning issue here.

SK (8:27): Santorum always has a confused look on his face. Romney looks smug. Gingrich looks bored and bothered. Paul looks half-asleep and completely unimpressed.

IC (8:28): Ladies and gentlemen, your 2012 GOP candidates!

IC (8:28): Loving the back and forth here. Round 2!

IC (8:29): These are all jabs, though. No one has landed a blow.

IC (8:29): Oh, good, Gingrich is getting in.

IC (8:29): False alarm. Two man debate, I forgot.

SK (8:29): What a crew, huh Ian? What's going on with Gingrich tonight? While Santorum and Romney duke it out, Newt is just sitting on his hands.

IC (8:30): He is. I'm wondering if he might play the "rise above" card again and re-attack President Obama.

IC (8:31): I feel like everyone listens intently to Gingrich to find out how things actually work.

IC (8:32): While Paul rants, I'll get back to your question, Steve. A Gingrich strategy tonight and through March--if the primary remains competitive--might be to lay low while Romney and Santorum spend and damage each other.

IC (8:34): Very important segment here. Because of the up-for-grabs Michigan Primary, Michigan-specific questions will be the most relevant portions of tonight's debate. Let's see how they handle it.

SK (8:35): What a second, where is Buddy Roemer?! Oh yeah, he's busy tweeting about the debate @BuddyRoemer

IC (8:36): Steve, what do you make of Romney staring at his opponents while they speak, while Santorum looks around when his opponents do? Which is more effective?

SK (8:38) Romney's mannerism is more effective, makes him seem more aggressive, bold, and confident.

SK (8:38): On that note, Romney's sudden Arizona twang is also pretty affective is seeming like a man of the people.

IC (8:39): He thinks he's more chameleonic than he is. His career has shown that quite well.

IC (8:40): The GOP just lost Michigan as all four candidates nod in agreement against the auto bailout.

8:41--Commercial Break #1

SK (8:41): I do not understand the candidates' universal opposition to the auto bailout. Michigan's Republican governor has said it "really worked" in saving jobs and getting the vital auto industry back on track. Even aside from ideology, I don't understand it politically in terms of voter-support.

IC (8:43): It's a Republican Primary, and conservatives don't like bailouts. It might hurt in Michigan, but it'll play well across the south and Midwest. The nominee will moderate for the general; the question is, will it be too late?

IC (8:44)--Steve, who has the early lead tonight?

SK (8:45): Early lead goes to Romney, definitely. Gingrich and Paul haven't said much, but at least they've looked good saying it. Santorum is sucking it up. I think I could see his neck turn red a few times in embarrassment during the whole earmarks back-and-forth.

8:45--End of commercial break

IC (8:46): Gingrich hating on the media! Take a drink.

IC (8:47): Romney fighting a religious war. Don't make it about religion, Mitt! You'll lose the issue.

SK (8:48): Gingrich just said "let's be clear here" and started criticizing Barack Obama. Holdup, isn't that a Obama line?

IC (8:48): Just wait until Ron Paul croons, "I... I'm so in love with you."

IC (8:49): And here's why Romney can't be pulled into a religious debate. Santorum speaks the evangelical language better than anyone on stage.

IC (8:50): Yep. Santorum's best moment by far ("that's the difference between me and the left, and they don't get it.").

SK (8:51): Ron Paul says, "Guns don't kill people, criminals do! [And wars, and refusal to wear seatbelts, but never mind.] ... The birth control pill can't be blamed for the immorality of our society."

IC (8:52): Romney lamenting on the situation of the very poor. I could have sworn he didn't care about them. You know... safety net.

IC (8:55): Gingrich strongly targeting Paul's voters, using the language of tyranny. Not a bad idea to attempt the consolidation of the bottom two candidates' voters, but Ron Paul's voters aren't going anywhere.

SK (8:58): Amid all this horse shit being tossed around about Planned Parenthood, The New Yorker actually gave a close and intelligent look at the organization in this November article.

IC (9:00): Wow, Santorum just transitioned Ron Paul's attacks on his conservatism into Romneycare. A skilled pivot.

IC (9:02): Santorum vs. Romney, Round 3. Santorum might have his first round here. Great line about "Dukakis balanced the budget, too!"

SK (9:04): Good eye, Ian. Santorum just landed a few punches.
IC (9:05): It's noteworthy that Santorum is winning over the crowd, after starting tepidly with what was a pro-Romney introduction.

SK (9:05) ... adding to that last line... The New Yorker's political reporter Ryan Lizza just tweeted "That was a pretty devastating and as far as I can tell factual takedown of Romney by Santorum."
IC (9:05): On to immigration...

8:57--Comment from reader John: Why are they even talking about this stuff? The president controls the economy!!

IC (9:07): Rick Perry! Can we get him on stage? Please??

IC (9:08): Random observation: all of the candidates have brown eyes. John King has blue eyes, as does Wolf Blitzer and (dreamy) Anderson Cooper. Take what you will.

SK (9:10): Comedian Andy Borowitz just tweeted this from Santorum: "I believe in the life of the unborn child until they grow up and try to sneak across the border."

IC (9:11): Or until a public defender can't get them off a capital charge.

9:13--Commercial Break #2

IC (9:13): I'm eagerly awaiting Santorum vs. Romney for Round 4. Romney took the first two rounds 10-9, but I think Santorum came through with a 10-8 dominant Round 3.

IC (9:14): Wow, John King... "Define yourself with one word" is neither great nor a question.

SK (9:15): What do you think, Ian? Has Romney clawed back his lead from Santorum?

IC (9:17): Tonight, a tie goes to Romney, and I think a tie is what have so far. Santorum's momentum is fine nationally, but that's irrelevant. It's Tuesday's momentum that matters, and Romney has it. If Santorum can't reclaim it, Romney moves forward tonight's technical winner. Think the split-decision at the end of Rocky; the champ keeps the crown.

SK (9:17): (Meanwhile in the real world, Jeremy Lin and the Knicks are crushing Jerry Stackhouse and the Hawks tonight. Knicks up by 20 points in the third quarter.)

IC (9:18): Really, Steve? "Jerry Stackhouse and the Hawks"? Have you even played fantasy basketball since 2004?

IC (9:18): Regardless, my poor Celtics are getting schooled by the young Thunder.

End Commercial Break

IC (9:19): On to foreign policy...

IC (9:20): Enormous expenditures that Romney just listed off in terms of defense. Enormous. Decidedly unconservative spending.

IC (9:23): Wow, Gingrich just called the President the most dangerous in terms of national defense ever. Does he realize the British burned down Washington under Madison?

IC (9:24): Paul, the Christian "Just War Theory," justified the slaughtering of thousands of Muslims and Jews in the First Crusade. I'm not sure that's a full-proof ideology, either.

IC (9:25): Iran's nuclear capability brought up by a walrus with a microphone.

SK (9:26): Finally, 90 minutes into the debate, after questions about pills, roads, and dating columns, a question about Iran and the Middle East.

SK (9:28): Gingrich says he is "inclined to believe dictators." Does this mean he does not believe in bluffing?

IC (9:29): Like religion, Romney cannot make this about being a strong foreign policy president. Santorum served in the US Senate, and Gingrich has written entire books on international relations. He's handing it to Santorum, who has been a huge proponent about a hawkish foreign policy against Iran.

IC (9:30): Did Santorum just insult the 2013-2017 US Secretary of State, Joe Biden? (Yeah, I said it.)

SK (9:30): Santorum says he's been "on the trail of Iran for years now." Still searching for it on a map, I guess.

IC (9:31): ZING!

IC (9:32): Crowd: "Boooo, evidence!"

SK (9:33) Santorum just criticized Iran for being theocratic. Uh, this is the guy who believes the US is at war with the devil.

IC (9:34): I've spent years pointing out the irony of far right, evangelical conservatives criticizing far right, Muslim theocracies.

SK (9:35): Ninety minutes in, a question about Syria. That alone is wrong.

IC (9:38): It is so easy to be critical of foreign policy in a debate, when what you say doesn't actually affect lives. The Democratic candidates were similarly critical in the last two elections. Don't thump your chest when it comes to this stuff. You just don't know. Say what you think, but don't act like you know.

SK (9:39): Romney just said that Syria provides Iran with "a path to the sea." Uh, he does realize that the two nations do NOT border, right? And also that Iran already borders the Caspian Sea and Arabian Sea?

IC (9:40): Boo, evidence!

IC (9:41): I've watched so many debates that I no longer have to look at the television to know what facial expressions the candidates are using as I listen to their responses.

IC (9:44): Gingrich with a nice little education rant there. Once again, he sounds like he knows what he's talking about in the big reform areas more than Santorum or Romney. Plus, as a teacher, I can say he was right on probably more than half of that rant.

9:46--Commerical Break #3

SK (9:46): OMG, you mean this isn't over yet?

SK (9:47): Why can't the Republicans be consistent: lower taxes, smaller federal government, and shorter presidential debates!

IC (9:49): They'll meet you halfway--John King says this could be the last debate of the primary! Say it ain't so. When's our next live blog?

End of Commercial Break

IC (9:51): Great question! "What's the biggest misconception the public has about you?" Ron Paul: That I can't win.

IC (9:52): Newt Gingrich: "The amount of work it took to get to welfare reform." Ummm, is that the misconception?

IC (9:53): Mitt Romney: "We need fundamental change." Huh? "You get to ask the questions you want, I get to give the answer I want." Not cool. Play by the rules, Romney. See if Santorum capitalizes...

IC (9:54): Rick Santorum also speaks to supposedly being unelectable. Not bad. He promotes himself while taking a swipe at Romney, pointing out that President Obama will outspend the challenger, so the GOP needs a candidate who doesn't need to outspend his opponent 5 to 1 to win.

SK (9:55): Last question is what's the biggest public misconception about you? Paul says the misconception that he can't win. Gingrich doesn't answer question. Romney doesn't answer question. When King steps in to say he's not answering the question, Romney responds: "You give the questions you want, I'll give the answers that I want." Classy. Santorum actually decides to answer question, saying "Maybe you want a candidate who can win without spending a bizillion bucks." (translation: I'm out of money, honey, toss me a few campaign dollar)

9:55--End of debate. Final thoughts soon!

SK (10:10): The key question tonight was whether Mitt Romney could cut the surging Rick Santorum down to size. The verdict? Romney won the first round, Santorum won the second round, and both of them looked silly when they debated earmarks and the auto bailout. Santorum looked better on birth control, health care, and religion. They all looked bad on foreign policy and taxes (except for Ron Paul, the only candidate who is actually consistent over the years and would be into a general election). Overall it's close, but I think Santorum won tonight. Everyone was gunning at him, highlighting that he is now the man to beat. Romney is still Romney, and in a standoff Santorum is the defacto winner by mere virtue of being not-Romney. That's enough to propel him into Michigan for the win, I think.

IC (10:10): The headline: Rick Santorum did not step up tonight. The media is trying to push that he still has the momentum and has this big national lead, but he'll lose winner-take-all Arizona and his lead in Michigan has evaporated. If he loses those states on Tuesday, his national lead will follow them out the door. Santorum needed to reclaim momentum tonight and did not do so. Romney held serve, despite a rather weak back and forth with Santorum the third time around, and leaves here the de facto winner.

Gingrich was probably best tonight, once again acting like the knowledgeable adult in the room, but he wasn't good enough to make any kind of a major splash and make a run at the big two. Ron Paul was good for keeping the candidates more honest than the moderators ever do, but he can expect bottom-half finishes in all contested states through Super Tuesday.

I expect Romney to once again take over the process, and the Republican establishment will do all it can to make sure he's never threatened again.
Okay, a couple of different takes tonight! We hope you enjoyed our second live blog! Sleep well, America.

-IC and SK

Arizona Debate Preview

I'll bisect this week's analyses of each candidate with a preview of tonight's debate in Arizona. (Don't forget that Stephen Kurzy and I will bring you a LIVE BLOG tonight!) Specifically, I ask the question:

Is tonight's debate important?

It's our first debate since Florida's second, held back on January 26, nearly four weeks ago. It was the debate that we thought determined the nominee. After all, Mitt Romney, with that night's performance, all but put away red-hot Newt Gingrich, who, after clubbing Romney in the South Carolina Primary, subsequently fell apart. Romney took a commanding lead of the delegate race and dismantled his closest competitor with a barrage of negative ads. The race was over, we said.

How wrong we were. Now, four weeks later, the dynamics of the race have drastically changed. While Gingrich is, indeed, an afterthought in the current dynamics of the 2012 Republican Primary, Romney has not locked up the nomination. Rick Santorum has surged and, according to some, could even be considered the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Most agree the nomination is up for grabs, and there is even a scenario under which Gingrich can make a third comeback. Moreover, there's another scenario where an outside candidate jumps in by the convention, a circumstance which would be catalyzed if no current candidate can quite consolidate and excite the party for the general election against President Obama.

It's under this precarious situation and unpredictable future where one starts to understand that tonight's debate, despite being something like the 25th of the series, matters. Indeed, it matters a great deal, and here are three realistic scenarios whose existence might determine, and certainly influence, the GOP Primary's result.

1. Romney drops the ball. If Romney falters tonight, in what is the last debate before the important February 28 primaries of Michigan and Arizona, we'll see Rick Santorum win both states. The polls for the Michigan Primary show a close race. In Michigan, we've seen Santorum's 10-point lead predictably crumble into, as several polls show us, a dead heat. In Arizona, however, Romney sits pretty.

But it's Michigan, Romney's home state, which all eyes are on. The debate becomes enormously important for momentum's sake. If Romney struggles in tonight's debate and hands over a plurality of Michigan's 30 delegates, most agree he's in trouble. It'd also be a huge boon to Santorum as he leaps into a clear second place in the delegate standings and perpetuates his momentum and influx of money into a convincing Super Tuesday win.

2. Romney repeats his Florida Debates performances. Remember, we went into the Florida debates with a similar scenario. Newt Gingrich had all the momentum, and Romney's inevitability was threatened. Then, however, Romney dominated the Florida debates. Gingrich then fell apart, while Romney pulled away. If Romney wins the debate, history could repeat itself. Romney would likely win both states and pull away from the field. Moreover, with momentum regained, he'd win most states and delegates on Super Tuesday. Then, with all we've witness this month, there would be enormous pressure for the other candidates to drop out and unite the party. And you know what? Santorum would bow out and position himself for VP. Gingrich might take a week before realizing it's hopeless; after losing the next set of primaries, he'd follow Santorum out the door. That would leave Paul, who would leave after Romney clinches a majority of the delegates.

All this if Romney does what he did in Florida, and that's simply win tonight's debate. Prepare yourself for an anti-climactic finish to this nail-biting primary. If Romney wins tonight, he wins both states on Tuesday. If he wins both states on Tuesday, he wins Super Tuesday. If he wins Super Tuesday, he's the nominee.

3. Gingrich raises Hell. While many Republicans and pundits at large might disagree on how events will unfold between now and the primary, everyone is in relative agreement that there is resistance to a Romney candidacy and that Santorum's right-wing social views are not palatable to moderates, a group essential to winning a general election against the President. In sum, the above two debate scenarios notwithstanding, neither candidate is in a great position to pull away. After all, it's by no means certain that either will convincingly win the night.

The point, though, is that since neither candidate has pulled away, there is still that opening for Newt Gingrich's perfect storm. For a third scenario, imagine a perfect Gingrich tonight. If he brings his A game--a game which includes being the most articulate, engaging, angry, and bold candidate in the field--we could see the scale of momentum tip back to him as the party realizes they cannot choose either Romney and Santorum. It wouldn't be enough to win either state, but strong runners up--or even third places--would just be the beginning. You could see him finishing strongly again in Washington on March 3 and then head into a Super Tuesday--which would include a Georgia win--with a full head of steam.

Is it a longshot? Of course. But he has a puncher's chance. No one should bet their bank account on Gingrich not coming out swinging in tonight's debate. If he connects on a couple right hooks, we could be in a three-man race by Super Tuesday.

So yeah, I'd say tonight's debate is important.
Before I wrap up, here are three short bullets on specific things to look for:

1. Can Romney look like the frontrunner again? How can he marginalize the other candidates that, truth be told, are far back in popular votes, delegate standings, fundraising ability, and national organization?

2. Gas prices! Which candidate will be the first to mention them? With the economy improving, the primary seems to have shifted the debate away from the economy over to cultural and social issues. But since most voters still, first and foremost, care about their wallets, promising lower gas prices might be the way to re-connect on the economy. Of course, gas prices are rising because Iran is saber-rattling and waxing poetic on its sovereignty, and a hawkish Republican White House would only bring further instability in the region. But still. There's always the Keystone Pipeline.

3. Since the campaign has become about social issues, can Romney get to the right of Santorum? No, that's impossible. The Pope is left of Santorum. So does Romney risk trying? If he does, it'd hurt his chances in the general. If he doesn't, it'd hurt his chances to win the nomination. Tough spot.

But fun to watch! So I hope you do. And don't forget about tonight's LIVE BLOG coverage, right here at PPFA.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Gospel of Paul

(Editor's note: This week, I'll check in on the candidates by giving each of them one column. To see the latest standings, schedule, and polls, see Sunday's column here.
For the "State of the Newton," click here.
We'll continue now with the state of the Paul Campaign.

Ron Paul
Estimated delegate count: CNN-27 (4th), RCP-20 (4th), Wikipedia-37 (4th)
Official delegate count: 9 (3rd place)

Happy is your Grace that can translate the stubbornness of fortune into so quiet and so sweet a style.

Here's the best part about Ron Paul: despite his losses, he's a winner. It's not about the numbers or his momentum. It's not about his polls or his place in the standings. It's not that he's right or wrong, radical or libertarian. It's not that he's wise or crazy, quirky or moody. While the perception and evaluation of Ron Paul might differ from person to person, ideology to ideology, there is one thing, I feel, that everyone can agree on when it comes to the short, elderly Congressman from Texas. He means what he says, he says what he means, he's ideologically clear and consistent, and his quixotic conviction has led to a stubbornness for which we no longer criticize him.

Think about it. Four major candidates have dropped out of the race, and almost all of them came after people wondered what took them so long. Moreover, after New Hampshire, many thought Newt Gingrich should drop out, and after South Carolina, many thought Rick Santorum should do the same (and now they're back to Gingrich). That makes six of eight major candidates that, at one point, heard calls to leave the race.

However, this entire time, there's been relatively little clamor for Ron Paul to follow the path of Cain, Perry, et al. Ron Paul, on some level, has won America's respect. He hasn't won its support--aside, of course, from the passionate 15 percent of Republicans who would walk on coals for him--but he has won its respect. We're fine with Ron Paul being on the national stage. We weren't four years ago. We said he was wasting airtime and debate questions, all in a pointless run for the White House. Nothing has really changed about Paul in the last four years, except our admiration for the septuagenarian that just won't quit. In a pool of candidates that includes a President who reverses promises and positions, a waffling former governor, a conniving former Speaker, and a former Senator who seems to have to moderate countless extreme right-wing quotes from years past, we more than just tolerate another Ron Paul candidacy, we respect it.

Still, that doesn't translate into votes. The main perception of Paul--that his almost religious interpretation of a 225-year-old document will not only cut off America from the world, but the states off from each other, while our infrastructure, schools, and social programs crumble around us--is too crystallized for 80 percent of Republicans (and 95 percent of the country) to actually vote for him. Maine was the state for Ron Paul to win, but he came up just short. Looking around, I'm not sure what other state is in play for the Texas Congressman. On Sunday, when looking at the Republican Primary schedule, I identified the Super Tuesday states of Idaho and North Dakota as Paul possibilities, and I'll add Alaska to that list, too. All three are caucus states, and their light delegations will probably be ignored by the other three candidates.

Regardless, the Paul campaign has never been about winning the nomination. At this point, actually, he's Santorum and Gingrich's best friend. For every delegate Paul wins, it's one less that Romney can. Paul continues to show that, although he can't win, he's good for a chunk of every state's vote and continues to shape the debate. For Ron Paul, polls and horse race coverage do not matter. What matters is making a difference. That was always his mission, and he continues to accomplish it.

So if you move those goal posts forward, if you do realize that Ron Paul's purpose is not to be the nominee but rather to make people think about his issues, then not only has his sweet stubbornness won our respect, but his stubbornness has ultimately made him a winner.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The State of the Newton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, that's for another time.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Latest GOP Primary Delegates, Schedule, Polls

(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.)

In the midst of the 17-day break between primary contests (inaugurated by Maine on February 11 and closing with Michigan and Arizona on February 28), I'll spend the upcoming week taking stock of each of the four remaining campaigns, each candidate getting his own day. Before I do that, I think this post can be used as a helpful reference point to which I can link during this stretch.

There are three sections below. The first is the latest GOP primary standings from three websites I consider to be the most reliable in updating the delegate count. The second is the upcoming 2012 Republican Primary schedule. The third are the polls from five upcoming contests which I feel are the most significant (Arizona and Michigan on 2/28, Washington on 3/3, and the two weightiest Super Tuesday states, Ohio and Georgia). The polls will only come from the last ten days, the period since Santorum's February 7 sweep.

I'll be back tomorrow with the status of the dying Newt Gingrich campaign. See you then.

Republican Primary Standings
CNN Standings
1. Romney--127
2. Gingrich--38
3. Santorum--37
4. Paul--27

Real Clear Politics Standings
1. Romney--98
2. Santorum--44
3. Gingrich--32
4. Paul--20

Wikipedia Standings
1. Romney--123
2. Gingrich--45
3. Santorum--44
4. Paul--37

Official (not counting unbound delegates)
1. Romney--91
2. Gingrich--32
3. Paul--9
4. Santorum--4 (Seriously. Remember, all his wins were glorified straw polls)

Upcoming Republican Primary Schedule

Here is the GOP 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)
February 28:
Arizona (primary)--58 delegates (29 after 50% penalty)
Michigan (primary)--59 delegates (30 after 50% penalty)
March 3: Washington(caucus)--43 (lots of attention for the Great State Of!)
March 6: (
Super Tuesday)
Alaska (caucus)--27 (Really? That many?)
Georgia (primary)--76 (biggest yet)
Idaho (caucus)--32 (Seems Ron Paul-ish to me)
Massachusetts (primary)--41 (Lock it up for Romney)
North Dakota (caucus)--28 (Another Paul-ish feel)
Ohio (primary)--66 (High noon for Gingrich?)
Oklahoma (primary)--43 (even flown over for the primaries)
Tennessee (primary)--58 (surprisingly weighty)
Vermont (primary)--17 (how cute)
Virginia (primary)--49 (Gingrich/Santorum not on the ballot)
=437 combined on Super Tuesday (19.1% of total delegates)

Republican Primary Polling (most recent polls at top)

February 28:

Michigan Primary (30 delegates, awarded by congressional district)
Mitchell/Rosetta Stone, 2/14 - 2/14, Margin of Error: 4.6
Santorum--34 (up 9 on Romney)
Gingrich--5 (yikes)

Inside MI Politics/MRG, 2/13 - 2/14, MoE: 3.5
Santorum--43 (Up 10)

Rasmussen Reports, 2/13 - 2/13, MoE: 4.0
Santorum--35 (Up 3)

Detroit News, 2/11 - 2/13, MoE: 4.4
Santorum--34 (up 4)

PPP (D), 2/10 - 2/12, MoE: 4.9
Santorum--39 (Up 15)

Average Santorum lead: 8.2
Trend: Santorum building

Arizona Primary (28 delegates, winner-take-all)
Rasmussen Reports, 2/16 - 2/16
Romney--39 (Up 8 on Santorum)

American Research Group, 2/13-2/14
Romney--38 (Up 7)

Average Romney lead on Santorum: 7.5
Trend: Flat

March 3:

Washington Caucus (43 delegates, non-binding proportional)
No polls done since 1/12-1/16.
That poll showed Romney at 26, Gingrich at 22, Santorum at 19, and Paul at 7. With Gingrich's collapse and Santorum's momentum we can expect Santorum to be on top at this point.

March 6:

Ohio Primary (66 delegates, proportional unless a candidate clears 50%)
Rasmussen Reports, 2/15 - 2/15
Santorum--42 (Up 18 on Romney)

Quinnipiac, 2/7 - 2/12
Santorum--36 (Up 7)

Average Santorum lead on Romney: 12.5
Trend: Santorum building

Georgia Primary (76 delegates, awarded proportionally)
Landmark/Rosetta Stone, 2/9 - 2/9
Gingrich--35 (Up 9 on Santorum, up 19 on Romney)
Romney--16 (wow, trending way down; was at 32 after Florida)

Mason-Dixon, 2/6 - 2/8
Gingrich--43 (Up 14 on Santorum, up 31 on Romney)

National Polls
Real Clear Politics Average based on the last six polls, each from a different organization, and all conducted and released in the last ten days:
1. Santorum--34.3 (Note, he leads ALL SIX POLLS, including two by double digits)
2. Romney--27.7 (second in all polls)
3. Gingrich--14.5 (third in five polls, last in
a CNN one)
4. Paul--12.3 (double digits in all six polls; reached 16% in the CNN)
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