Sunday, January 29, 2012

Why China Is Kicking Our Ass: New Evidence from Today's New York Times

While perusing the New York Times this morning, I think Monique and I may have identified an opportunity for improvement in our efforts to keep pace with Chinese economic development:

From the China Daily advertorial, page A13, of the Jan. 29, New York Times:

Some 84 projects averaging 2.55 billion yuan ($403 million) each are planned for development within the city limits of Chengdu. Together they are expected to create more than 250,000 jobs for locals.

Please contrast that with this advertisement on page A16, three pages later in the same New York Times:

While China is investing more than $30 billion in manufacturing, high-tech, green energy, and urban development projects in one of their large inland cities, we're tearing up our old railroad tracks and making jewelry out of them.


(For those who have never heard of Chengdu before, it's the capital of Sichuan province in southwestern China.  It's a city of 7.1 million people with a metropolitan area of more than 14 million people, which makes it about 50% larger than the Chicago metropolitan area, the U.S. inland city with which it is sometimes compared.)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Newt-mania Runs Its Inevitable Course

As the Florida vote approaches on Tuesday, it seems a good time for another update on America's longest-running primetime reality show: the GOP Presidential Primary.

I spent a bit of time this week watching both Florida debates, then flipping around a few of the cable "news" networks afterwards. But rather than go into a cranky old man rant about the horror of what passes for journalism in 2012, here are a few quick impressions of what I saw in the debates, plus what I think we might see on Tuesday:

Mitt Romney -- Looked much, much better this week than he did in the previous debate appearances that I've seen.  Romney added a new debate coach to his team, and the change seems to have paid great dividends for his debating style, which seemed much crisper and more pointed than it has prevous been. He also seemed much more at ease with the fact that he's incredibly wealthy. That may be an unplanned dividend for the Romney campaign from the release of his income tax information. He was trying to hard too obscure the fact that he only pays 13.9% of his vast income in federal taxes that it had to be a palpable relief to let the cat out of the bag.

This good week for Romney is the result of what getting thumped by Newt Gingrich will do for a candidate. It will make that candidate take a good long look in the mirror, then make genuine changes to his campaign.  I doubt the Romney campaign would've changed anything if it wasn't for their South Carolina debacle, so this is an excellent example of how a competitive primary can create a stronger general-election candidate.

Romney looks set to pull out of his campaign tailspin, and head on to a major victory in Florida, where his advantages in money and organizational support already gave him a major edge. A disaster here might've mortally wounded the Romney campaign, but as long as he pulls out a Florida victory, he should be well positioned for smooth sailing the rest of the way.

P.S. Note to Mitt: if you think you're making any sense when you try to explain why Romneycare in Massachussets is any different than the federal Romneycare that Obama signed into law ... you're the only one who even claims to think that.  And we all know that you're smart enough to know that there's no substantial difference, so it doesn't come across well at all.

Newt Gingrich -- Admittedly, Romney's job this week was pretty easy. All he had to do was point to the next podium and say, "Ladies and gentlemen, may I remind you that this is Newt Gingrich."

The GOP's second flirtation with Newt seems to be ending as quickly as the first.  This is a pretty well-documented pattern at this point.  The rise comes when Newt gets down in the polls and comes out guns-a-blazin'. The Republican base loves the fight they see out of him and turn en masse to him as the anti-Romney.  Then the GOP's elected officials and party leaders start working to head off what they see as an utter disaster looming in November if Gingrich is at the top of the ballot.

Worst of all for Gingrich's campaign, Newt plays into this by replacing the Angry, Bitter Newt that voters love with Pompous, Pedantic, Professorial Newt ... and that's the guy who was on display in these two debates.  The only thing left in all America that Republicans and Democrats agree on is that everybody hates Pompous, Pedantic, Professorial Newt.

What will be interesting now will be to see if his sudden reversal of fortune leads Gingrich to restore the scorched-Earth campaigning style that is really his only chance to win this nomination.  His SuperPAC is apparently launching $6 million in advertising over the next few days, so the scorched Earth campaign may be back.  Whether it works after his drubbing in the debates is another matter.

P.S. Note to Newt: if you get housed by Mitt Romney in two consecutive debates with the nomination on the line, you may want to rethink the whole "I will crush Obama by engaging him in seven three-hour long Lincoln/Douglas debates" strategy.  That lunar colony seems more likely.

Rick Santorum -- I continue to be astonished that Santorum didn't emerge as the anti-Romney after Iowa. I suspect that it speaks more to his lack of resources and experience with a national campaign than anything else.

Santorum did everything he needed to do to take over from Gingrich as the anti-Romney if this second Gingrich resurgence craters as badly as the first one did.  Santorum's campaign doesn't plan to spend any money on TV ads in Florida, so as to make itself more financialy competitive in the caucuses in Maine and Nevada (Sat., Feb. 4) and the caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota (Tue., Feb. 7).  This strikes me as a very smart strategy.  I also think that staying out of the Romney-Gingrich fracas will pay dividends for Santorum on Tuesday because he may be the only clean man standing after a weekend of epic mudslinging plays out.

If I had to make a prediction now  -- and it's my blog, so I can make whatever darn predictions I want, darn it! -- it would be that Santorum looks pretty strong by Super Tuesday (11 primaries on March 6) and that he may be carrying Newt Gingrich's endorsement by then.  If Gingrich drops out of the race by then, Santorum could give Romney a respectable run at the polls, though he won't have the organizational and resource strength to ultimately defeat Romney for the nomination.

Note to Rick: Eh, you did fine this week. You don't need my advice right now. You need $20 million in campaign donations.

Ron Paul -- Is soldiering on bravely, but obviously at a disadvantage in a large state with a closed primary, since his libertarian and Democratic supporters are shut out and his web-based campaigning tends to get shouted down by a flood of TV ads. After Florida I would bet that his organization concentrates on the various caucuses where their enthusiastic base has a better chance to make an impact in their final delegate count.

Note to Ron: Please stay in the race.  The other three guys obviously need somebody willing to point out that their budget math doesn't add up.

My Bold Prediction for Florida (retail value: $0.02.):

Romney: 38%
Gingrich: 27%
Santorum: 24% (<--This would be the big surprise.)
Paul: 11%

Monday, January 23, 2012

Indy Colts Haiku: Conference Championships Edition

... in which our intrepid haiku correspondent consoles herself with the belief that if she blurs her vision a bit when she watches this year's Super Bowl, one goofy-looking QB named Manning wearing a blue-and-white shirt will be just as good as any other.

Super Bowl XLVI At The Petroleum Palace: A Different Man(ning) For The Job

Baby Brudder to
Represent; Captain Comeback
Gets Colts fans' lament.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The GOP Presidential Primary: The Newt-Pocalypse

This week's events in the Republican presidential primary made it official. The Republican presidential primary has replaced "American Idol" and "Survivor" as America's favorite reality TV show. Until Monday the punditocracy was complaining that the race lacked excitement and that Mitt Romney's nomination had become a foregone conclusion. Then we saw four days of campaign higgledy-piggledy that will go down in the annals of American politics. After two debates, two dropouts and endorsements, one ex-wife, a fifteen-percent tax estimate, and an Iowa recount, Newt Gingrich stood triumphant at the top of the Palmetto State pack.

Here are yesterday's results from South Carolina, and a bit about the state of each campaign:

Candidate (Votes, Percent, Delegates)

Newt Gingrich (243,153, 40.4%, 23 delegates) - Gingrich won convincingly in the statewide contest, and swept every Congressional district to secure every delegate that was up for grabs. Whatever else happens, Gingrich's one-week comeback from a double-digit deficit in the polls to a double-digit victory in the actual election will forever be the stuff of campaign legend -- especially given the ex-wife scandal that only seemed to fuel his momentum. (It may also give an entire generation of politicians who are doomed to a thumping on Election Day false hope, but that'll be their problem, not Newt's.)

So, what happened? This result seems to have validated two theories about this year's election. The Anybody-But-Romney theory is alive and well.  There's a corollary to that theory. The Republican base has been energized by their opposition to Obama and emboldened by the success of Tea Party candidates in 2010. They are in no mood for a polite debate of issues and policies this Fall. They want a fight, and Gingrich's combative stance in this week's debates played perfectly to that zeitgeist.

So what happens next? If Gingrich can maintain his edge over Santorum in Florida, there's a very good chance that in another two weeks he will be standing alone as the only Anybody-But-Romney still in the race. But Gingrich also has some structural problems in his campaign that will work against him. He failed to qualify for the ballots in some states -- Virginia and Missouri are the larger ones I've heard about so far -- which will likely to hand some large delegate counts over to Romney by default.  That speaks to the lack of solid organization for Gingrich in many states, a problem that will worsen as the state-by-state, week-by-week nature of the primary process comes to the fore.

And though Gingrich was able to stand brilliantly atop his baggage in South Carolina, that pile of baggage can get awfully heavy as the primary campaign continues on. Voters in Florida (Jan. 31), Maine and Nevada (Feb. 4), and Colorado and Minnesota (Feb. 7) are about to get a SuperPAC-sized dose of reminders about Gingrich's past.  The upside for the GOP in Gingrich is that his past is so well known and so well publicized that it seems unlikely that the electorate will be shocked by anything new.

Mitt Romney (167,279, 27.8%, 0 delegates) — Romney fell from a double-digit lead a week ago to a failure to secure even a single delegate. We've all heard the well worn saying that you learn more from failure than success. But the most important thing about learning from failure is that if you pay attention you will learn the lessons you didn't want to learn or didn't think you needed to learn. If you don't pay attention, you will learn the wrong lesson and will soon enough get another opportunity to learn the lesson you should have learned.

Until this week I didn't think that anything Romney would do in this campaign would be interesting. Now I think that Romney's campaign has suddenly become the most interesting campaign because there's a truly pivotal opportunity for him to learn either the right lesson or the wrong lesson from Saturday's results.

Romney's decision not to release tax returns emerged as a major issue this week, especially after he said that he paid about a 15% rate and dismissed the money he earned from speaking fees as "not very much" when it turned out to be nearly $375,000, an amount that very few Americans would characterize as "not very much."

The reason I think this is especially interesting is that I think Mitt Romney is about to learn the wrong lesson from this week's collapse.  This is what Romney had to say this morning in a Fox News interview in which he said that this week he will release his 2010 tax returns and an early estimate of his 2011 returns:

"I know people will try and find something, but we pay full, fair taxes," Mr. Romney said. He said voters would see that he pays a "substantial amount" in taxes and had tithed to his church.

This sounds to me as if Mitt Romney learned the wrong lesson from this week's tax-return kerfluffle. The reason that gaffes and quotes out of context stick to a candidate is not because of the gaffe itself. All of these candidates have to talk non-stop for twelve months, so they're inevitably going to say something that sounds dumb. These things only stick to a candidate when voters think it encapsulates a basic flaw in the candidate.

In Mitt Romney's case, I don't think anybody believes he cheated on his taxes or broke the federal tax code, no matter how many Cayman Island banks may have been involved. The reason the tax-return issue sticks to Romney is because the perception has grown that he is so wealthy and so insulated that he doesn't understand the issues of everyday Americans. That perception is the reason it sticks with voters when Romney refers to himself as "unemployed", says "I like to fire people," or offers up a $10,000 bet during a debate. This is also why Romney's attempts to come across as a genuine man-of-the-people instead come across as inauthentic, a problem that increases the perception that Mitt Romney doesn't believe what he says on issues such as health-care reform or abortion.

In this case, a lot of Republican voters who are paying a considerably higher tax rate than 15% have begun to think that Mitt Romney doesn't really understand their anger at the tax code, since the tax code seems favor him.

So if I had one piece of good campaign advice to offer up to Mitt Romney this week it would be this: stop pretending that you aren't enormously wealthy. Americans like and admire wealthy people, even when they go so far as to be obnoxious about their wealth. Just ask Donald Trump!

Instead, Romney has developed a habit of insisting that people want him to apologize for his wealth.  The truth is that nobody wants Mitt Romney to apologize for being wealthy. Mitt Romney's wealth isn't his problem. His inauthenticity is his problem. He would do better if he started showing up to every single campaign event in a chauffered Rolls-Royce, wearing a three-piece suit, lighting cigars with hundred dollar bills, and reminding people that he's a very smart man who made a vast fortune for himself and his investors. He could at least then make a plausible case that if he created that sort of corporate wealth when he was in charge of Bain Capital, he could do the same for the entire nation if he was President of the United States.

The politics of belief are enormously important in campaigns. People will vote for a candidate if they think he believes what he says even if they don't agree with him on many or most of the policy issues. As voters it is enormously important to us that we elect officials who are being honest with us. And all the consultants and all the campaign ads in the world can't create that in a candidate.

If Mitt Romney does not understand this, he should know that Newt Gingrich understands this very much and also understands how to capitalize on it.

Despite all of that, I still think Mitt Romney is very likely to ultimately win the nomination. One of the best reasons was stated clearly this morning by George Will today on ABC's "This Week" show:

"Here's a small sliver of a silver lining for Mitt Romney. All across the country this morning people are waking up who are running for office as Republicans -- from dog-catcher to Senate -- and they are saying, 'Good God, Newt Gingrich might be at the top of this ticket.' And that can't make them happy."

Romney still has all the advantages of establishment support, a well constructed campaign apparatus that reaches across all 50 states, and personal wealth that he can call on if the chips are down.  He may very well emerge as a much stronger nominee if he learns the right lessons from his failure in South Carolina.

Rick Santorum (102,055, 17.0%, 0 delegates) — My money would have been on Santorum to emerge as the Anybody-But-Romney candidate, mostly based on all of the negatives that Gingrich brings with him. Finishing a distant third in South Carolina didn't help him, but his narrow post-recount victory in Iowa gives him a good case to continue on through Florida, Maine, Nevada, Colorado, and Minnesota.  If he hasn't won another state after those contests, there will be considerable pressure on him to depart the race.

Gingrich has already shown the ability to fall in the polls as quickly as he has risen, so hanging in and waiting to see what happens seems to me to be a very reasonable strategy for Santorum.

Ron Paul (77,993, 13.0%, 0 delegates) — His 13% in South Carolina seems likely to be a reflection of his future primary tallies, though that could change considerably in states like Virginia and Missouri in which he and Romney may be the only remaining candidates on the ballot. He seems much more likely to do well in caucus states where his enthusiastic Libertarian base may form a greater percentage of the vote, and that is likely to be where we see him concentrate his efforts.

Herman Cain (6,324, 1.1%, 0 delegates) — About 6,000 votes of this total is the proxy vote for Steven Colbert's pseudo-campaign, which has taken aim at the current campaign finance rules. I'm surprised the total was this low, even given the confusing "Vote Cain for Colbert" methodology. The low Cain/Colbert vote total seems to be an indication that the voters in South Carolina took the actual race at the top very seriously. It's also likely an indicator that Independents and Democrats who did show up to vote in the GOP contest thought their vote was better directed among the genuine candidates.

Rick Perry (2,494, 0.4%, 0 delegates) — Perry headed back to Texas and endorsed Gingrich. This endorsement may have done Gingrich more good than just handing over the five percent or so of voters who still favored Perry.  Perry's endorsement added significantly to the appearance that Gingrich has emerged as the genuine Anybody-But-Romney candidate. Frankly, I would've expected Perry's nomination to go to Santorum, since their platforms have been so similar.  I can't help but wonder what would've happened this week had Perry endorsed Santorum instead.

Jon Huntsman (1,161, 0.2%, 0 delegates) — Huntsman pulled out of the race and endorsed Romney earlier this week. That was about the only piece of good news for Mitt Romney this week.  Just imagine: without Huntsman's endorsement Romney could've finished even farther behind Gingrich!

Michele Bachmann (494, 0.1%, 0 delegates) — She must be sitting at home in the midst of a Minnesota winter, dreaming of the warmth of the Florida campaign, and thinking, "Why Newt? Why not me?"

Gary Johnson (213, 0.0%, 0 delegates) — Pulled out of the Republican primary in December to run for the Libertarian nomination.  I can't help but wonder if his vote total yesterday means that 213 Libertarians in South Carolina don't know how to spell "Ron Paul."

And that's the South Carolina wrap-up. What will happen in Florida? I don't know, and neither does anybody else. That's why this is such a fascinating campaign!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Some of My Favorite Photos of 2011

I was looking for a photo from this Summer and realized that I was really a pretty neglectful photoblogger and photo-Facebooker for much of this year, especially during the Spring and Summer.  The funny thing is that it wasn't due to a lack of photos -- we have about 2,500 photos from 2011 sitting on my hard drive -- it was just a matter of taking the time to sort through them to pull out a few of the best.  So, I went through this year's photo folders and pulled out some of my favorites.  Monique took most of them, so if you see one you really like in here, the odds are good that she deserves the credit.

Be forewarned, there are an astonishing 43 photos in this post. Frankly, I could've run the count up to a hundred.  Looking them all over again, one thing was clear: we had a lot of good times in 2011.  Here's some of the best evidence...

Okay, this one's cheating since it's from the very end of 2010. It's a Very Magee Christmas in my Dad's front yard! Pottersville, New York.

Monique in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.

John sailing with friends off Tortola in the Sir Francis Drake Channel.

Monique in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.

John in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.

Katie the Beagle enjoying the special pillow that Monique made for her, so that her head would have a soft spot when she flops out of her bed.  Not that Katie the Beagle is a spoiled dog or anything.

Zoe on Casper Mountain, Wyoming.

Cathy, Zoe, Uncle John, and Mike enjoying the successful construction of the new bike trailer. Casper, Wyoming.  (Note Zoe's stylin' set of rabbit ears.)

Zoe the gardener. Casper, Wyoming.

Mike standing at the edge of an abyss while overflow water from Spring flooding roars into a canyon. Near Casper, Wyoming.

Roses and peonies by our decrepit picket fence. Wolverine Lake,  Michigan.

Stella sunbathing on our dock. Wolverine Lake,  Michigan.

Tiki Night fireworks. Wolverine Lake,  Michigan.

The French car-wash crew (Malcolm and Henry) in the MGB. Wolverine Lake,  Michigan.

Malcolm, Stella, Ann, Henry, and Michelle (left-to-right) at the fair. Wolverine Lake,  Michigan.

Fun in the sun with Malcolm, Henry, Anna, and Lexi (left-to-right.) Wolverine Lake, Michigan.

John and Malcolm head off for high-speed adventures. Wolverine Lake, Michigan.

Sigh. Wendy and her new ski boat getting towed back to the dock. Wolverine Lake, Michigan.

The car-wash crew: John, Malcolm, and Henry (left-to-right). Wolverine Lake, Michigan.

And how shiny did the car-wash crew get the MGB? I give you "Michelle: Self-Portrait in MGB Hood." Wolverine Lake, Michigan.

Another fine reflection upon the good work done by my car-wash assistants. Wolverine Lake, Michigan.

(Michelle took a lot of great car-reflection photos this year, but I don't have them all on my hard drive.  Michelle, if you read this and send me some of those really cool ones you took at the Concours d'Elegance, I'll add them to this post.)

Monique and Michelle -- probably rehearsing the "Sisters" number from "White Christmas." Wolverine Lake, Michigan.

Arsen and Katie the Beagle on the boardwalk. Wolverine Lake, Michigan.

Babs and Michelle standing in our kitchen. What I especially like about this photo is that it looks like a graceful dance pose, but in reality they are just startled to look up and realize that our skylight is raining on them. Wolverine Lake, Michigan.

John and Babs head off for high-speed adventures. Wolverine Lake, Michigan.

Monique and Katie the Beagle head off for low-speed adventures. Wolverine Lake, Michigan.

Brigitte, Babs, Michelle, and Monique (bottom-to-top). Wolverine Lake, Michigan.

Brigitte and Stella. Grosse Pointe, Michigan.

This photo of Arsen about to make a point still cracks me up. Traverse City, Michigan.

John was a wee bit tired after the rugby game. Traverse City, Michigan.

Arsen staring up from galley of the tall sailing ship Manitou. Traverse City, Michigan.

Monique and John having top-down fun in the FUN MG. Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan.

Morning glories. Wolverine Lake, Michigan.

Fall colors. Adirondack Mountains, New York.

The lake of my childhood. Loon Lake, New York.

On the fall colors cruise with the Windsor-Detroit MG Club. Near Plymouth, Michigan.

2011 Corvette Grand Sport vs. 1976 MG MGB Roadster. Wolverine Lake, Michigan.

Proof that a new Corvette is a chick magnet. Wolverine Lake, Michigan.

Last pontoon cruise of the year. Wolverine Lake, Michigan.

John's self-portrait in pumpkin. Wolverine Lake, Michigan.

Katie the Beagle helps Monique to install our new hardwood floor. Wolverine Lake, Michigan.

John does battle behind the dash of the MGB. Wolverine Lake, Michigan.

Katie the Beagle stands atop John on New Year's Eve to greet 2012. Wolverine Lake, Michigan.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Another update on the GOP primary

I hadn't planned to do another GOP primary update until after we saw the South Carolina results, but it's been such a news-o-rific few days that I thought I'd pass along a few thoughts on what's been happening:

1) Late-night comedian Stephen Colbert is now running a shadow campaign and asking folks to vote for Herman Cain as a vote for Colbert.  This seems likely to attract a lot of non-Republican votes, but not likely to have much impact on who wins in South Carolina.  However, in a close outcome even a few protest votes for Colbert/Cain might make a difference and the current polls are very closely split between Romney and Gingrich.

What's most worth paying attention to in Colbert's campaign is the message that he and Jon Stewart are delivering about the utter hypocrisy of the "SuperPAC" finance process and the general state of campaign finance regulation.  If you've never checked out their shows, (Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Colbert Report) it's worth visiting their websites to watch a few clips of their commentary on Colbert's SuperPAC and campaign.

2) Speaking of close outcomes, it turns out that Rick Santorum actually won the vote in Iowa! The Iowa Republican Party has issued its final vote count for the Iowa caucuses, reversed the preliminary initial outcome of an eight-vote victory for Santorum, and declared Santorum to be the winner with 29,839 votes (24.6%) a 34-vote victory over 29,805 to Mitt Romney.  This minor adjustment in the vote count shouldn't mean anything in terms of delegate allocation.

The real impact of Romney's apparent win a couple of weeks ago was that Romney got two weeks of good press for "winning" Iowa. Now it turns out that he didn't even do that.  Some guys have all the luck.

3) We also had two midweek dropouts: Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry.  That they dropped out wasn't a surprise, though the midweek timing of each was a bit unusual.

I thought Huntsman would drop out the morning after finishing third in New Hampshire. He spent another five days on the campaign trail in South Carolina before yielding to the inevitable.  Perry looked briefly as if he would drop out after Iowa, then decided to bypass New Hampshire for South Carolina. But he'd faded badly in the polls and was likely under a lot of pressure to stop splitting the Anybody-But-Romney vote.

Huntsman endorsed Romney and Perry endorsed Gingrich.  Neither had enough of a following in South Carolina to make a big impact with the endorsement. The departures probably helped Romney and Santorum more than the endorsements. Huntsman's departure cleared the field of any competition for Romney among GOP moderates. Perry's departure narrowed the Anybody-But-Romney field to Gingrich and Rick Santorum, since Ron Paul has never seemed to fit the Anybody-But-Romney role.

Looking forward, if the nomination is still up for grabs in April, the Perry endorsement of Gingrich could play a significant role when Texas votes on April 3. That's an advantage for Gingrich, since Mitt Romney's victory is already a foregone conclusion in Utah (Huntsman's home state) when it becomes the last state to vote on June 26.

With so much afoot, let's go back and revisit my post-Iowa questions. We already have a much clearer view than we did two weeks ago:

1) Can Rick Santorum capitalize on his Iowa finish to accumulate the money, resources, and endorsements that will let him compete with Romney in states where Romney has a long-established presence?

--He's already won a state since he lost that close decision in Iowa. Unfortunately for him, that state was Iowa, via a recount that comes a bit late. Santorum did pick up the endorsement of a group of conservatives and evangelicals over the weekend. However, it doesn't seem to have helped him in the polls. If he does indeed finish a distant third or fourth in South Carolina, he would need to bounce back very strongly in Florida (Jan. 31) to stay in the race. Otherwise he's going to get a lot of pressure to cede the Anybody-But-Romney position to Gingrich.

The Iowa recount outcome gives him a plausible rationale for staying in for Florida, no matter what happens in South Carolina. He can now say, "Hey! I won a state, too!" But it may not give him the resources to mount an effective campaign in Florida.  I'd guess that South Carolina is Santorum's last stand.

2) How long does Newt Gingrich stay in the race? If he does go full-scale negative on Romney, does it stick?

--Gingrich has been hammering Romney in South Carolina, and it seems to be working.  Gingrich has regained considerable momentum and is tied with Romney in the South Carolina polls.

3) If Santorum fades, can Perry find a second wind from the Anybody-But-Romney vote? It seems improbable, but it's not out of the question.

--The answer was a clear, unambiguous "No." Perry's disastrous 2012 campaign will also almost certainly prevent another try in 2016.

4) Will Ron Paul campaign all the way through to the convention? His enthusiastic support could be a significant asset for the eventual GOP nominee.  If he bolts the party again, it could spell disaster in the general election.

--He looks set to campaign all the way through to the convention, and to stick in the party once his fate is sealed. Since so much of his support comes from outside the traditional GOP base, keeping him in the race probably does the Republican Party some good by drawing voters into their tent. I doubt he'll get much pressure to shut down his campaign until somebody has the nomination mathematically secure. In the meantime, if he can run up a high enough delegate total he could have a significant impact on the party platform and VP selection at the convention.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Indy Colts Haiku: Playoff Bonus

None of you were expecting a Colts haiku during this year's playoffs, since the Colts' record placed them so very far away from the playoff pool. However, our intrepid haiku reporter has discovered one tiny ray of sunshine amid the storm clouds in Indy:

From the If-I-Wash-It-One-More-Time-It-Will-Disintegrate Files

Yes, we dug out our
Harbaugh #4 T-shirt.
Go, Captain Comeback!

--Mary Campbell-Droze

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Thoughts on the GOP presidential primary results in New Hampshire

I thought it would be fun to take another look at the GOP presidential race, now that the New Hampshire primary is in the books.

Let's start with a look at the finish, with a few comments on the top finishers:

1. Mitt Romney (96,814 votes, 39.3%, 7 delegates) - This was a good night for Romney. New England candidates tend to have about a 15% hometown edge in New Hampshire, so this would've been a win for him even without that. He also gave by far the sharpest and most focused of the post-primary speeches. Given the relatively small number of delegates at stake in New Hampshire, last nights results matter most in terms of a jumping-off point for the rest of the campaign. Those nationally televised victory and concession speeches matter, and Romney won both the election and the post-election speech. A failure in New Hampshire would have been a major setback. Instead, he is heading straight down the happy path of his campaign's plan for victory.  If he follows this up with decisive wins in South Carolina and Florida, there will be a lot of pressure on the other candidates to fold their tents, so as not to damage the party's chances in November.

2. Ron Paul (56,259 votes, 22.8%, 3 delegates) - Likely to be the high-water mark for Ron Paul 2012. Much of his support came from independents or disaffected Democrats, groups which may not be able to show up in the same numbers in later states with more restrictive primary voting rules.  One interesting item fairly widely reported afterwards is that a lot of folks think Ron Paul won't bolt the party and run independently because of the political damage it would do to his son, Sen. Rand Paul.  I think that's probably right.  So here's a thought: if Ron Paul manages to run up a sizable delegate count for the convention, perhaps we'll see Rand Paul in the VP slot.

3. Jon Huntsman (41,537 votes, 16.9%, 2 delegates) - Thanks to his laser-sharp focus on New Hampshire and a burst of late momentum, Huntsman managed to bring enough Democrats into the New Hampshire primary to only get trounced by Romney by more than twenty percent. Where now, Jon Huntsman? South Carolina? Seems unlikely. Florida? Huntsman's message might play well there, but I doubt he has the resources to get that message out in a state that size. Worse yet, his post-election speech was the worst speech I've ever seen him give.

About the only role Huntsman seems likely to play going forward is to siphon votes from Romney on the left. That might benefit an Anybody-But-Romney candidate on the right, but it seems to me more likely to continue to split the Anybody-But-Romney vote and actually benefit Romney more than his opposition. I'm not sure what 2013 holds for Jon Huntsman, but "President Huntsman" ain't it.

4. Newt Gingrich (23,230 votes, 9.4%, 0 delegates) - Gingrich continues to slip in the polls and the results. He really needed a strong result in New Hampshire plus a strong post-election speech to make a go of it in South Carolina. He had neither. We all look forward to the promised savage chaos of your well-financed South Carolina campaign farewell, Newt, but say farewell to the presidency.

5. Rick Santorum (23,085 votes, 9.4%, 0 delegates) - Failed to capitalize on his Iowa success at the polls, and also failed to deliver a post-campaign speech that was as good as his post-caucus speech in Iowa. The fact that Santorum apparently would have won Iowa had it not been for a 20-vote clerical error in favor of Romney doesn't matter in delegate counts. In the mediasphere it has turned into "Mitt Romney, who won in both Iowa and New Hampshire."  Santorum will need to knock it out of the park in South Carolina if he wants to become the an Anybody-But-Romney candidate with a genuine chance to win.

6. Rick Perry (1,745 votes, 0.7%, 0 delegates) - Skipped New Hampshire -- other than the weekend debates -- in favor of campaigning in South Carolina to re-establish himself as the Anybody-But-Romney candidate.  During the debates Perry stated that he wanted to re-invade Iraq, so he might have done better to skip the debates, too. Perry will need to finish a strong second to Romney in South Carolina, a result that seems unlikely.

7. Buddy Roemer (924 votes, 0.4%, 0 delegates) - Reports of life in Buddy Roemer's candidacy may have been premature. I used to think that running a single-issue presidential candidacy in New Hampshire was a good way to get your issue into the national debate, especially for candidates like Roemer who had a reasonable resume.  Watching him get utterly shut out of the free media bonanza of all of those GOP debates over the last year has made me reconsider whether that is true. Perhaps it's more of a comment on Roemer's effectiveness as a candidate than the general effectiveness of that strategy.

Below the Buddy Line lay the dropouts, the obscure, and the other doomed candidacies:

8. Total Write-ins (739 votes, 0.3%, 0 delegates)
9. Michele Bachmann (348 votes, 0.1%, 0 delegates)
10. Fred Karger (338 votes, 0.1%, 0 delegates)
11. Kevin Rubash (248 votes, 0.1%, 0 delegates)
12. Gary Johnson (179 votes, 0.1%, 0 delegates)
13. Herman Cain (155 votes, 0.1%, 0 delegates)
14. Jeff Lawman (125 votes, 0.1%, 0 delegates)
15. Christopher Hill (105 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
16. Benjamin Linn (84 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
17. Michael Meehan (49 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
18. Joe Story (41 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
19. Keith Drummond (36 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
20. Bear Betzler (29 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
21. Joe Robinson (26 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
22. Stewart Greenleaf (23 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
23. Mark Callahan (20 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
24. Andy Martin (19 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
25. Linden Swift (18 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
26. Vern Wuensche (15 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
27. Timothy Brewer (15 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
28. John Davis (14 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
29. Randy Crow (12 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
30. James Vestermark (3 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
31. Hugh Cort (3 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)

One other note on the results. There was some discussion among the punditocracy about whether the turnout totals reflected on general Republican enthusiasm for this year's election. A total of 246,238 votes were cast in the GOP primary last night, a slight uptick from the ~240,000 votes cast in 2008, though the number of true Republicans may have been down some from 2008. The biggest factors in favor of larger turnout this year were the essentially uncontested Democratic primary combined with the added appeal to moderates and Democrats of Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman. A factor in favor of a smaller turnout among Republicans was the expectation that Romney would win this primary handily.  All in all, I'd call it a push. The turnout numbers will be something to keep an eye on as the race goes on, but I'd be pretty cautious about drawing many concrete conclusions from them. They're more likely to be something cited by the spinmeisters on either side without true merit.

So, what have we learned towards answering the four questions I laid out after the Iowa caucuses?

1) Can Rick Santorum capitalize on his Iowa finish to accumulate the money, resources, and endorsements that will let him compete with Romney in states where Romney has a long-established presence?

--The answer in New Hampshire was no. If Santorum can't rebound with a strong showing in South Carolina the influx of donations that followed his Iowa finish will dry up quickly.

2) How long does Newt Gingrich stay in the race? If he does go full-scale negative on Romney, does it stick?

--Gingrich's SuperPAC got a $5 million donation from billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson last week. That's giving him the resources to wage a fierce negative advertising campaign in South Carolina based on a film about Romney's record of job destruction at Bain Capital. That seems unlikely to restore Gingrich's chances of winning, but it may prove instructive as a preview of the general campaign in terms of how well those charges stick to Romney.

3) If Santorum fades, can Perry find a second wind from the Anybody-But-Romney vote? It seems improbable, but it's not out of the question.

--Perry gets an "Incomplete" grade this week, since he skipped New Hampshire. Santorum faded this week, but the current projection based on the polls in South Carolina has Perry getting just 6.6% of the vote there. "Incomplete" seems likely to turn to "No" next week.

4) Will Ron Paul campaign all the way through to the convention? His enthusiastic support could be a significant asset for the eventual GOP nominee.  If he bolts the party again, it could spell disaster in the general election.

--The Ron Paul campaign looks likely to run the full course, especially given his strong New Hampshire result and strong nationwide network. If so, he seems likely to prove to be a significant factor at the GOP convention, especially with the vice-presidential nomination. As I mentioned previously in this post, despite Ron Paul's history I now view him as unlikely to bolt the GOP to run a third-party campaign, based on both his own denials and the damage that would do to the political career of his son, Senator Rand Paul.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What's in Store for Me in 2012, Part 3: The Other Stuff

Okay, it's the final stretch of 2012 resolutions and forecasts.  Feel free to skip by this post if you're only here for the beagle haiku.  Mostly I'm writing it all down here so that I can go back at the end of the year to see how I did.  I usually come up with a list along these lines in my head at the beginning of each year.  It'll be interesting to see at year's end whether writing it down has made me more successful in getting some of this stuff done.

Village of Wolverine Lake - I realized that I didn't mention the village  in my "2012: Politics" post. That was just because I don't expect much to change in 2012. I intend to continue to do my best to be a good village president.  I'm sure we'll do a 2012 goals session this year, hopefully in our January work session, so perhaps I'll have more to pass along on that front then.

Diet and exercise - I haven't yet written the blog post I meant to about it, but as some of you know, I lopped sugar out of my diet last year after reading the Gary Taubes article Is Sugar Toxic? in the New York Times in April and taking a look at my own expanding waistline.

From just eliminating sugar I dropped about twenty or twenty-five pounds in about six months, though I packed a bit of that back on over the holidays. During the time I lost the weight I didn't hit the gym much, cut my portion sizes, or cut down the beer consumption -- all of which would have helped.  In truth, once I'd done it for a couple of weeks I found it easier than anything else I've ever tried as a diet.

Since a bit of physical reform is always a good way to start the new year, I'm back on the straight and narrow -- this time including the gym, portion-size, and beer parts of that equation.  That'll hold at least until we go down to Florida in late February, at which point I'll have to figure out how fruity tropical drinks figure into the equation.  After that, it'll be more of the sugar ban, and we'll see about the other stuff. I know I'll feel better and live longer if I shed some weight. So, I'll just keep plugging away at it until I'm at a reasonable long-term weight.

Travel - We have a really cool two-week vacation in the Florida Keys coming up in late February.  Monique and her sisters rented a house in Marathon, and we're going down there with her folks and the full French crew. I'll also be traveling out to San Diego in April for the American Society for Indexing conference, where I'll be hosting a "Publisher's Roundtable" panel discussion.  Hopefully I can manage to spend a few days beyond that outside the confines of the conference hotel. And 2012 is a "Christmas in Glens Falls" year, so we'll be back in Glens Falls at the end of the year, whatever else happens.

That's about all that's planned right now.  I hope we'll manage a couple more things, but I fear that vacation time will be in short supply this year between the Florida Keys and the days I'll need to burn on various village and 2012 election things.  One of my biggest regrets at the end of each year is that I haven't visited enough family and friends because I would love to spend more time with them all.  I'd like to squeeze a couple more visits into the schedule, but I'm not entirely optimistic.

Work - I'm going to try to improve my focus at work this year.  For the last year or two I've noticed that I'm more easily (or more frequently) distracted.  I think this has kept me from following through with genuine depth in some cases where more focus was demanded.  And a few things fell off my to-do lists that shouldn't have.  E-Mail tends to be my number one distraction, so step #1 is to occasionally turn off Microsoft Outlook and Internet Explorer when I'm working on things.  Fewer distractions = more effective work.  Or at least that's my theory.

Writing - As I mentioned in the previous post, I plan to submit a few poems for publication this year.  Once upon a time I used to publish poems here and there.  But for much of the last twenty years I've written little fragments of poems, but have done very little polishing or completing of them because they didn't have anywhere to go.  I just wrote stuff down because things would get in my head, and writing them down was the best way to set them free so that I could move along with my day.

Having this blog gave me a place to post those sorts of things, which encouraged me to finish up a few of the better fragments and post them here.  But that doesn't mean that they're quite as polished or finished as they could be. Submitting a few for publication would force me to put in that extra little bit of elbow grease to call a poem truly finished. I think I'd enjoy doing that again.

I doubt I'll see much or any genuine publication, but when I give up on publishing a particular poem I promise to put it up here with a list of the magazines that found it unworthy.

This initiative is at least in part Mary Campbell-Droze's fault.  As part of her work on LitFinder she occasionally comes across truly terrible poetry that somehow made it to publication. Then she sends some of those along in e-mails from the "Poetry Coroner."  Whenever I see one of those missives I think, "Wow, that poem's even worse than the stuff I write!"  It's an encouraging thought.

MGB - Last January's resolution to look into buying a fun toy one day rather quickly became the FUN MG in our garage. There's no lack of maintenance that needs doing when you have a 36-year-old British sports car, but I think a few projects will likely rise to the top of the list, mostly safety related:

1) Tires - he current low-profile wheels and tires result in a bit of tire rub when I hit bumps, especially when two people are in the car.  I'll need to sort that out before I get a cut tire.  It might be a matter of buying narrower wheel spacers that move the tires in a bit. (A spacer is a disk that connects the MGB's wheel hubs to the low-profile rims.)  Or I might swap back to the set of bolt-on wire wheels that came with the car.  It'll all take a bit of thought and investigation, hopefully before the MGB's back on the road this Spring.

2) Seat belts - The previous owner put in lap belts when he restored the interior. The car originally came with three-point shoulder belts, and putting a set back in seems like a good safety move to me.

3) Antisway bar - An antisway bar is a bar that transfers pressure from the inside corner of the car to the outside corner when a car goes around curves. That keeps the body from rolling towards the outside of the curve. It turns out that the cheap-o's at British Leyland didn't put a front antisway bar in the 1975 and 1976 models of the MGB because they thought it would be an easy and unnoticed cost-cutting measure.

The FUN MG still handles pretty well, but every now and then I can feel it pushing a bit when I go around a curve at speed. I think an antisway bar would improve that, and the basic underpinnings of the car are still designed to have one installed.  This would be my first real alteration to the car, so I'll want to think it through to be sure it's what I want to do and that I understand fully how it works with the suspension.  I'm sure I'll learn a lot if I proceed, which should be both fun and interesting.

Home improvement - Installing the living room floor in 2011 was a big step foward, but there's still no shortage of stuff that needs fixin', replacin', or improvin'. I plan to start with one my leftover from 2011, installing the two new toilets we bought last year.  If that goes well and I'm feeling my plumbing oats, I might just put in a new faucet in the kitchen.  And if that works out without a flood ... it might finally be time to put in a dishwasher.

Plumbing aside, there are a few other items that need doing sooner instead of later. The kitchen ceiling is a disaster, thank to our leaky skylight.  Now that I've fixed the skylight, I need to fix the ceiling. The lakeside porch continues to slowly crumble in place. Last year's temporary garage-door fix seems unlikely to be a long-term solution. Everything needs painting. The picket fence is in disrepair. The ... well, heck. This list could go on forever. As always, I'll try to pick a couple items off the list, fix 'em, and move on.

I have no illusions about home perfection. Mostly I'm just hoping to keep one step ahead of entropy.

That's about it.  And all that is more than enough. It's a bit funny that my job and the village got so little attention on this list, since I spend the bulk of my waking hours on those two things every week.  I guess what I'm mostly trying to do here is to figure out how to be reasonably productive with what time and energy I have leftover beyond that. It'll be interesting to look back at the end of the year to see how much -- if any -- of the stuff I outlined in these three posts gets done.

We shall see.

Monday, January 9, 2012

What's in Store for Me in 2012, Part 2: The Patio Boat Blog

I'm sure some of you have noticed several political posts in a row and are thinking, "Where the heck is the beagle haiku that I have come to expect from the ol' Patio Boat?!"  Worry not, this place isn't morphing into a full-time political blog.  But you are likely to see a heftier dose of politics this year than in previous years.

When I started up the Patio Boat blog my only real intention was to put up a little place where I could update friends and family on what's happening in my life, and maybe have a little place where I could post up a bit of poetry on occasion.  It's not a one-theme blog, nor is it intended to be a commercial blog.  (But could it kill y'all to just occasionally click on an ad, huh? I've got an old British sports car to maintain.)

That first year I made a real effort to post on a near-daily basis. That was a good way to get into the blogging habit, but I found that I was also posting up stuff that would serve better as a Facebook update or even a tweet on Twitter.

If you want to read that sort of stuff, you can always friend me on Facebook, where you will be subjected to fairly regular status updates, the vast majority of which consist of telling you what I'm eating for lunch in my cube.  You can also follow me on Twitter at @Patioboater. I tweet a genuine original thought once or twice a week, and usually retweet several things a week, usually cool weather and astronomy photos, links to interesting blog posts, and earth-shattering Weird Al Yankovic news.  I try to keep a pretty high threshold on deciding what to retweet, so if I do retweet something, the odds are pretty good that it's something that I found to be genuinely cool, interesting, or funny.

Last year I decided to write an average one genuinely good blog post per week.  Critics may say there weren't any genuinely good ones, but I think that sort of schedule benefited the blog. So, that's what I'll aim for again this year.  In terms of blog content you will indeed be seeing more posts around politics this year than in previous years. When I started up the blog I declared politics  to be one of the out-of-bounds topics because ... well, I'm a politician (albeit a minor-league one) and because I hate blogs that club you over the head with whatever agenda a politician is trying to push.

So, you're still not going to see those sorts of posts from me here.  I'm sure I will occasionally discuss the presidential election, but am more likely to discuss the mechanics of the election more than anything else, as was the case with my last few posts on the topic.  I might also occasionally touch on policy points as the year goes on, but when I do so I will try to make sure that whatever I post is supported by citations.  Polite opposing opinions are always welcome, but I will certainly ask you to have your facts in order and supported by reasonably reliable sources. I have grown increasingly annoyed by a national political discussion that has spiraled far, far away from actual facts, and I'm not going to put up with it here. (So, there!)

What I really intend to concentrate on here are the mechanics of politics, especially the electoral process. As I mentioned in the previous post, I've taken an interest in trying to figure out how we can improve our current system in Michigan.  There are a lot of differing proposals and options out there. I'd like to take a closer look at some of them.  I find that it helps me to do so logically by writing about them, and as coincidence would have it I have a handy place to post just that sort of stuff.  So you'll see some of that here as the year goes on.

On the beagle haiku front, as of today we occupy three of the top four slots on Google when you search on the phrase "beagle haiku".  But we've been bumped out of the #1 slot.  It's time to do something about this disgrace!

So, what I'll do is promise to write and post more beagle haiku.  What I'd like you all to do is to post the link below somewhere, anywhere. It takes you to a results list of all the Patio Boat posts that were tagged with "Beagle haiku":

C'mon, America! We can do this! Let's reclaim the #1 spot!

Also on the haiku front, I am making a public offer to double Mary Campbell-Droze's fee as our Indianapolis Colts haiku correspondent.  Hopefully, that will keep her and her contributions in the fold for another year, including an NFL draft special that will consist entirely of seventeen syllables dedicated to Andrew Luck.

On the non-haiku poetry front, you might see less of that this year, though I confess there wasn't a whole lot of poetry-writing last year, either.  It's been about twenty years since I put any effort into having any of my poems published, but I decided that it might benefit my writing to brush a few of my efforts up to that level of scrutiny.  So, that means that a few poems are likely to go out for a few rejection slips before they appear here.  On the bright side, once I give up on getting a poem in a genuine physical magazine, you'll get to see it with a list of the magazines that found it unfit for publication.  That should be fun.

And what else? Eh, the usual stuff.  Look for a few posts on the MGB, the lake, home improvements, occasional photoblogging, or whatever strikes my fancy.  After all, it's still just the ol' Patio Boat.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

What's in Store for Me in 2012, Part 1: Politics

Howdy all (this, of course is the definition of "all" that means "the half-dozen or so family members and friends who stop by occasionally, mostly in hopes of a new beagle haiku.")

Now that I have a bit clearer idea of what I'll be doing with myself in 2012, I thought it might be a good to lay out a few of those things on the ol' Patio Boat blog. We'll start this post on my plans for the 2012 campaign. Later this week I'll have a couple more posts, one on what to look for on the blog itself this year, and finally a slumgullion of a post on the other stuff -- from MGBs to beagle haiku -- that seems likely to come across my radar in 2012.

But first, Campaign 2012:

So, let's start with what I'm not doing in 2012. As my Facebook friends might already know, I am not running for the Michigan State House this year. It feels a little weird to loudly proclaim what I'm not doing, but quite a few people whose opinions I respect -- from both parties -- had asked me if I'd consider it.  So I took a good look at what it would take to run a state house campaign, then thought about my own personal goals for the next couple of years.

Put it all together and it all added up to me not running for anything in 2012.

So what am I planning to do with my political self in 2012?  Probably two things will take up most of my time:

1) I'll be working on Andy Meisner's re-election campaign for Oakland County Treasurer. I'll try not to digress into campaign speechifyin', but as you all know, I'm a big believe that local governments have the most direct impact on people's lives. This is a great example of that. Four years ago Andy foresaw both the looming foreclosure crisis, and the opportunity for a good county treasurer to minimize the impact on the rsidents of Oakland County. He campaigned on "Preventing foreclosures and protecting property values" in 2008. Four years later I'm proud to say that he's been successful in doing just that.  This is a local official who's had an enormous positive impact for folks who most needed help. And in doing so he's benefited all of us who live in Oakland County by helping to maintain our neighborhoods during an enormously difficult time. I'm very much looking forward to helping him continue to do that for another four years.

2) I'll be taking a closer look at how our state government in Michigan functions these days, and what can be done to make it work better. I already had some thoughts on this before I took a look at a state rep campaign. I think that investigation confirmed some of those thoughts, while also giving me quite a bit more to chew on. It's not all bad, but it could and should be much better.

I don't like to complain about things unless I have a better and practical alternative to offer.  So, I'm going to try to spend some time in 2012 looking a bit more closely at Lansing, thinking about what we can do to have a state government that is more effective and more responsive to all of us in Michigan. I'm not sure what'll come out of that, but I'll be sure to let you all know what I come up with.

Buddy Roemer Lives!

My apologies to Buddy Roemer, who is apparently still running for President on a platform of campaign finance reform, despite not having made the cut to appear on stage for a single one of the sixteen GOP debates to date.

Um, sorry for saying that you'd dropped out of the race months ago, Buddy. I shoulda just said that you'd dropped out of sight months ago.

I suspect there are interesting things to be found both in his message and in how totally ineffective he's been in getting that message out.  That's a real challenge, isn't it? How do you get a message out about reforming the current campaign finance system when those proposed reforms mean that you might not have any resources with which to get that message out effectively.

I reckon I'll have more thoughts to share on that topic down the road.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Santorum's Michigan Problem

Just a quick follow-up to yesterday's long message on the Republican presidential primary, this time focusing on what I meant about the problem the Santorum campaign faces in building a national campaign after Iowa and New Hampshire.  The news reports of the presidential primary will often focus on where the candidates stand in the polls. But to actually win an election you need to have an organization in place that will get your message out to voters and make sure that your voters show up to support you on election day.

This article from has the absolutely perfect summary of what I was talking about:

Rick Santorum's Michigan campaign limited to a Facebook Page managed by Grandville man

The title says it all, but the article also has some interesting information on how the Republican delegates from Michigan will be allocated. Michigan has a fairly easy qualification threshold for candidates that I won't go into here, so presumably Santorum will be on the Michigan ballot.  Even appearing on the ballot has been challenge for Santorum and other candidates in some states, most notably Virginia where he, Gingrich, and Perry failed to collect the 10,000 valid signatures required to appear on that state's ballot.

But once on the ballot, how does Santorum compete for delegates here? Part of the answer lies in how the Michigan GOP will allocate its delegates. Michigan's Republican Presidential primary has 59 delegates up for grabs. Seventeen of them are awarded proportionately based on how the candidates fare in the statewide vote count. The remaining 42 of are allocated three apiece across the state's 14 congressional districts, where (I believe) all three are awarded to the winner of each district.

This may seem an unduly convoluted system to a lot of folks, but it's actually a pretty good system for ensuring that campaigns truly reach out across the state to engage with congressional districts, and don't just fly in, drop a bunch of TV ads on folks, and fly out. It's really a system that gives candidates with organizational savvy and party support a chance to compete effectively against deep-pocket media campaigns.  It also does a good job of setting up the in-state organization that candidates will need to compete in the general election.

So, to compete most effectively for Michigan's 59 delegates you need to run a good statewide campaign, but you also need to put together some organizational competence in each of the 14 congressional districts.  As you campaign you would then focus your local efforts on the districts in which you have a chance to win.  To do this well you really need a solid statewide organization, as well as organizational support from the local politicians in each district.

What does Rick Santorum have at the moment? One guy with a Facebook page.

What does Mitt Romney have at the moment? Well, his father was a former two-term governor of Michigan, so that's a pretty good start.  Plus, whatever work he's already done for this year's primary aside, he also had the a pretty solid organization in Michigan in 2008 where he won the state and beat McCain 39% to 30% and more importantly received 24 delegates compared to 5 delegates for McCain and one for Mike Huckabee. (Michigan was stripped of nearly half of its delegation in 2008 for holding an early primary.)

It's safe to say that Romney has a fair-sized headstart over Santorum in Michigan.

This year the campaign calendar around this event looks like this:

Feb. 4 - Maine, Nevada
Feb. 7 - Colorado, Minnesota
Feb. 28 - Arizona, Michigan
March 3 - Washington
March 6 - Super Tuesday (13 states)

So, Santorum has a two-week window to focus on Arizona and Michgan.  However, Super Tuesday comes just one week after Arizona and Michigan, and that's the day that will probably do the most to decide the eventual Republican nominee.  And on Super Tuesday Santorum faces his Michigan problem, times thirteen.

So what does the Santorum candidacy do? A lot of his strategic advantage over Romney is his potential to win working-class votes in Rust Belt states like Michigan.  But Michigan looks to me like an awfully steep hill to climb between now and Feb. 28.  The other state on that day is Arizona, where Romney can call on a solid Mormon base, his recent endorsement from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), and a nice tan that should play well in the TV ads in the Sun Belt.  Hardly an enticing prospect, either.

My guess is that if Santorum does manage to secure the Anybody-But-Romney vote after South Carolina, he may run a token media campaign in Arizona and Michigan if the polls look like he can peel off some delegates.  But he'll really be putting all his effort into the Super Tuesday states.

Michigan may never see more of Rick Santorum in the 2012 primary than that Facebook page run by a guy in Granville.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Thoughts on the Republican Presidential Primary, Now That Iowa Is in the Books

[Here's another one of the entries I plan to write this year in some depth about various aspects of the 2012 campaign.  In these posts I plan to mostly discuss the mechanics and strategies of campaigning, but to not spend a lot of time on the issues themself.  In general I'll try to keep partisan sniping to a minimum, but just to be clear to anybody new to the Patio Boat, I'm a Democrat and will undoubtedly be spending both time and money in support of Barack Obama's re-election this year.

One additional caveat.  I read Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight blog pretty regularly and respect a lot of his insights into polling and elections in general.  I didn't link to anything in particular from that blog below, but I'm sure that I've relied on it as a source for both statistics and insight. If you don't read Nate's blog, but you have the intestinal fortitude to make it to the end of this post, you should probably read the FiveThirtyEight blog yourself.

And with those caveats provided, on to the post itself...]

The Iowa caucuses are an interesting phenomenon. The Iowa Democratic Party originally moved their caucuses forward to January back in 1972 to give their ancient mimeograph machine time to print up enough copies of the rules and platform proposals before their state convention. This turned out to give them the spotlight and a very large say in the nomination process. In 1976 the Republicans moved their caucus forward to the same date, and every four years since then the nation's presidential aspirants have descended like a flock of bloviating locusts to espouse the wonders of ethanol subsidies and the corn dogs at the Iowa State Fair.

Although Iowa isn't particularly representative of most of the nation, both it and its fellow small-state early bird New Hampshire serve a fairly useful purpose for the rest of us by providing a credibility check.  It's the electoral equivalent of a sign that says "You shall not enter this ride unless you are taller than this."

These two states strain out both the small fry who never should've tried (Thaddeus McCotter, Buddy Roemer) and the bigger fish who enter with a splash but lack the ability to connect with voters outside their home ponds (Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachman, maybe Rick Perry.)  Because of their smallish scale and the long run-up to their contests, they provide a candidate with limited resources (Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman) a chance to catch on over time by meeting with voters and appealing directly to them.  A good result in Iowa or New Hampshire can lead to the sort of deep-pocket campaign contributions that let a candidate compete in heavily populated states such as Florida, New York, and California -- where small-scale retail politics are swamped by the cost of media buys and the need for professional campaign organizations.

The best thing about Iowa is that after more than a year of positioning and polling, real votes that matter are cast.  It's like the first game of the NFL season. There's been a lot of preparation.  Training camp and pre-season were interesting to the football junkies. But as soon as the first game is in the books, all that preceded it is forgotten.

There were only twenty-five delegates at stake yesterday, but last night's Iowa results brought a lot of shape to this year's Republican Presidential primary, while also raising some new and interesting questions.  Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum finished in a virtual tie, while Ron Paul finished only a few percentage points behind them. The results were close enough that under Iowa's rules the three of them probably each gained seven delegates to this year's Republican National convention.  That's a genuine tie, despite the difference in finishing order, since the point of this exercise is to gain a majority of the delegates to the convention, so that you can secure the nomination.

(Delegate allocation is probably worth a post of its own one day, and is a really interesting piece of tactical campaigning. Much of Barack Obama's 2008 victory over Hilary Clinton resulted from his campaign's focus on securing delegates, while Clinton tried to establish momentum and an air of inevitability by running up vote totals. That point may yet come into play for the GOP this year, since Mitt Romney is certainly playing the "inevitable candidate" card.)

Here's my two cents on how each of the candidates fared yesterday, and what it means for their campaigns:

Candidate (Votes, Pct%, Delegate Estimate) 

1. Mitt Romney  (30,015, 24.6%, seven delegates) —  Mitt did what he needed to do here: cross the Iowa threshold as a credible candidate.  He's still the probable nominee for a lot of reasons, including his experience and contacts from the 2008 campaign, as well as his personal deep pockets. You don't need to be incredibly wealthy to run for President, and wealth alone can't buy you a victory.  But it's kind of like major-league baseball, where deep pockets let the New York Yankees paper over mistakes that would sink a team with fewer resources. Next for Romney  it's "on to New Hampshire!" where the former Massachusetts governer has what amounts to a hometown advantage and a big lead in that state's polls.

What's been more interesting is that Romney's campaign —  which has been slick and well-managed, in accordance with the Romney brand —  is the "Anybody-But-Romney" phenomenon that has propelled each of the other candidates ahead of him in the polls. It seems as if a majority of Republican voters really and truly don't want Romney to be their nominee.  The problem for the GOP is that each Anybody-But-Romney candidate has in turn been examined closely and found wanting by their electorate.  This may make pundits impatient, but I think it's been a very beneficial process for the Republican Party and will help them in the general election. Romney is a known commodity after the 2008 campaign, and his presidential campaign experience and resources have shown in his 2012 effort.  But taking the lead in the Anybody-But-Romney race has exposed each of the other candidates to some of the scrutiny and criticism that he or she would face in the general election.  None of the non-Romney candidates have faced that before, and if the Republican party chooses somebody other than Romney, they will have a stronger candidate for it.

Romney's problem now is that his poll numbers seem to have a ceiling around 30%.  If a single genuine Anybody-But-Romney candidate emerges sooner instead of later, Romney could be in genuine trouble. Ironically, although Romney's best campaign pose is the aura of the inevitability of the frontrunner, he genuinely needs multiple candidates to split the vote long enough for him to rack up an insurmountable delegate count.  It's a weird problem.

Current Michigan Governor Rick Snyder faced a similar issue in his 2010 primary as the de facto moderate among a group of candidates who all ran far to the right. That worked well for Snyder as the other candidates split the conservative vote and allowed Snyder to win.  I don't, however, think the same effect will work for Romney in a series of primaries that are designed to whittle down the field.  If Romney quickly finds himself alone with Ron Paul and only one other candidate, he could be in unexpected trouble.

1A. Rick Santorum  (30,007, 24.5%, seven delegates) —  Santorum lost the final count by just eight votes, but that hardly mattered. What really mattered was that his late surge as the final Anybody-But-Romney candidate pushed him from the back of the pack into realms of credibility that he never had before this week. His virtual tie for first place in Iowa has made him a viable 2012 candidate for the Republican nomination.  Santorum took Iowa seriously by campaigning personally in every county in Iowa.  All future Iowa caucus campaigns should study his playbook.  He also seems to have genuinely benefited as a candidate from a year of hardcore retail campaigning. Practice helps, and his post-caucus speech was a huge improvement over what I saw of him a year ago when he first announced his candidacy. One other important note here: although Romney finished a few votes ahead, the Iowa caucus process allows same-day caucus registration among independents or people in other parties. Exit polls showed that Santorum did better among actual Republicans than either Romney or Ron Paul.

Aside from momentum, improved oratory, and popularity among actual Republicans, Rick Santorum has another genuine advantage at this point: the apparent blessing of his one-time boss, media mogul Rupert Murdoch.  If Murdoch does now put the Fox News machinery behind Santorum, that could make up for all sorts of lack of resources and organization in the states that follow New Hampshire.

Santorum's other advantage at this point is that he truly does seem to be the Anybody-But-Romney.  Whereas Romney strikes everybody as willing to say whatever he thinks will gain him votes, Santorum seems to genuinely believe what he says. That's a very attractive quality for voters, though it may prove to be a double-edged sword if the electorate decides that he genuinely means it when, for example, he says that states should be able to outlaw contraception, a position that has already caused a stir in the blogosphere.

However, being the most socially conservative in a GOP primary isn't a problem for Santorum. It's undoubtedly to his advantage.  But Santorum has some tactical problems that he'll need to overcome quickly if he's going to become the nominee. Problem number one is that he doesn't yet have the resources and organization to compete effectively in the large states. That may change in the wake of Iowa —  especially if he can follow this up this result with a strong performance in New Hampshire, where he has also spent a good deal of time on retail campaigning.  Santorum's second problem is that this is his first time in the Anybody-But-Romney shark tank. He will now face the scrutiny and negative campaigning that comes in that role. A pass from Fox News would help him greatly to survive this scrutiny during the primary, but it might not be doing the GOP any favors in the general election to nominate a candidate who would otherwise have failed the Anybody-But-Romney staying power threshold.

When reporters in 2016 talk about the surprises that come out of the Iowa caucuses, Rick Santorum will be near the top of the list. By then we'll know whether he capitalized on these results, or turned out to be another just another Hawkeye State flash in the pan.

3. Ron Paul (26,219, 21.4%, seven delegates) —  It's hard to see how a candidate wins the Republican nomination when his support seems to come from a coalition of libertarians, independents, and college students. But Ron Paul has completely captured that coalition, and if Mitt Romney has a low ceiling, Ron Paul seems to have a high basement due to his widespread support among that group.  Romney supporters should probably hope that Paul keeps campaigning all the way through to the convention because Paul's support seems likely to go in the Anybody-But-Romney column if he does pack it in.  On the other hand the Ron Paul crowd might just opt out altogether if presented with a Romney/Santorum choice.

If Paul does make it all the way to the convention, he'll likely have a decently sized delegation because he seems certain to pick up delegates in states that apportion their delegates instead of awarding them all in a "winner takes all" primary.  More importantly, the eventual nominee will almost certainly have to accomodate him in some way to make sure he stays in the GOP camp.  Paul departed the GOP and ran as the Libertarian candidate in 1988. He was the third in total votes that year, though he only gained 0.5% of the total.  He'd be a much, much bigger obstacle to a GOP general-election victory in 2012 if he bolted the party again.

One of the really interesting things to watch in coming months will be how Ron Paul fares in the future contests, how long he stays in the race, and what he does once it's over and he's not the nominee.

4. Newt Gingrich (16,251, 13.3%, possibly one delegate) — Just a few weeks ago Gingrich had the Anybody-But-Romney tiger by the tail.  Today he's trying to recover from a slip to fourth place in Iowa, and an equal decline in national polling.

It might've been possible for Gingrich to recover from this finish in Iowa -- John McCain got about 13% in Iowa in 2008 -- but instead Gingrich's post-caucus concession speech will go down in the classics of primary defeat with Howard Dean's Iowa scream. That moment resonated not just because of what it was, but because it seemed to embody the problems of a fading campaign.  So it was last night with Gingrich, who blamed his defeat on negative campaigning by Romney without seeming to understand his own role in providing the grist for the Romney machine's mill.  At times defiant, angry, and pedantic, Gingrich quickly moved from quasi-endorsing Rick Santorum to lecturing Ron Paul about foreign policy to seemingly preparing to deliver a platter of cold revenge to Mitt Romney in future primaries.

As I said in a Tweet after watching it: "Bitter Newt is more entertaining than Pompous Newt."

This is another place where the shape of the 2012 GOP primary is going to be interesting.  If Gingrich decides to stay in the campaign to savage Romney, he risks continuing to split the Anybody-But-Romney vote and actually helping Romney by serving as a spoiler. I doubt Gingrich sees it that way, though.

5. Rick Perry  (12,604, 10.3%, no delegates) —  All that hoopla, money, and endorsements when he entered, but today Rick Perry was back home in Texas "reassessing his campaign."  It sounds as if he'll stay in at least until South Carolina. He's probably hoping for a Santorum implosion, after which he can regain the mantle of the Anybody-But-Romney candidate.  That's not a bad strategy for him at this point.  Perry seems to be campaigning better than he did after his disastrous entry into the race, and his campaign still has more money and national infrastructure than any of the other non-Romney candidates.

If Santorum can't cut it in the spotlight, Perry might have a resurgence.  It makes sense for him to stick around for a few more states, even if he really can't win the nomination this year. The GOP traditionally turns to the 2nd-place finisher from the previous election as their next nominee. If Perry can right the ship and show good form down the stretch, he might have a chance to take another crack at it in 2016. He's almost certainly never going to get another shot at it in the future if he departs the race with just a 5th-place finish in Iowa to show for all the money he spent.

(BTW, I thus far managed to avoid discussing Rick Santorum's Google problem, but I should mention that when you enter "Rick Perry" into Google, the first couple of results on Google's suggested-headings list are not advantageous to a GOP candidate.  Weird Internet problems for 21st century campaigns are another one of those topics that's probably worth a post later this year.)

6. Michele Bachmann  (6,073, 5.0%, no delegates) — The winner of last year's 2011 Iowa Straw Poll is now one-and-done in the contests that matter, since she announced today that she's leaving the race. Her semi-concession speech last night was a pretty loopy moment in a pretty loopy campaign.  She said that "The process has worked and Iowa has clearly spoken" ... then proclaimed that it was on to New Hampshire.  Huh?!

But I think we can give her a pass on the final bit of intellectual incoherence in her often incoherent campaign.  It must've all looked so good last year when she was the first of the candidates to ride the Anybody-But-Romney bubble that I can understand wanting to sleep on it one last night before folding her tent.

This was a pretty good case of the Iowa voters spending a good long stretch with a candidate and deciding that what we had here was not a presidential nominee.  Well done, Iowa.

7. Jon Huntsman  (745, 0.6%, no delegates) —  What I like here is that the AP story about Bachmann pulling out of the race said this about her finish: "Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann said Wednesday she's ending her bid for the Republicans presidential nomination after her last-place finish in Iowa's leadoff precinct caucuses."  If Bachmann finished "last" with 5.0%, what does that say about Huntsman's 0.6%?

One of the saddest images last night came from a caucus site where the volunteers were counting votes by stacking each candidate's ballots on a piece of paper for that candidate.  Little stacks of red ballots for Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, etc, stood there in neat piles.  But there was nothing at all on the sheet laid out for Jon Huntsman. You don't need to win Iowa to win the nomination, but what does it say when nobody in a precinct will vote for you, even if you didn't compete seriously in that state?

Frankly, I've decided that I don't understand Jon Huntsman's campaign strategy at all if he genuinely wants to be the nominee. He chose not to compete in Iowa because it skews so conservative.  But Iowans don't like to be ignored, so only 745 of them chose to ignore the snub to vote for him. That averages out to fewer than eight voters in each of Iowa's 99 counties. So, after taking a pass on Iowa and receiving the drubbing that resulted, he's hoping to do well enough in New Hampshire to go into South Carolina, Florida, Michigan, etc., with enough momentum to win the nomination.  But does he genuinely expect to gain momentum in South Carolina, which may skew even more conservative and evangelical than Iowa?  You can't win the nomination by only winning Utah.

I can only conclude that Huntsman just hoped that Mitt Romney would depart the race early for reasons unknown, even though that seems a sucker bet given Romney's deep pockets and 2008 experience. Without Romney in the way, Huntsman might've had a chance to gather much of the establishment support that has gone instead to Romney. Huntsman's problem now is that after taking a pass on Iowa, he's about to take a Granite State drubbing. And as far as I can tell, I don't think that Huntsman has ever made a compelling case for why a voter should vote for him instead of for Romney.  I strongly expect that on the morning after the New Hampshire primary we can look for a source within the Huntsman campaign to tell CNN that Huntsman has returned to Utah to "reassess his campaign."

8. No Preference (135, 0.1%, no delegates) —  Really? These candidates have campaigned in Iowa for as much as two years, but 135 of you bundled up to brave the January weather, sit in a caucus meeting, then say that you have developed absolutely zero preference among them?

In truth, this is a pretty low number for a "None of the Above" option. I think that's driven by the genuine divide you can see between Romney voters and the Anybody-But-Romney voters.

9. Other (117, 0.1%, no delegates) —  I saw a tweet last night that said that six of these votes were for "The Lizard People".  I can't believe the lamestream media has thus far excluded The Lizard People from the GOP debates. I demand that we see them on stage in Saturday's debate, so that the American people can decide for themselves!

P.S. Yes, this means that Jon Huntsman only finished 739 votes ahead of The Lizard People.

10. Herman Cain  (58, 0.1%, no delegates)  —  Ladies and gentlemen, the Herman Cain book tour and late-night pizza run has departed the public stage. Few people thought he'd really be the nominee, but I don't think anybody anticipated the salacious details of his implosion. Gary Hart, you now have a new first mate on the S.S. Monkey Business's eternal tour of the Isles of Libido.

11. Buddy Roemer  (31, 0.0%, no delegates) — The former Louisiana governor dropped out long ago, but his name apparently remained on the ballots. He tweeted at one point last night that he had nearly enough voters to form a bowling league. As it turns out, his 31 votes were more than three times as many as the difference between Romney and Santorum. I can't help but wonder what those 31 people think about that this morning.

[Update, Sunday, Jan. 8: My apologies to Buddy Roemer, who is apparently still running for President on a platform of campaign finance reform, despite not having made the cut to appear on stage for a single one of the sixteen GOP debates to date.

Um, sorry for saying that you'd dropped out of the race months ago, Buddy. I shoulda just said that you'd dropped out of sight months ago.

I suspect there are interesting things to be found both in his message and in how totally ineffective he's been in getting that message out.  That's a real challenge, isn't it? How do you get a message out about reforming the current campaign finance system when those proposed reforms mean that you might not have any resources with which to get that message out effectively.]

So, that's the field. Here's my guess at what the campaign will hinge on over the next few months. There are some interesting possibilities:

1) Can Rick Santorum capitalize on his Iowa finish to accumulate the money, resources, and endorsements that will let him compete with Romney in states where Romney has a long-established presence?

2) How long does Newt Gingrich stay in the race? If he does go full-scale negative on Romney, does it stick?

3) If Santorum fades, can Perry find a second wind from the Anybody-But-Romney vote? It seems improbable, but it's not out of the question.

4) Will Ron Paul campaign all the way through to the convention? His enthusiastic support could be a significant asset for the eventual GOP nominee.  If he bolts the party again, it could spell disaster in the general election.

You'll note that none of those "interesting" items involve Mitt Romney himself.  I fully expect the Romney-Bot 2012 to continue on to the end in just the same way it has campaigned for the last two years.  I don't, however, know if Romney's advantages in money, endorsements, and organization will overcome the fact that a majority of Republican voters just don't seem to want to vote for him.  My guess is that the answers to the four items I list above have more to do with the final outcome than anything Romney is likely to do.

We shall see.