Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Farewell to (QB) Arms: A Patio Boat Offseason Special

In today's special contribution from our Indianapolis Colts haiku correspondent, Mary Campbell-Droze comes face-to-face with the reality that 17 syllables can not contain her sorrow:

it is momentous,now that you have deemed 

[cf e.e. cummings "it is at moments after i have dreamed" from 'Sonnets-Unrealities,' Tulips & Chimneys)

it is momentous,now that you have deemed
that denver is the apple of your eye,
when(being silly-willy)i had dreamed

coaching indy's where your heart would lie;
momentous when my coltish conscience scolds

the confounding decision that you made
(it involved much cussing)but silence holds
some respite as the news begins to fade;

momentous when your once illustrious arm
throws and with consternation,you then find
that mile-high's cold while lucas was warm:

one thing momentous comes to mind

turning to the colts game on tv
we'll miss your fight for that final mvp.

--Mary Campbell-Droze

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Quick note on today's Illinois primary

You can mark down March 19, 2012, as the day the Republican Presidential Primary ended.  It's over.  The slog will continue through June, but Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee.

My number one reason for declaring the race over is not that Rick Santorum is down by double-digits in the Illinois polls, has again failed to field a full slate of delegates, has failed to persuade Newt Gingrich to depart the race, and has continued to fall further behind Romney in the delegate count -- though those are all persuasive pieces of evidence.

Instead it's that I heard a snippet of one of his Illinois speeches from yesterday in which he drew the a direct comparison between this campaign and Ronald Reagan's 1976 campaign.  So, let the record show that Santorum 2012 shut down operations on March 19, 2012, and Santorum 2016 begins today.

This might make tonight's results and speeches interesting for a couple of reasons.  Santorum will need to provide a rationale for continuing to campaign to the convention while reaching out to those Republicans who will want him to pack it in.  The Republican Party has a long track record of nominating the second-place finisher from the previous cycle, so Santorum has good reason to think that if he can finish a strong second, he will have a clear shot at the 2016 nomination. But he may want to be cautious about how much further damage he does to Mitt Romney along the way. Campaigning through to the convention isn't a bad strategy if he has truly set his sights on 2016 because it will allow him to build the contacts and structures in states that may bear fruit in four years.

If Santorum mentions Reagan 1976 or spends most of his speech tonight focusing on Obama instead of Romney, you can take that as a 2012 concession.

Romney's speech could also be interesting, though we're more likely to see his standard stump than anything else. Romney has been trying to pivot to the general election for some time now, but Santorum has continually dragged him out onto the far-right wing of the Republican Party on social issues.  Romney will soon want to convince one and all that he didn't mean all the things he had to say to win the Republican nomination.  But that backpeddle may be especially tricky for a candidate who already has credibility problems with his stands on the issues.  If nothing else, this primary campaign has certainly provided the Democratic National Committee and the Obama campaign with hours of Romney videotape to cherry pick for advertisements this fall.

So, I see little potential for a surprising outcome in Illinois, but we could have a couple of potentially significant speeches tonight.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Gingrich on the Alabama & Mississippi results: "It's only a flesh wound!"

Just a little this n'that after the results of Tuesday's voting in Alabama, Mississippi, Hawaii, and American Samoa.

1) Headlines vs. Delegate Count -- If I may summarize the vast sweeping headlines that followed: "Santorum triumphs in Mississippi and Alabama! Gingrich campaign shattered. Romney finishes third"

So if we all agree on the big loser (Gingrich) who was the big winner on Tuesday?  Here are the results by vote percentage, with the winner in bold. (All stats courtesy of the New York Times primary results pages.):

Alabama -- Gingrich, 29.3%; Paul, 5.0%; Romney, 29.0%; Santorum, 34.5%.
Mississippi -- Gingrich, 31.2%; Paul, 4.4%; Romney, 30.6%; Santorum, 32.8%.
Hawaii -- Gingrich, 11.0%; Paul, 18.3%; Romney, 45.4%; Santorum, 25.3%.
American Samoa -- Gingrich, 0.0%; Paul, 0.0%; Romney, 100.0%; Santorum, 0.0%.

(I have no idea how American Samoa ended up at 100%, but presumably it's a side-effect of some sort of caucus consensus rule.)

So, if you look at those results, Santorum rolls over the opposition in the GOP Southern heartland of Alabama and Mississipi, while Romney manages to capture a couple more island contests.

Now, let's see how that translates in delegates:

Alabama -- Gingrich, 12; Paul, 0; Romney, 11; Santorum, 19.
Mississippi -- Gingrich, 12; Paul, 0; Romney, 14; Santorum, 13.
Hawaii -- Gingrich, 0; Paul, 1; Romney, 9; Santorum, 4.
American Samoa -- Gingrich, 0; Paul, 0; Romney, 9; Santorum, 0.
Total -- Gingrich, 24; Paul, 1; Romney, 43; Santorum, 36.

So, even though Santorum won the headlines, Mitt Romney won more delegates on Tuesday, extending his lead over Santorum by another seven delegates.  And although he finished third in the popular vote, Romney (14) also won more delegates in Mississippi than Santorum (13) or Gingrich (12) by dint of winning more Congressional districts.  In terms of their main goal in these primaries (win enough delegates to clinch the nomination) Romney had the best day.  However, the news cycle for the next 24 hours for Romney was mostly filled with news about his third-place finishes on Tuesday night. The Hawaii and Samoan results came in long after the next day's news banners had already been chosen.

The takeaway? The headlines and cable-news banners in this race aren't always reflective of what really happened. There was truth to the damage that Gingrich's campaign suffered badly from the results. But if you want to know which campaign is really winning this thing, pay attention to the delegate counts.

2) Newt Gingrich is a dead parrot -- I came across a bit on MSNBC last night comparing Gingrich at this point to The Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, especially in claiming that the Alabama and Mississippi results were "only a flesh wound." That comparison has a lot of merit. Gingrich's speech following his disappointing results was a classic piece of denialism from a candidate whose candidacy has now reached its end. He continued to talk about the results as if they were a moral victory of some sort, but if you watch the video and look at the expressions on the faces in the background, they tell the true story.

(Actually, my favorite part was when he said that the "elite media" keeps trying to claim that the race is over and Romney has this thing wrapped up. In truth, the media would love nothing more than for this race to go all the way to a brokered convention. A brokered convention for either party is the dream event of every "elite media" political reporter who has ever wielded a keyboard or microphone.)

Tuesday was a mortal wound for the Gingrich candidacy, even if he manages to convince his backers to keep funding some sort of skeleton campaign that will limp through another few weeks. Campaigns run on hope, and the only plausible path to the nomination for Newt Gingrich included a tight hold on the South and victories in Alabama and Mississippi.  If Newt Gingrich couldn't win in Alabama and Mississippi, he can't win the nomination. The pressure on Gingrich to drop out will now grow quickly.

3) Going forward, the path and the math -- Nate Silver did a really good piece in his blog last week about the delegate math going forward that's very much worth reading.

The big takeaway from that analysis for my purposes is that the delegate math to get Rick Santorum to 1,144 (the number of delegates needed to clinch the nomination) is getting pretty steep. Santorum trails Romney by nearly 250 delegates at this point.  Since Romney's support has been steady and genuinely strong among some groups (suburban voters, Mormons, etc.) Romney seems very likely to continue to pick up significant numbers of delegates throughout the campaign. To catch and pass Romney and secure 1,144 delegates, Santorum would have to begin winning significantly more delegates than Romney in a lot of places. To do that Santorum would need to change the dynamic of the election very soon, since we are nearing the halfway point of this primary.

A more likely path for Santorum would be winning enough delegates to prevent Romney from clinching, then emerging from a brokered convention as the candidate.  In some ways Gingrich might serve the purpose of forcing a brokered campaign if he could manage to draw delegates from both the Romney and Santorum campaigns. But with his viability at an end, his significant impact will dwindle. .

If Gingrich stays in the race, the math continues to favor Romney eventually securing enough delegates to clinch. The only likely event to change the current pattern would be if Gingrich were to drop out of the race and give Santorum a strong endorsement that caused his followers to shift significantly towards Santorum. The first step towards that was a Gingrich defeat in Alabama and Mississippi. The real question now is how long it takes Newt Gingrich to realize that any chance he had at the nomination is now genuinely over, and what Gingrich will do once he realizes that.

The only event coming up that could conceivably give Gingrich as good a chance to win as he had in Alabama and Mississippi is the Louisiana primary (46 delegates) on March 24. But I see no reason to think he will win in Louisiana as a diminished candidate when he couldn't win in Alabama or Mississippi when he was still viable. After the votes in Missouri (52 delegates, March 17), Puerto Rico (23 delegates, March 18), and Illinois (69 delegates, March 20.)  If it takes Gingrich until April to decide to drop out of the race, the math for Santorum could be truly daunting indeed.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Thoughts on Super Tuesday and Beyond

The Super Tuesday results pretty closely met expectations. In some ways the next couple of weeks are likely to be more interesting, as Newt Gingrich seems likely to come face-to-face with elimination.  Here are a few thoughts on what happened yesterday, and what's coming up next:

1) A good day overall for Romney -- Ultimately, the primary process is about winning delegates, and Mitt Romney won nearly half of the 466 delegates up for grabs in the eleven states that voted yesterday. (All totals courtesy of the delegate tracker on Nate Silver's blog.)

Gngrch Paul Romny Sntorm Unallocatd
Alaska 3 6 8 7 3
Ga. 46 0 13 2 15
Idaho 0 0 32 0 0
Mass. 0 0 41 0 0
N.D. 2 8 7 11 0
Ohio 0 0 35 21 10
Okla. 13 1 13 14 2
Tenn. 8 0 10 25 15
Vt. 0 4 9 4 0
Va. 0 3 43 0 3
Wyo. 0 1 5 0 23
Totals 72 23 216 84 71

So far Romney has captured 415 (55.7%) of the 745 delegates that have been awarded to date. That puts him on pace to wrap up the election before the convention, though he may not cross the 1,144 delegate threshold needed to secure a guaranteed first-ballot nomination until fairly late in the process.

2) Organization matters -- Rick Santorum failed to get on the ballot in Virginia or to file a full delegate slate in Ohio.  Those two issues probably cost him dearly. He might've netted anywhere from 10 to 50 delegates from Romney's total if his campaign had just had its administrative issues together.  Successful campaigns take more than just a few speeches and some ads.

Super Tuesday is the point at which the campaign scales up from a single state or two at a time to become a truly national campaign. Administrative issues may seem to be a minor point, but one of the things the primary process does well is to judge a candidate's fitness to organize a national campaign. Romney's 2008 experience and resources are going to serve him well over the next couple of months. If Rick Santorum is to successfully compete for the nomination, he'll need to avoid any further unforced errors.

3) The Fat Lady is practicing her Newt Gingrich aria -- Gingrich managed to win his home state of Georgia, but fared poorly in the other 10 states, where his best results were third-place finishes in Tennessee and Oklahoma, the sorts of states he would need to win to have a real chance at the nomination. At this point he has won only two of 22 states that have voted. His path back to relevance included capturing Southern states, especially Texas where he was endorsed by Texas Governor and former presidential candidate Rick Perry.  Unfortunately for the Gingrich comeback strategy, Texas had to move its primary all the way back to May 29 due to problems in settling redistricting questions.

A loss in Georgia would have finished Gingrich. Winning several states in addition to Georgia would have put his campaign back in business. Now he is going to have to sweep the next couple of Southern contests (Alabama and Mississippi on Tuesday, March 13) to even make it out of the next week as a viable candidate. But the writing on the wall seems clear to everybody outside the Gingrich campaign.

4) What next? -- The most important question over the next two weeks by far is whether Gingrich departs the race in time for Santorum to reap the electoral benefits. Will Santorum be the only remaining "Anybody But Romney" in time to stop Romney from piling up enough delegates to win the nomination outright? Santorum may be able to force Gingrich from the race by beating him in either Alabama or Mississippi, and might possibly consider putting a lot of resources into those two states to force a resolution.

Gingrich's fading chance at the nomination disappeared when a substantial comeback failed to materialize in yesterday's voting.  Going forward, all he will accomplish by staying in the race is to make it more likely that Romney wins the nomination.  Ultimately, this is going to come down to Newt Gingrich and what he really wants to accomplish, as well as whether billionaire Sheldon Adelson will continue to bankroll Gingrich's SuperPAC.

The calendar over the next few weeks is not particularly favorable for Mitt Romney, so there is still time for the "Anybody But Romney" vote to coalesce around Santorum if he's the only option left. Here's the calendar for the rest of March:

Saturday, March 10 -- Guam (9 delegates), Kansas (40), Northern Marianas Islands (9), Virgin Islands (9).
Tuesday, March 13 -- Alabama (50 delegates), American Samoa (9), Hawaii (20), Mississippi (40).
Saturday, March 17 -- Missouri (52 delegates).
Sunday, March 18 -- Puerto Rico (23 delegates).
Tuesday, March 20 -- Illinois (69 delegates).
Saturday, March 24 -- Louisiana (46 delegates).

I haven't looked up delegate allocation rules for those states -- I do have a life, you know -- but a first glance at the next two weeks looks as if we could see Gingrich win Alabama and Mississippi (90 total delegates), Santorum winning Kansas and Missouri (92 total delegates), and quite possibly Romney sweeping the assorted island contests (79 total delegates), which would leave us almost exactly where we already are as the contest heads into Illinois. That's the point at which it will really begin to matter if Gingrich is still in the race.  With Gingrich still in the race we probably see another narrow Romney victory in Illinois. But if Gingrich is out of the race by then, I suspect the race may shift towards Santorum.

Let's pretend for a moment that the outcome in Illinois is likely to be an average of the results in two similar Midwestern states, Michigan and Ohio, and that Gingrich stays in the race.  We would see a finish something like this with Romney once again edging out Santorum:

Romney, 39.5%
Santorum, 37.5%
Paul, 10.4%
Gingrich, 10.6%
Other, 2.0%

If Gingrich drops out of the race we might reasonably expect 1/3 of his supporters to go to Romney and 2/3 of his supporters to go to Santorum, the other "Anybody But Romney" candidate. That would give us a finish like this, with Santorum with a slender margin:

Romney, 43.0%
Santorum, 44.5%
Paul, 10.4%
Other, 2.0%

As the contest moves forward and we encounter more winner-take-all states, the dispersal of the former Gingrich vote could become incredibly important.

So far Mitt Romney has run well enough to earn a plurality of votes in most of the states, but not a majority of the votes. That does, however, translate into a slim majority of the delegate count. But Romney continues to have difficulty crossing the 50% threshold.  On Super Tuesday he only managed more than 50% in his home state of Massachusetts, heavily Mormon Idaho, and in Virginia where neither Santorum nor Gingrich was on the ballot. (The Wyoming caucuses are an ongoing process with multiple ballots designed to force somebody eventually over 50%.)

If Gingrich drops out of the race soon enough to give Santorum a clear shot as the non-Romney, we could see a very close race until the end. If he stays in the race more than another couple of weeks, the building math and the resources of the Romney organization should allow Romney to grind out a first-ballot victory at the convention.

In politics, a victory is a victory ... whether by unanimous acclamation or by a single delegate. But a long, bruising, expensive nomination contest featuring the social conservatism of Rick Santorum and the one percentism of Mitt Romney doesn't seem likely to bode well for the GOP's chances of recapturing moderate voters in November.

P.S. As for Ron Paul? Well, he seems likely to keep on truckin' to the convention, and gives no indication that he's likely to bolt the party. He does not, however, look likely at this point to pile up enough delegates to have a substantial impact on the convention. So far he has piled up just 47 delegates, 6.7% of the total.  Republican Libertarians might be looking for a new standard bearer in 2016.