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.

1 comment:

  1. Two out of three is NOT bad, John. Not bad at all!