Tuesday, February 28, 2012

When Facing a Category Five Disaster, the Smart Man Evacuates!

The arrangements were made well before we gave much thought to the Presidential primary calendar, and so while my home state of Michigan has been engulfed in a Republican Presidential Primary storm of truly catastrophic proportions, I have been spending a very pleasant fortnight in the Florida Keys. Although I can't take credit for any particular foresight in my narrow escape, I have appreciated a bit of distance as Michigan absorbed a direct hit from the 2012 GOP primary.

While Rick Santorum addressed a Friday night fish-fry crowd at the Catholic church just two miles from my house, I fried up a pan of freshly caught grunt and porgy from that day's charter fishing expedition. While Mitt Romney praised the height of the trees in Michigan for their rightness, I have contemplated palms of varying height and species, being careful not to set my beach chair beneath the coconut trees.

Yet I have also been strangely connected to it all by the world of electronics.  I get the Detroit Free Press on my Kindle every morning and have time to genuinely read it.  I have chances to check in with some of my other local news sources -- The Oakland Press, the Spinal Column, etc. -- to catch their take, which mostly shows the local news impact of candidate appearances.

My Facebook feed has been filled with little links to various Michigan primary events and non-events. My e-mail inbox is cluttered with a variety of political spams all with one opinion or another on where and how I should vote in today's primary, never mind that I'm a Democrat.

I shudder to think of the pile of robocall messages that have undoubtedly been left on our home phone. We forgot to bring our remote PIN to collect the messages, so the damage will be there waiting for us.  I'm sure that dire SuperPAC ads clutter the local shows recorded on our DVR during our absence. It's a bit like evacuating in the face of an oncoming hurricane and going home afterwards, unsure of what if any damage has been done.

I have a friend who is a rabid Tea Partier. As of 10:30 am on Election Day, I have yet to see any sign that he has made up his mind about who he will vote for. I've called him my "Tea Party Canary in a Coal Mine" because I think he's a pretty good representative of the problem that Tea Party base -- so crucial in the GOP's 2010 victories -- faces with this whittled-down cast of characters. None of them are really the right candidate to carry their message.

I've been of the opinion that the conservative GOP base would eventually move to Rick Santorum because the alternatives in Mitt Romney ("The Chief Architect of Romneycare") and Newt Gingrich ("The Earmark King of Cobb County") were so unappealing. But Santorum has taken his time in the spotlight to remind us that his Google problem didn't arise in a vacuum. It came about because he repeatedly went out of his way to vilify homosexuality to further his social agenda.

In Iowa Santorum spread a pretty good economic message based on a revival of manufacturing.  Instead of pounding that message in Michigan -- ground zero of the American manufacturing collapse -- he seems to have been unable to resist the alluring catnip of extreme social conservatism. While some of his remarks this week may have played well to an evangelical and Catholic base, they seem almost certain to haunt him if he emerges as the eventual nominee. It turns out that access to contraception is popular among the general voting public.

I used to think that Mitt Romney would at least be a competent administrator if he ended up in the Oval Office. But after watching him speak on Michigan topics for several weeks, I've decided he might be the worst of the choices because as near as I can tell all he stands for is a belief in his own competence. Worse yet, he seems to think that belief entitles him to take whatever position is most convenient for the room he is addressing. There are plenty of political offices in which competence without a moral, ethical, or philosophical compass is a positive boon, but President of the United States is not one of them.

At this point if I was a Tea Partier I'd probably vote for Ron Paul and hope for a brokered convention that might produce a more appealing nominee than any of this crowd.  I'm curious to hear what my Tea Party friend decided.

Fortunately for me, I am faced with none of those choices. I will be voting for Obama in the Democratic caucuses in May and again in November. However, after my near-miss of an up-close look at this year's contenders, I'm beginning to root for a brokered GOP convention, too. Not because I think that will produce a weaker candidate for Obama to beat, but because at this point I truly think I'd prefer not to see any of these four guys get as close as the November ballot. This is probably not the reaction they meant to elicit by campaigning so hard in my back yard, but it is my reaction nonetheless. At this point I'm rooting for "None of the Above" and glad to be 1,500 miles away.

C'mon, GOP. I'm not rooting for you. But I am at least rooting for you to produce a responsible alternative.

Tim Pawlenty, come back. All is forgiven!

P.S. A Romney victory today in Arizona is a foregone conclusion. But how about a prediction for today in Michigan? The polling is absolutely dead even, but my gut tells me that Santorum will eke out a narrow statewide margin over Romney and probably win something like eight of 14 Congressional districts, which would give him something like an 18-12 delegate advantage over Romney. This cycle's Republican gerrymander of the Congressional districts was especially strange, so a really hip prediction might include something like a Ron Paul victory in one of the packed Detroit districts, or a district/general split that ended up with more delegates going to the statewide loser. But those outcomes seem less likely.

What'll be even more interesting is to see how an outcome that's likely to vary by a few thousand votes either way is spun by the media and the campaigns. A narrow Romney victory will have him back on the inevitability track, while a Santorum squeaker would be interpreted as the wheels having fallen off the Romney wagon altogether. Neither narrative should be taken too seriously by anybody, especially given the likelihood that the difference between the two will likely be how many Democrats cross over to cast a vote, since they have no meaningful primary of their own.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The GOP Primary and the Auto Bailouts

There aren't any votes scheduled in the GOP Presidential Primary until Tuesday, Feb. 28, when Michigan and Arizona voters go to the polls.  So instead of looking at the horse race and the Santorum surge, I thought we might take a closer look at the race through the perspective of a single issue, the bailouts for GM and Chrysler.

There were two pieces of high-visibility news on that front in the last week or so:

So what the heck was going on?  The Karl Rove item made Newt Gingrich's moon-base proclamations look pretty tame.  Let's try to take a look and see if we can make a bit more sense of it all, starting with the Clint Eastwood kerfluffle.

I suspect Michigan governor Rick Synder spoke for the great majority of Republicans when he called Rove's criticism of the ad "absolutely silly." But Rove's comments didn't arise in a vacuum. They came as a series of economic reports show that at long last the U.S. economy is beginning to show some genuine job growth after the long downturn of The Great Recession. Karl Rove is a very smart man who understands elections very well, so why did he say something that most of his fellow Republicans would describe as "silly"?

There's a lot of evidence to show that the direction of economic growth and the unemployment rate in the year preceding an election has a greater impact on an incumbent president's chances of re-election than the absolute numbers themselves or even a comparison with the economic statistics at the time a president comes into office. This makes sense. Voters tend to judge an administration on whether it is making things better or worse, and most people have a sense that it takes times for a new administration's policies to be enacted and to have effect.  And the "national mood of America" (however you define it) is always a reflection of where we are now and where we think we're going, not where we've been.

These current-year numbers may be especially critical in this year's election because of the statistical haze the exists over the full record of the Obama administration because of the economic plight of the U.S. and world economy in November 2008. The employment losses of the Great Recession began in February 2008 and reached their peak in the October 2008 - March 2009 time frame, at which point the economy was shedding somewhere around 700,000 jobs per month.

And so, we can all expect to be inundated with a flood of charts and graphs that show economic statistics dating back from either October 2008 (the last full month before Obama was elected), February 2009 (Obama's first full month in office), March 2009 (the first full month after the stimulus act was signed) or even subsequent dates as various pieces of Democratic legislation were enacted.  Normally these sorts of statistical shenanigans have a marginal effect with no real impact on the narrative.  However, the timing of the economic implosion of 2008-2009 creates an enormous difference between October 2008 and March 2009.  For example, the unemployment rate in October 2008 was 6.5% while the unemployment rate for March 2009 (the first full month following the signing of the stimulus bill) was 8.7%. That's an enormous difference.

There are no Marquis of Queensbury rules for statistical presentations in presidential elections, so I leave it to you, gentle reader, to decide which version of statistical reality you prefer.

But in any of those realities, the Obama administration's bailout of the auto industry was one of the hallmark acts of government intervention.  The bailout was severely criticized by most of the Republican Party, especially by Republicans outside of Michigan and the Midwest. It has already become a central point of contention in the 2012 election.  And the assertion that it was mismanaged by Obama has been a central tenet of conventional Republican wisdom over the past several years.

Now let's add something to that combustible mixture: American icon Clint Eastwood ambling in at halftime of the Super Bowl with a raspy reminder that the bailed-out automakers are still here, are now profitable, are growing, and are selling some nifty American-made cars built by American autoworkers.  This is not a narrative that helps your central argument.  And so, Karl Rove did what Karl Rove excels at. He shifted the narrative.  Instead of spending a week or two talking about how great it is that the bailout worked and that the auto industry is growing, most of the chattering classes spent a week talking about how silly it was to criticize Clint Eastwood for a totally awesome ad that made us all want to bolt a truck body on a steel frame, punch a Honda, and then peel out of a driveway in a new muscle car.

And then Whitney died and the news cycle moved on.

Karl Rove is a very smart man.

Mitt Romney is also a very smart man, but he did something that mystified me this week by opening his Michigan campaign with the complaint that the terms of the managed bankruptcy under the Obama auto bailout were far too favorable to autoworkers and retired autoworkers. There were some reasons that may have made sense within the echo chamber of the Republican media and electorate, but it struck me as a position that will be difficult to defend in the general election, and a wasted opportunity for him to change his own narrative arc for the better.

Here are some relevant pieces of the bailout timeline:

November 2008 - Mitt Romney writes New York Times op-ed piece: Let Detroit Go Bankrupt, calling for managed bankruptcy for GM and Chrysler and considerable restructuring of those companies.
December 2008 - President George W. Bush extends loan guarantees to GM and Chrysler.
February 2009 - President Obama convenes auto task force and approves second round of bridge loans.
April-May 2009 - Chrysler and GM go into managed bankruptcy. Both companies later emerge after considerable restructuring, and begin again turning profits and growing.

In Michigan that November 2008 Romney headline was perceived as the equivalent of "Ford to New York: Drop Dead":

So, the NY Times op-ed piece needed to be addressed by Romney before Michiganders voted. And however he characterized the content of his original op-ed piece, this was going to create a major frame for the Michigan primary.

I may have been mistaken about Romney's position after the bailout and in the early stages of the campaign, but I had thought that he had taken a pretty sensible stance along the lines: "I'm glad the Obama administration finally took my advice and proceeded with the badly needed managed bankruptcies that I advised, and that my recommended course of action has led to a resurgence of the American auto industry...."  That would be a pretty good narrative for Romney in which he can take credit for having advised the correct course of action, while also claiming that he would've gotten the process under way sooner, thus leading to a quicker recovery both in Michigan and nationwide.

Instead, he's chosen to characterize the bailouts as a failure. Worse yet, the basis of his criticism is that Obama didn't break the unions, didn't eliminate pension and health benefits for retired autoworkers, and failed to sufficiently protect the corporate profits of the creditors.  It looks to me as if the opportunity to combine criticism of Obama's record with a dose of anti-union rhetoric may have proven irresistable to Romney as he tries to rebuild his crumbling support from the GOP base in Michigan.

But having done so exposes several of his worst weaknesses:

1) Profits over pensions -- Some of the most damning charges of Romney's time in charge of Bain Capital involved the charge that Bain's profits came from bankrupting companies and draining their pension funds, leaving retirees dependent on the social safety net.  Charging that Obama erred by not doing something similar during the auto bailout won't help to immunize him on those charges. Worse yet, it explicitly makes the case to American workers that a President Romney would favor profits over protecting pensions.  In this way Romney has now made the case that Bain's business practices are extremely relevant to his campaign, a connection that Gingrich had trouble making at times.

Romney hasn't changed that narrative. He's made it worse.

2) Pandering -- Doubling down on his criticism of the auto industry bailout may strike some as a bold step in Michigan. And it would certainly be so within a general election.  But in a Republican primary in Michigan, criticism of the UAW is a positive boon.  The GOP and the UAW have a long history of antagonism, so there is no price to be paid in a Republican primary for saying that UAW workers should've come out of the bailout in much worse shape.  And claiming that Obama did something wrong will always be an applause line at a Republican rally.

I don't think Romney did himself any harm with the Republican base with this week's op-ed piece. It reads like a recapitulation of the standard Republican criticisms of the bailout.  But that's the problem.  With an issue at the core of his candidacy, Romney again failed to take advantage of an opportunity to cast himself as a leader or set himself apart from GOP orthodoxy on an issue.  This was a really great opportunity for him to re-set the narrative, and he missed it.

As a piece of practical campaigning on this issue, Mitt Romney would've been much better off declaring that he was right on this issue before Obama was even in office, that he's glad Obama eventually took his advice, and that a Romney presidency would've gotten us to the current situation more quickly and efficiently.

3) With Apologies to Peter King: Nobody likes a Monday-Morning Quarterback -- One of Obama's great weaknesses coming into 2012 has been a narrative that reads something like, "I know it's still bad, but it could've been a lot worse." That's not a real vote-mover. It's very difficult to make a case for election based on what could've happened. Voters are interested in two things: what did happen, and what will happen if you're re-elected.

Now Romney has chosen to make a "could've" case on the bailout issue, when the outcome of the bailout has been generally positive for the auto industry as a whole, auto industry employees, Michigan, the Midwest, and the overall American manufacturing base. Worse yet, Romney has reduced himself to arguing that a different set of timing and mechanics should've been used. His argument isn't that there shouldn't have been a managed bankruptcy, as indeed happened. His argument is that he would've liked to have seen a different process with an outcome that would've been more punitive to the UAW.

Again, this is a place where Romney would've done better to take credit rather than to criticize Obama. Because by framing an argument that the bailout and managed bankruptcies could've been handled better, he has conceded a framework in which the basic success of these actions is a given.

But that's the real problem that Romney has on this issue, and why this issue is a good stand-in for a lot of economic issues in 2012. If the auto industry continues to strengthen in 2012, the argument that the Obama administration's intercession was wrong and unsuccessful continues to weaken. Likewise, if the American economy continues to improve, the argument that the Obama administration's economic policies are wrong and unsuccessful will continue to weaken. Remember, the American electorate has a long history of judging economic success by the current trend and expectations, not by what happened in the past.

To bring this back to the broader campaign, what should we expect if the economic argument for voting Obama out of office is beginning to weaken?

Well, we might just see softening poll numbers for the business-backed candidate, and perhaps a rise in support for a social-conservative candidate who will make an argument against Obama on social issues.

What have we seen this week?

Say, "Hello," to Rick Santorum at the top of the polls.  And with him we see the unexpected emergence of birth control as a campaign issue in 2012.

Interesting times portend before Michigan and Arizona go to the polls.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

GOP Primary: the S.S. Romney runs ashore on the Red Rocks of Colorado

Disaster struck the Mitt Romney campaign as Rick Santorum swept Tuesday's primary contests in the Republican Presidential Primary: the beauty pageant primary in Missouri, the Minnesota caucuses, and the Colorado caucuses.

First up, let's take a look at the results:

Rick Santorum (138,957, 55.2%)
Mitt Romney (63,826, 25.3%)
Ron Paul (30,641, 12.2%)
Other (18,444, 7.3%)

Rick Santorum (21,436, 44.8%)
Ron Paul (13,030, 27.2%)
Mitt Romney (8,096  16.9%)
Newt Gingrich (5,134, 10.7)
Others (140, 0.3%)

Rick Santorum (26,372, 40.2%)
Mitt Romney (22,875, 34.9%)
Newt Gingrich (8,394, 12.8%)
Ron Paul (7,713, 11.8%)
Others (181, 0.3%)

It's difficult to know exactly how many delegates Santorum netted last night because the votes in Minnesota and Colorado were the first step in a proportionate allocation, but with 76 total delegates at stake, Santorum probably netted 20 or 30 delegates.

No actual delegates were at stake in Missouri. Those delegates will be awarded via Caucuses scheduled for March 17, which is why that sort of vote is referred to as a "beauty pageant".  Often the results of that sort of vote can be discounted, but it can be a good indicator of the later caucus results. Plus, last night's decisive Santorum victory there lent heft and credibility to his other results.  So, although Santorum won no delegates in Missouri last night, his victory there kicked off a good night of nationwide publicity, and the margin of his victory may very well have pushed Santorum much closer to picking up a majority of Missouri's 52 delegates in six weeks by discouraging the other candidates from contesting the state.

The nauseous look on Mitt Romney's face during last night's concession speech was for real. In 2008 Romney won Colorado over John McCain by a whopping 60% to 18%, even though Romney was on his way to losing the overall primary to McCain.  Romney's campaign counted on a Colorado victory to blunt any gains in Minnesota or Missouri by their rivals.  Although Santorum seemed likely to do well enough in Colorado to keep Romney's net of delegates fairly low, very few pundits thought he would win.  In fact, the "betting futures" market at the InTrade gave Mitt Romney the equivalent of a 97% chance of winning Colorado before last night:

(Here's a helpful tip from your friend John: if your betting futures chart at InTrade drops off like the Cliffs of Insanity when the votes are counted, your campaign may have troubles.)

So, what happened? How did the unsinkable Mitt Romney run into a February iceberg?  Several things worked together to produce last night's results:

1) Santorum out-hustled his rivals -- Santorum abandoned the winner-take-all contest in Florida to concentrate on these states, and it showed.  He had more in-state appearances than all of his rivals combined, plus he outspent them in advertising.  It turns out that actually campaigning can ... you know, help a campaign. After Florida I asked aloud if that strategy was a good strategy for Santorum, since it deprived him of any momentum going in to these contests.  It turns out to have been an excellent strategy, so kudos to the Santorum campaign.

2) The Romney campaign was complacent - Even the best funded and organized campaigns have to pick and choose where to put their resources.  It seems clear that the Romney campaign had decided that they could train their aim back at Obama, since they had successfully pushed Gingrich aside in Florida and Nevada.  They also they didn't particularly care about Missouri, thought they were likely to lose Minnesota, and knew they had Colorado in the bag.  So, they moved their focus down the calendar to Arizona, Michigan, and Super Tuesday, and that decision came back to bite them in a big way.

3) Romney still hasn't captured the Republican base, in two parts:

3A) Anybody-But-Romney -- The Anybody-But-Romney vote is alive and well. Although Romney's victories in Florida and Nevada began to push this theme aside, Conservatives still don't trust Mitt Romney to be their standard bearer.  Once Santorum gained the upper hand over Gingrich in these states, the Anybody-But-Romney vote flocked to him. We may be seeing an election in which both Santorum and Gingrich have a natural 12% to 15% of support, plus 25% or 30% of support that will support whichever one of them seems most likely to beat Romney.

This may mean that early polling results for these two will be especially important in future states. A modest early lead for one or the other could quickly swell as the Anybody-But-Romney vote lines up where they think their vote will do the most good. Momentum in that scenario will be simultaneously all-important and fleeting, a rather odd combination.

3B) Mitt Romney is "not concerned about the very poor" -- This is the first round of contests since he made that now-infamous gaffe on the Today show. Even more astoundingly, he followed it up the next day with an endorsement from celebrity billionaire Donald Trump.  In an era of 24/7 media coverage and the Internet echo chamber, all of these guys will say some dumb things.  Gaffes stick with a candidate when they seem to truly reflect something about the candidate's makeup.

In this case, Mitt Romney spent a week seemingly going out of his way to show that he really didn't understand what it means to be poor in America.  Poor voters don't like that, of course, but few of them were Romney supporters to begin with.  However, it seems that an increasing number of voters may have begun to wonder if they might one day fit in a category of folks that a President Romney wouldn't care about.

In any event a large number of voters decided this week that they are "not concerned about Mitt Romney."  That should concern Romney. And Santorum went out of his way in his victory speech last night to tell everybody that he cares about the very poor, the very rich, and all Americans.  Don't expect Romney's unfortunate turn of phrase to stop haunting him anytime soon.

4) Ron Paul lives! -- Ron Paul beat Romney in Minnesota by more than 10%. Just stop and contemplate that for a moment.  A campaign narrative built on inevitability can not lose to Ron Paul by double digits in any voter demographic, much less across an entire state. Paul has thus far won no states, but he continues with his goal of collecting as many delegates as possible to take to the convention.

5) Newt Gingrich's second fade is well under way -- Gingrich didn't even bother with a concession speech or a ginned up press conference last night. What does it mean when a candidate won't even show up for free air time?! What does it mean when Newt Gingrich won't even show up to kick Romney while he's down?!!

All CNN could report of him last night was that he wandering around somewhere in Ohio ... probably shacked up in a roadside bar toasting Ronald Reagan, the Contract with America, and Moon Base Alpha. Gingrich seems unlikely to make any inroads in the remaining February contests, so Super Tuesday could be his last stand.

If Gingrich takes a beating on Super Tuesday, he may conclude that staying in the race only increases Romney's chances of winning the nomination.  Santorum showed in Missouri that he can decisively defeat Romney when Gingrich doesn't split the vote. At this point, a Gingrich dropout and endorsement of Santorum looks like the scenario that most threatens Romney's chance to win the nomination.


So, what next?

The week-long Maine caucus process wraps up on Saturday, and seems likely to be a good result for Romney. Much of the voting took place before this week's disaster, and Romney should have a bit of a regional advantage in New England. As with Colorado, Romney won decisively in Maine in 2008, defeating McCain by 52% to 21%. Ron Paul finished a strong third in 2008 with 18% of the vote, so this may prove to be another good state for him. Romney has little to gain with a victory in Maine -- other than delegates, of course -- so a Romney victory here will likely be dismissed in the press. However, a Romney defeat in Maine would lead to discussions of the Romney campaign being run aground on the rocks like an Italian cruise ship, so there's significant downside for Romney if he doesn't take care of business here.

After that, there's a two-week hiatus until the primaries in Arizona (29 delegates) and Michigan (30 delegates.) Both seem likely to be Romney states, though the vulnerability Romney displayed last night may lead Santorum or Gingrich to put some resources into a challenge.  The demographics would seem to favor Santorum in Michigan, but he'll need to expand his organization there beyond one guy with a Facebook page if he wants to seriously challenge the son of a former Michigan governor.

After Arizona and Michigan, the Washington caucuses (43 delegates) arrive on Saturday, March 6. In 2008 McCain won that state decisively, while Romney finished third with 16%, well behind Mike Huckabee's 24%. Beyond the delegates up for grabs in Washington, it may prove to be a decisive launching point for the voting three days later on March 6 when Super Tuesday has 466 delegates in 11 states up for grabs:

March 6
Alaska Caucuses - 27 delegates
Georgia Primary - 76 delegates
Idaho Caucuses - 32 delegates
Massachusetts Primary - 41 delegates
North Dakota Caucuses - 28 delegates
Ohio Primary - 66 delegates
Oklahoma Primary - 43 delegates
Tennessee Primary - 58 delegates
Vermont Primary - 17 delegates
Virginia Primary - 49 delegates
Wyoming Caucuses - 29 delegates

So, settle in folks. There's a long way to go before this thing wraps up.

P.S. How did my hastily compiled pre-vote predictions fare?  Here are my final predictions, with the actual results in parentheses:

Santorum - 44% (actual = 55.2%)
Romney - 29% (25.3%)
Paul - 24% (12.2%)
Uncommitted - 3% (Other = 7.3%)

Santorum - 33% (actual = 44.8%)
Paul - 25% (27.2%)
Romney - 22% (16.9%)
Gingrich - 20% (10.7%)

Romney - 34% forecast (actual = 34.9%)
Santorum - 28% (40.2%)
Gingrich - 20% (12.8%)
Paul - 18% (11.8%)

I guess kudos to me for picking Ron Paul second in Minnesota and capping Romney's vote around 35% in Colorado, though I certainly missed the biggest news of the day by forecasting a six-point Santorum loss to Romney in that state.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri: Place Yer Bets!

Just a quick note on the GOP Presidential Primary before we see the outcome of today's voting in the Colorado and Minnesota caucuses and the non-binding Missouri primary, since I think it could turn out to be a pivotal night in this campaign.

For a while now I've been thinking that Rick Santorum makes a more logical candidate for the non-Romney slot than Newt Gingrich.  Well, tonight's his chance to make his case.  Part of Santorum's argument for why he should be the nominee has been that he's the candidate best suited to win the Midwest in November.  That argument will be hard to make if he gets trounced by Romney today or finishes far behind Newt Gingrich again.

In the one poll that I've seen released, Santorum did have a lead in Minnesota and Missouri, so there's a chance for him to pick up one or two wins today.  Putting a win or two on the scoreboard would be more important for Santorum than just the delegates at stake tonight.  A Santorum victory or victories would give the GOP base another chance to jettison Newt Gingrich, something it seems they've been itching to do for weeks.  And it would likely give him a new infusion of resources in time to concentrate on the Michigan primary on Feb. 28, and the Super Tuesday contests on March 6.

So, there's a lot at stake tonight.  If Santorum doesn't win anything today, it might be time for him to consider packing it in.  If he finishes third everywhere, it will be time for him to consider packing it in.  But a big night for Santorum would give Mitt Romney an entirely new problem to worry about, despite the continuing decline in Gingrich's campaign.  Plus, since Romney has been trying to use his Florida and Nevada wins to re-establish his inevitability, a bad night by Romney would also be a blow for his campaign.

P.S.  Predictions? There's not much to go on, other than what I saw in this Fivethirtyeight.com preview of tonight's vote: The High Stakes in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri. But since I like to go on the record in advance, let's double down on Santorum.  My guess is that he picks up a couple of wins and finally replaces Gingrich in the pecking order. I could easily be entirely wrong.

Romney - 34%
Santorum - 28%
Gingrich - 20%
Paul - 18%

Santorum - 33%
Paul - 25%
Romney - 22%
Gingrich - 20%

Santorum - 35%
Romney - 26%
Paul - 21%
Gingrich - 18% (EDIT: Whoops ... when I put together my numbers hurriedly and at the last minute, I flat-out forgot to take out Gingrich because wasn't on the Missouri ballot tonight.  Also, there is an "Uncommitted" option.  Let's give 1/2 of his total to Santorum as the anti-Romney, and split the other 9% between Romney, Paul, and Uncommitted.  That gives us:

Santorum - 44%
Romney - 29%
Paul - 24%
Uncommitted - 3%)

Indy Colts Haiku: Post Super-Bowl Wrap-up Edition

In which our intrepid correspondent tries to come to grips that Eli has now won more Super Bowls than Peyton, and wonders what Archie thinks about it all....

Blood Is Thicker Than Gatorade

Interesting con-
versations around the Man-
ning dinner tables.

--Mary Campbell-Droze

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Florida GOP Presidential Primary Results: Mitt-mentum!

First off, let's take a quick look at last night's results:

The Contenders
Mitt Romney (771,842, 46.4%, 50 delegates)
Newt Gingrich (531,294, 31.9%, 0 delegates)
Rick Santorum (222,248, 13.4%, 0 delegates)
Ron Paul (116,776, 7.0%, 0 delegates)

There were no real suprises in the final vote totals given the polls. But Romney did cross an important threshold, as his vote total edged out the combined vote for Gingrich and Santorum. This was the first time that the vote for Romney (46.4%) totalled more than the vote for his main rivals (31.9% + 13.4% = 45.3%). Romney didn't climb above 50% due to the Ron Paul vote, but I don't think it's accurate to include the Ron Paul vote in the Anybody-But-Romney vote totals.

To provide a little accountability, here was my forecast from last week:

Romney: 38% (actual  was 46%)
Gingrich: 27% (actual was 32%)
Santorum: 24% (actual was 13%)
Paul: 11% (actual was 7%)

I was wrong when I forecast that the the torrent of negative advertising between Romney and Gingrich would give late momentum to Santorum. That didn't happen. One factor that likely contributed to the relatively low vote totals for both Santorum and Ron Paul was the desire of voters to cast their vote for either Romney or Gingrich, since those two seemed to be the only two candidates with a chance to win in this winner-take-all state.

Perhaps more importantly for Santorum, he decided to entirely bypass Florida once it was clear he wouldn't gain any delegates here.  A bit of candidate-positive advertising spend in Florida wouldn't have bought Santorum any more delegates, but it might have bought him some momentum heading into the February caucus states that will vote in the next week (Nevada, Maine, Colorado, and Minnesota.) A better finish here would have at least bolstered the Santorum campaign's argument that he's a viable candidate.  Given the high cost of advertising in Florida, the wisdom of that expenditure for a cash-strapped campaign like Santorum's is dubious.  The next week's caucus results should tell us whether pulling out of Florida altogether was good strategy on Santorum's part.

Also on the ballot:

The Others (21,538, 1.3%, 0 delegates)
Rick Perry  (6,742, 0.4%, 0 delegates)
Jon Huntsman  (6,182, 0.4%, 0 delegates)
Michele Bachmann  (3,947, 0.2%, 0 delegates)
Herman Cain  (3,481, 0.2%, 0 delegates)
Gary Johnson  (1,186, 0.1%, 0 delegates)

Watching 1.3% of the vote go to the dropouts might seem a bit high, but Florida does a lot of early voting, so the odds are good that most of these votes were cast before these candidates dropped out of the race.

One other item of note in the results is that turnout for Florida's 2012 GOP presidential primary was down about 14% from 2008. I don't want to read too much into the turnout totals, but that substantial drop could easily mean there was a loss of enthusiasm from a Florida Republican electorate that was by all accounts awash in negative advertising for the last two weeks.

Now that Romney gave Gingrich a drubbing in the first big state and finally produced a vote total higher than the Anybody-But-Romeney vote, is the 2012 GOP Primary essentially over?  No, but Tuesday was another big step forward for Romney's campaign.

Here are the current delegate totals, with percentages of the total of 112 delegates thus far awarded:

Mitt Romney - 71 (63%)
Newt Gingrich - 23 (21%)
Rick Santorum - 13 (12%)
Ron Paul - 3 (3%)
Jon Huntsman - 2 (2%)

That's a nice early start for Romney, but the 112 delegates awarded thus far are just 4.9% of the 2,186 delegates to the Republican national convention.  Another way to look at those totals is as a percentage of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination:

Mitt Romney - 71 (6.2%)
Newt Gingrich - 23 (2.0%)
Rick Santorum - 13 (1.1%)
Ron Paul - 3 (0.3%)
Jon Huntsman - 2 (0.2%)

Romney has thus far only secured 6.2% of the delegates that he'll need to be the nominee, so he has a long way to go, especially given the high number of states in the early going that will award their delegates proportionately. However, his advantages in terms of resources and organization showed well in Florida, and are likely to give him a considerable advantage as the primary race ramps up nationwide. Campaigns that aren't built to scale up by now are likely to be left in the dust. Mitt Romney has thus far looked like the only candidate whose campaign is built to scale.

What would be the #1 thing that could wrap up the race for Romney? If Santorum does poorly in the next week's caucuses, it could be time for him to drop out of the race.  If Santorum drops out and endorses Romney instead of Gingrich, then Gingrich would be in a heap of trouble. If Santorum drops out and does not endorse, or endorses Gingrich, we could see this go quite a while longer.

Before I close, I'd like to mention one other race worth paying attention to this week.  Fundraising totals as of Dec. 31, 2011, have been released for the SuperPACs that are closely affiliated with one of the candidates, including Obama. (Check out the details from the New York Times: Who’s Financing the ‘Super PACs’. The big-donor lists are especially interesting.)

These SuperPACs unleashed a torrent of negative advertising in Florida. They'll have a big impact on the final outcome of this race:

Mitt Romney - $30.2 million (Restore Our Future)
Rick Perry - $5.9 million (Make Us Great Again, $5.5 million; Restoring Prosperity Fund, $433K)
Barack Obama - $4.4 million (Priorities USA Action)
Jon Huntsman Jr.- $2.7 million (Our Destiny)
Newt Gingrich - $2.1 million (Winning Our Future. Note: this does not include the $10 million+ donated by billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife in January.)
Ron Paul - $1.0 million (Endorse Liberty)
Stephen Colbert (!) - $825K (Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow)
Rick Santorum - $730K (Red White and Blue Fund. Note: this predates his Iowa win.)
Herman Cain - $433K (9-9-9 Fund)

More on the fundraising state of the campaigns and their associated SuperPACs later.