Saturday, January 28, 2012

Is There Any Path Forward for Anyone But Romney After Florida?

It's a dangerous game to call a race before it happens.  It's especially dangerous this year, where late surges in Iowa (Rick Santorum) and South Carolina (Newt Gingrich) have already led to results that would have been surprising just 72 hours earlier, but Mitt Romney sure looks poised to coast to a comfortable win in Florida, having beaten back Newt's surge coming off his South Carolina win with a couple of strong debate performances, matched by Newt's two weakest showings of the long series of debates held this cycle.

If Romney wins Florida, is there a path forward for anyone else?

Rick Santorum already intends to be in Nevada on election day in Florida, trying to build support in that caucus.  And a caucus environment certainly suits him better.  But I can't sketch a possible map to victory for Santorum, especially if he finishes a widely-expected distant third in Florida.

Newt would solider on, no doubt, but if he loses by 8 points in Florida, how is he going to fare in more moderate venues like Nevada and Michigan?  He has no catalysts, with no debates scheduled for three weeks (and Romney not likely to agree to new ones) and will continue to get outspent and out operated by a better-funded and better-organized Romney campaign.

Ron Paul will no doubt solider as deep as his money allows him, continuing to try to amass as many delegates as he can to influence the convention and get a prime speaking spot, but he doesn't even have a state that looks like a possible win for him.

So, Mr. Romneycare, Mr. Bain Capital, Mr. 15% Tax is looking like he is back comfortably in the driver's seat, with no serious opposition, if he wins.  I'm sure President Obama will be disappointed that this primary doesn't drag on, with the candidates throwing rocks at each other non-stop and leaving him above the fray.  And I'm sure Mitt Romney isn't his first, second or third choice in who he will face in the general election.

But it sure looks all over but the crying, unless Gingrich or Santorum completes a hail mary next Tuesday.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Do Newts Bounce Like Dead Cats?

Here Lizard, Lizard
The "dead cat bounce" is a term commonly used in the world of investing.  A company, destined for the scrap heap of bankruptcy, has seen its stock go down and down.  From $100 to $10 to $1, it is on a steady decline.  Then, all of a sudden, it jumps up from $1 to $3.  But the jump isn't real - the fundamental problems that plague the company haven't gone away, people have just forgotten about how severe they are.  Before you know it, the stock is at $0 and the company is bankrupt.  Those who bought it at $3 are wondering what the heck they were thinking, boarding a sinking ship.  It's the same as dropping a dead cat out the will bounce up when it hits the ground, but that isn't because it's coming back to life...and it ends up just as dead on the ground a second later.

Is Newt Gingrich a sinking ship?  48 hours ago, he was on top of the world.  After having ridden the wave to the top of the polls earlier in the election season, Gingrich had been written off for dead.  Somehow, against all odds, seemingly, Gingrich battled back to win a clear cut victory in the South Carolina primary by a wide margin.  All of a sudden, he was up 9 points in some polls in Florida.  The whole narrative of Romney's inevitability was fading before our eyes.

48 hours later, his poll numbers in Florida seem to be dropping as fast as the gravity that pulls down a dead cat.  One poll out today has that 9 point lead diminished to 2 points, another has Romney ahead by 2 points.

So is Newt Gingrich a dead cat bouncing back to Earth or is there just noise in the polls?  Are we headed towards a nail-biter in Florida or will Romney be handily in command by Tuesday?

The debate on Thursday matters.  Where the torn apart conservative GOP electorate, stuck between an unelectable lizard and an unprincipled glove, finally come down on the question of whether they want the best chance to win or the best representation of their views comes down is just as critical.

Certainly no one in the GOP is happy.  And President Obama's battle for re-election against a tough economy and a toxic political environment looks less like a mountain and more like a speed bump every day.

Contrasts and Small Ball
President Obama can give a speech, lest any of us forget the best political skill of our Commander-in-Chief.  But the vision last night seemed a lot less ambitious, a lot more sober and a lot more political than his previous efforts at a State of the Union speech.

In reality, all State of the Union speeches are inherently political.  Most SOTU proposals go nowhere.  Did George H.W. Bush get his 1% across-the-board tax cut?  How about Bill Clinton's Hillarycare?  George W. Bush's privatization of social security and comprehensive immigration reform? Nowhere to be found.

So President Obama's goal wasn't to make a big sweeping set of policy initiatives.  It was to draw a contrast with Republicans and propose some easy wins.  Ban insider trading in Congress?  Who would be against that but crooked Senators?  Prevent the next Horizon oil spill?  Yeah, I think we are all on board with that.

It was a good speech that will give the President a short-term bump in the polls but will likely soon be forgotten in the deafening noise of the campaign. 

This was more a re-election announcement that a look at the state of our union.

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Updated Delegate Counts

Following South Carolina, Newt Gingrich surges to a lead in delegates won.  Note that the way the Republican nominating process works, there are Republican National Committee delegates (3 from each state) that are awarded to party leaders from each state, separate from the nominating contests.  Those individuals are free to voice support for any candidate, and some have, but are in no way obligated or bound by their selection at the convention.  I therefore exclude that "soft" support from my totals.

Iowa and New Hampshire have proportional representation rules, awarding a share of delegates to all candidates receiving more than 10% of the vote.  South Carolina is district based system, with delegates awarded to the winner of the state and to the winner of each congressional district, so it tends to magnify the magnitude of a win.  Newt Gingrich won in most of the districts, so he won 23 of the 25 delegates Florida has.

Florida will be a full winner-take-all state, so even a narrow win at the polls will translate into a big win in delegates.

To date, delegates won are as follows:
Newt Gingrch - 27
Mitt Romney - 15
Ron Paul - 9
Rick Santorum - 6
Rick Perry* - 3
Jon Huntsman* - 2

* Dropped out of race

With Perry endorsing Gingrich and Huntsman endorsing Romney, if you assume their delegates follow suit, the totals would be:
Newt Gingrich - 30
Mitt Romney - 17
Ron Paul - 9
Rick Santorum - 6

Note that very few delegates have been awarded so far, in part because only 3 states have had nominating contests and in part because both New Hampshire and South Carolina were penalized 50% of their delegates for holding their contests earlier than party rules had dictated (Iowa had no restriction around when it was to hold its "first in the nation" caucus.)  Florida is similarly penalized as are the other early states of Michigan and Arizona - all the other states will receive their full allocation of delegates.

These early contest matter far more for momentum and money than they do in terms of the actual delegate awards. 

President Obama's Scorecard - After 3 Years, The End of Stimulus

President Obama - Center-Left Leader

Lost in the fervor of the primary season is the quiet passing of the 3 year anniversary of President Barack Obama's inauguration.

There is a lot of rhetoric on both sides around the President's performance.  Is he a European Socialist?  A moderate pragmatist?  A shrinking violet or a badass Commander-in-Chief who kills terrorists?  An ineffective President or a victim of Republican obstructionism?

I've made no secret over the past few years about how valuable fact-checking sites like Politifact are.  It's been a long time since we've reviewed the President's 2008 campaign promises, but his 3 year anniversary seems like as good a time as any.

Whether what the President stands for is a debate for those of us of varying political philosophies to have.  But whether he did what he said he would do is more or less fact.

Politifact kept meticulous track of the President's promises and were able to document 508 specific things that then-candidate Barack Obama said he would do if elected to office.  Of those 508, 2 were specific to how he would respond to a national disaster, so they can only be evaluated if one occurs, therefore we will focus on the other 506 promises.

Of those 506, Politifact rates him as follows:
162 Promises Kept
50 Compromise (partially implemented based on a deal he cut with Republicans or others)
56 Broken (he had a chance to execute them but did not)
64 Stalled (the President still advocates for this position but has been unable to secure action on it)
172 "In The Works" (basically have not been acted on, but he seems to still advocate for)

If you give the President a 1 point for Promises Kept and half a point for Compromises, he's effectively implemented 190 out of 506 things he said or 38% of his promises.

There is a fair argument to be made to exclude the "In The Works" promises from the calculation.  President Obama never said he would do everything in the first 3 years and it is fair to say that there are some issues he simply hasn't gotten to yet.

Excluding those 172, he gets 190 points out of a possible 334 or a completion rate of 57%.

Since "Stalled" promises for the most part represent things that Congress has blocked the President's preferred path, it would also be fair to say that of the things he has been able to influence, he gets 190 points out of a possible 270 or 70%.

So, basically, on the things the President has been able to control to some extent, he has been 70% consistent with what he's said on the campaign trail.

Frankly, that's not a bad record.  By and large, we got what we were promised from President Obama. 

Of the promises that he has broken, it is instructive to see that in most cases, they are basically he leaned further right than what he campaigned on.  Some of the key promises he broke include:
* Increasing taxes on high income earners including repealing the Bush Tax cuts
* Signing card check
* Greater worker rights including guaranteed sick days and expanded FMLA
* Closing GITMO / trying terrorists in civilian courts
* Increasing the minimum wage to $9.50/hour
* Implementing Cap and Trade
* Introducing comprehensive immigration reform

So, ironically, the left has a whole lot more to complain about than the right.  The things President Obama has done have largely either been in line with how he campaigned, or meaningfully to the right of how he campaigned. 

You will hear some pretty crazy rhetoric about President Obama in the coming season.  But President Obama has not acted as a liberal, he's operated as a left-center progressive, far more similar to Bill Clinton than Jimmy Carter.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act - Did It Work?
Not surprisingly, all of the most significant legislation that President Obama has signed into law over his term occurred during the first two years of his term, when Democrats at least nominally controlled both houses of Congress.  Clearly, in my mind, the most significant pieces of legislation were:
* The American Recovery and Reinvesment Act (aka The Stimulus)
* The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare)
* Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act

Of these, the stimulus package really set economic policy for the first three years of his administration.  As of today, the $741B of the $799B in tax cuts and spending set out in the bill has been spent or 93%.  So, the effect of the bill is almost complete.

Republicans will rightly complain that the President projected that unemployment would remain under 8.5% with the bill, a marker that it didn't even come close to meeting.  The President will argue that things would have been far worse without the bill.

The problem is, we don't have an alternative universe under which to gauge how things would have been different without the bill.  Definitely aspects of the tax incentives clearly worked, such as Cash for Clunkers revitalizing the auto industry or clean energy tax credits creating a boom in the installation of energy efficient windows and solar panels.  But the large quantities of transfer payments to states and enhanced entitlement spending are a lot more grey.  Did they simply shift the problems of states and individuals to problems of federal debt?  And how will we ultimately pay for all of this?

These are all issues to debate in the coming election.  It would help in that debate if either side had a real opinion about how to rein in the deficit.  President Obama seems content to talk about letting tax cuts expire while continuing to extend them.  Republicans seem to want even lower taxes without a real plan to cut the kind of spending that would be required.

Third party candidate, anyone?

The Florida Firewall

Newt Gingrich's dramatic comeback in South Carolina has recast the Republican race through a new lens.  A week ago, we all believed that Mitt Romney won Iowa, he dominated in New Hampshire and was well on his way to winning South Carolina.  The Florida race was almost an afterthought as everything would be done but the crying if he swept the first 3 contests.

We have since learned that, in fact, Rick Santorum won the Iowa Caucuses.  Granted, the difference between an 8 vote win by Romney (as we thought on caucus night) and a 34 vote win for Santorum (as we have since learned) is largely psychological - they still both get 7 delegates in either scenario, but the psychology is important, because I firmly believe that the Santorum surge in New Hampshire would have been larger had people known he had won the first race.

The psychology now is that the race is 1-1-1 headed to Florida.

If we look to history in who will win this race, it does nothing but confuse us. I wrote an earlier blog showing how it has always been essential for a prospective GOP nominee to win either Iowa or New Hampshire.  The other historical fact that I hadn't mentioned is that the ultimate GOP nominee has also won South Carolina every race in the past 30 years.  Being that Gingrich won South Carolina but not Iowa or New Hampshire, one of those two historical trends is about to be broken.

Florida is an odd beast for the next race.  The state itself is a swing state, but its primaries are closed (neither Independents nor Democrats can participate) as opposed to the open primary we just saw, so the primary electorate tends to be fairly conservative.  Tea Party loyalist Marco Rubio thumped well-established moderate Charlie Crist in the GOP Senate primary in 2010.

All of the polls to date show Mitt Romney with a 20%+ lead over both Santorum and Gingrich.  But if we've learned anything in the past week, it is that those numbers can shift and fast.  And they will.  When new polls come out early next week that are sampled after the Gingrich win in South Carolina, he will be a lot closer.  Whether he can win remains an open question.

Romney will come out punching a lot harder - he has to.  The negative ad money will be mind-boggling on all sides of the campaign.  And, as has been the trend this year, the two debates in Florida next week will be critical to determining the fate of the race.

Mitt Romney is still the favorite to ultimately wrap up the GOP nomination.  After Florida, we have the Nevada Caucus 4 days later, which would seem inhospitable turf to Gingrich (although it's a race that Ron Paul could surprise in), then 3 days after that two meaningful primaries (Colorado and Minnesota) and one primary that doesn't count (Missouri holds a primary but awards delegates based on a caucus later in the season...Gingrich isn't even on the ballot in the Missouri primary.)  There are a few events over the next few weeks, including the Maine Caucus on Feb 11, big ticket primaries in Arizona and Michigan on Feb 28 and the Washington caucus on Mar 3.  But the big prize is Super Tuesday, March 6, where 10 states hold nominating contests at once. 

Whether Gingrich can compete on a Super Tuesday scale is directly related to whether he can show well in the states leading up, and most critically Florida.  If he finds a way to pull off an upset in Florida, then I would place him at even money with Romney to win the nomination.  If Romney wins Florida soundly, it will silence the Newt momentum.

As of this morning, Intrade has the odds on an ultimate Mitt Romney nomination at 72%.  But they were over 90% a week ago.

Somewhere in the White House, Barack Obama is letting out a laugh.

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

All Signs Point Towards a Gingrich Win and a Continuing Race

It's amazing...a week ago Mitt Romney led comfortably in South Carolina.  Tonight, with just a few minutes to go before the polls close, it appears not only will Newt Gingrich be the victor, but may win be a decisive, double digit margin.  His late rise in the polls is nothing short of breath-taking, given how much coverage and how many debates have taken place and how little was left to be learned about the candidate.

But South Carolina conservatives just needed a reason and a clear candidate that was the alternative to Mitt.  Gingrich stormed through the two debates with fire and red meat and Mitt stumbled and bumbled around tax forms and health care.

A double digit Gingrich win makes it an effective two-man race.  Rick Santorum may quit if he finishes fourth or a distant third (both distinct possibilities.)  And Gingrich is much more capable of attacking in a one-on-one fight versus in a multi-front campaign with a divided "not Mitt".

But Gingrich's challenges with organization and money aren't going away, and while he may be able to mount a charge in Florida, when the campaign spreads out to multiple states at a time shortly thereafter, he is still a heavy underdog to Mitt.

Expect the news networks to call it at 7:01.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

And Then There Were 4....

Rick Perry's exit from the Republican field makes the race far more interesting as it will undoubtedly lead to some level of consolidation of the "not Mitt" vote in South Carolina.  Perry quickly endorsed Newt Gingrich for President and Newt certainly becomes a more likely contender for a South Carolina win. 

Gingrich has been catapulting in the polls as a result of his strong debate performance on Monday and he hopes for a repeat tonight.  Romney is still the betting favorite, but Gingrich is closing in.

In the mix of all of this is the odd report from Newt's ex-wife that he had asked for an open marriage.  I have no idea if the allegations are true and don't particularly care, but those types of liberal personal social activities are poison to social conservatives.  On the other hand, did anyone actually think Newt was a classic conservative family man?

The debate tonight should be interesting.

Monday, January 16, 2012

I Quit a Cush Job in Bejing for This?

And then there were 5....

Jon Huntsman will not carry his flag south to South Carolina and Florida and is instead slated to endorse Mitt Romney today.  Huntsman was a good candidate running in the wrong year.  His form of inclusive, moderate, globally-savvy Republicanism, which was appreciated a lot back in the days of George H.W. Bush and Jim Baker, is loved little these days.  He bet the farm on a good showing in New Hampshire after bypassing the Iowa Caucuses and he had a decent showing, but third place in your best state is not going to win you the nomination, and South Carolina sure looked like hostile turf to a Jon Huntsman.

Presumably, Huntsman's withdrawal modestly helps Romney, as a I would suspect the are targeting a similar demographic of more moderate, establishment Republicans.  But Huntsman's support was so small in South Carolina and Florida, this really has little impact on the landscape of those two states, although it will provide more time for the remaining candidates at the upcoming debates.

The only question left is whether Mitt Romney can close the deal in South Carolina (a win there would winnow the field a whole lot, and quickly) or will some alternative emerge to consolidate Mitt's opposition and make a race of it.

Delegate Won To Date (includes Iowa and New Hampshire, excludes "soft" endorsements from RNC delegates)
Romney - 13
Paul - 9
Santorum - 6
Gingrich - 4
Perry - 3
Huntsman - 2
Other - 0

Needed for Nomination: 1,144

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Obama versus Romney - The Big 2012 Electoral Map

There is a marathon to go and then some before we pick our next President.  Mitt Romney still has to quash the not Mitt crowd in South Carolina and Florida, and then there are conventions, debates, possibly a billion dollars in money to spent, an almost uncountable number of campaign stops and a 24 hour news cycle that will be blaring non-stop for the next 10 months.

Some would say it's a fool's errand to even put up an electoral college map when there is this much distance between now and the election.

I've often been called a fool and been willing to run errands.  Turning our focus to the 2012 general election and the electoral map is instructive not necessarily in its accuracy at this stage in projecting a final result, but more so in how it helps us understand how the battlegrounds will develop over the coming months.

The starting point for any electoral battle is the map of the last election, and in that, President Obama should take some comfort.  The President in 2008 successfully expanded the Democratic map out of the west coast, the northeast and the mid-west to create new strongholds in the southwest and the new south, bringing such states as Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado and New Mexico into the Democratic fold.

The classic battlegrounds of Florida and Ohio have been swing states for most of my life and hold large electoral prizes. 

Those states are still in play in 2012, but there will be new battlegrounds.  New Hampshire, once a swing state, but recently a Democratic stronghold, appears back in play this cycle, thanks to a neighboring ex-governor.  Michigan, long a blue state, has been ravaged by the recession and appears to be at least nominally in play.  Pennsylvania, which John McCain thought was a swing state in 2008, but really was pretty safe for the Dems, may be back in the mix, having taken a right turn, particularly outside of Philadelphia. 

On the flip side, Romney is polling shockingly weakly in South Carolina and Texas (I remember being called an idiot 4 years ago for speculating that Texas might one day be a battleground state.)  I doubt President Obama wins either of these, but he might force Romney to play some defense on his home turf there.

For my current map, I'm using a 50% weighting to an adjusted view of the 2008 election and a 50% weighting to available statewide general election polls, where such a poll exists for a Romney vs. Obama match-up.  For categorization purposes, a "safe" state is a state a candidate is likely to win by 20% or more, a "strong" state is a state a candidate is likely to win by 10% or more, a "likely" state by 5% or more and a "lean" state is a state within 5%.  The results are as follows:

Safe Obama States (68 Electoral Votes)
District of Columbia, Hawaii, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland, Delaware, New York

Strong Obama States (115 Electoral Votes)
New Jersey, California, Illinois, New Mexico, Minnesota, Washington

Likely Obama States (40 Electoral Votes)
Oregon, Connecticut, Nevada, Maine, Wisconsin, Iowa

Lean Obama States (49 Electoral Votes)
Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, New Hampshire

Lean Romney States (96 Electoral Votes)
Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, Indiana, Missouri

Likely Romney States (50 Electoral Votes)
South Carolina, Montana, Texas

Strong Romney States (50 Electoral Votes)
Arizona, Georgia, South Dakota, North Dakota, Kansas, Mississippi, West Virginia

Safe Romney States (70 Electoral Votes)
Nebraska, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Oklahoma, Wyoming

Net Result: Obama 272 Electoral Votes, Romney 266 Electoral Votes
States Needed to Swing Result: 1 (New Hampshire is closest)
Current National Polling Average of Averages: Obama +2.2%

Note: Electoral map generated with the help of

Some observations about the battleground:
* Romney his 170 safe, strong or likely electoral votes.  Obama has 223.  The remaining 10 states comprise the effective battleground, with Obama needing to find 47 votes among that group for victory.
* 48 out of 50 states have "winner take all" systems for their electoral votes.  In Maine and Nebraska, 2 electoral votes are awarded to the winner of the state and 1 each to the winner of each congressional district.  Maine has never had a split in its electoral votes - both its congressional districts are solidly Democratic.  Nebraska split for the first time in 2008, with President Obama winning 1 congressional district narrowly in this otherwise solidly Republican state.  Given how close that win was, I'm assuming this time that Romney sweeps Nebraska and that Obama continues the Democratic trend of sweeping Maine.  A Republican proposal to apportion Pennsylvania's electoral votes in this manner, which had a lot of backing from state Republicans, hoping to give the GOP candidate some of the votes, appears to be dead at this point.
* The battleground states can be divided into a few basic categories.  Virginia and North Carolina from the new south have become swing states as their urban centers have grown and northeasterners have migrated South.  They are still economically conservative places, but are becoming increasingly socially progressive.  Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana are rust-belt Catholic states, that tend to be very economically sensitive places, given high unemployment and are very politically bifurcated between their large, black urban centers and their more white rural regions.  Colorado stands out as a western border state, with a growing hispanic population and more liberal cities, surrounded by culturally conservative Mormon and evangelical rural areas.  Missouri is the classic swing state, the intersection point between the south and the mid-west, with cultural and political elements of both in parts of the state.  Florida, the home of the 2000 recount, is a mix of southerners in the northern part of the state (a little counter intuitive, but true) and Cuban-dominated population in the south, with the moderate I-4 corridor in the middle.  And then there is New Hampshire - a libertarian-leaning, tax-hating state nestled among the liberal states of New England.
* Whether President Obama can replicate record-setting black voter turnout could well swing many of the swing states: Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Michigan all have large African-American populations.
* The Hispanic vote will be critical in Colorado and Florida.  This is one of the reasons that freshman Senator Marco Rubio of Florida is widely considered a front-runner for the VP slot on Romney's ticket.  That and his tea party credentials, good looks and strong speech-giving skills.

The polling data aren't very deep at this point and a lot of independents haven't thought very seriously about the race yet.  Once Romney has wrapped up the nomination (which seems a near-certainty at this stage of the game), picks a VP and we head towards convention season, we could see big swings in the votes.

In the early going, this is a close race.  It could stay that way all the way to election day or we could see a major development - economic, geopolitical or otherwise that sets the arc of the race in favor of one candidate or the other and leads to a solid victory for either Romney or Obama.

We'll all have to stay tuned.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New Hampshire Goes According to Form

Unlike last week, it is an early night in New Hampshire.  Mitt Romney appears poised to win decisively, pretty precisely in line with recent polling, with around 35% of the vote.  Ron Paul, as expected, will finish second, with something around 25% of the vote.  Jon Huntsman managed to ride his "mini-surge" to a third place finish, possibly with something just shy of 20% of the vote.  Everyone else finished far behind.

Romney has now won narrowly in the Iowa Caucuses and decisively in the New Hampshire primary.  He is ahead in South Carolina, but not insurmountably so (either Santorum or Gingrich is in second in recent polling.)  Still, he is gathering steam towards inevitability, if not immediacy.

I don't expect any drop outs between now and South Carolina.  Newt Gingrich is betting his race on a win there.  So, presumably is Rick Perry, although he is the one candidate who could conceivably drop out as he really has no conceivable path forward in the race.  Jon Huntsman did probably just well enough to keep him in the race and fighting, although he certainly doesn't appear to be well positioned for South Carolina or Florida, polling in the low single digits in both places.

The biggest disappointment of the night was Rick Santorum, who may well finish in fifth place and certainly no better than fourth.  Santorum, to his credit, ran hard in New Hampshire coming off his near-win in Iowa, rather than discounting it for a friendly pastures down south.  But he failed to get any kind of meaningful bump in New Hampshire from his Iowa showing.  I suspect that a week ago today was the peak of the Santorum campaign.

And then there was Ron Paul.  Paul is not going anywhere, especially after a very solid third and a very solid second place finish.  Frankly, he has no reason to go anywhere, as he will almost certainly continue to raise a ton of money and may grab increasing percentages of primary votes as other candidates drop out.  But Paul, despite a recent assent that has put him in low double digits in South Carolina and Florida, doesn't appear to have a realistic shot at winning either.

So, it still sure looks like Romney at the end of the day.  Conceivably, he could win the nominating contests in all 50 states if the "not Mitt" crowd doesn't consolidate their support.

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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Romney Survives 2 Debates Unscathed, Appears Inevitable

The other 5 candidates on stage with Mitt Romney, twice in 12 hours this weekend, needed your favorite sports analogy.  The hail mary, the haymaker, the long ball, whatever.  But rather than throwing for the end zone, loading up the punch or swinging for the fences, they chose to play small ball against Romney.

Newt Gingrich is looking past New Hampshire to South Carolina.  But he is polling either second or third there, depending on which poll you believe.  And 2nd or 3rd in his most friendly state just isn't going to cut it.  He has to do big damage and now.

Jon Huntsman is praying for a New Hampshire miracle.  He's currently in either third or fourth in New Hampshire.  And even if he finished third or somehow surprises Ron Paul and finishes second, does he have any battlegrounds that are even remotely as friendly as New Hampshire on the horizon?

Rick Perry is...I'm not sure what Rick Perry is doing.  He should've already quit this thing.

Rick Santorum is banking on a top 3 finish in New Hampshire and a win in South Carolina.   He could well achieve the first half of that on Tuesday if he can pass Huntsman, but winning in South Carolina will be extremely hard unless he can steal a lot of the current Gingrich support and consolidate the "not Mitt" vote to pass Romney's surprisingly commanding lead in South Carolina.  Still, Santorum has the most viable path forward of all the candidates.

Ron Paul will continue to agitate.  But I don't see a single primary or caucus that he can win this cycle.  And it is pretty tough to be the nominee if you don't win any of the contests.

So there you have it.  It's almost certainly going to be Mitt Romney facing Barack Obama in November.  Obviously, we will continue to closely watch New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and beyond, because if this race has taught us anything, things can be very fluid in the race.

But in the end, the GOP appears poised to do exactly what I said they would do and what they have done for my adult life - nominate the next guy in line for the nomination. 

So what does a Mitt/Barack showdown look like?  Could a viable third party candidate either from the right or from the center emerge? 

On the first question, in a heads up match-up, the economy obviously becomes crucially important.  Key swing states such as Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, Ohio and Florida are all heavily dependent on economic outcomes.  The economy is now indisputably improving, with job creation picking up and official unemployment down to 8.5% (the true rate is always higher, for reasons discussed in previous posts), but it is still unlikely to be roaring come November.  But an uptrend would definitely benefit the President. 

General election polling this early in the season is notoriously unreliable, but still instructive as to where the battle will be fought.  And my early read is that there will be more close states this time than in any election since the '88 and '92 cycles.  This is a by-product first of all of a potentially very close election.  But '00 and '04 were also close elections, but with relatively few key battlegrounds.  This is because '00 and '04 were largely regional elections, with the Democrat taking the northeast, the west coast and parts of the mid-west and the GOP candidate taking the rest, with Ohio and Florida basically comprising the key battlegrounds.  Obama redrew the map by broadening the Democratic footprint in the Southwest and the Southeast, winning states such as Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia, North Carolina.  Ohio and Florida are still in play, as are the states Obama gained in 2008, but a Mitt Romney candidacy also puts parts of the northeast in play.  New Hampshire could be a real battleground again.  Romney could do surprisingly well in some of the more liberal parts of the Northeast too - for instance, is it a forgone conclusion that Barack Obama would beat him decisively in Massachusetts?

Earlier, I posted some key battleground states.  Statewide polling is still a little sparse to date, but I will begin to update the electoral map as the Republican race comes closer and closer to wrapping up.

Relative to the question on third party candidates, this is probably the most likely year for a major third party candidacy since 1992, when Ross Perot captured the anger of disaffected Republicans and Reagan Democrats to capture 19% of the national vote.  The problem is, there isn't yet a good national candidate to fill that role.  Gary Johnson has left the GOP to run as a Libertarian, but his name recognition and appeal likely aren't broad enough to do any better than Bob Barr did last cycle.  Donald Trump has talked about running, but does anyone actually think he would get many votes in the final calculus?  Ron Paul has been talked about as an indy, but basically denies that he will run that way, while leaving the door ever so slightly open.  Americans Elect, a group formed to develop a bi-partisan ticket, and funded by some big name donors, could make waves, but only if they get a big name to head their ticket.  Jon Huntsman has been talked about as has New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura.  Each would have an impact on the race, but we will have to wait and see if anything serious happens there.

If Romney essentially wraps up the nomination by the Florida primaries, we are in for a very long general election campaign, with record amounts of both official and third-party money spent (thanks to the Citizens United ruling.)  It's going to be a wild ride.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

2012 and the Fractures in the GOP, In the Real World: There Are Only 3

The Republican Party, 2012
Since Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party for 30+ years has existed as a coalition of groups that have just enough in common to unite (sometimes) behind a common candidate for President.  Prior to Reagan, the GOP was a Northeastern establishment party, a party of fiscal responsibility (not always low taxes, but certainly anti-deficit), but a party that was largely socially progressive.  Ronald Reagan changed the game by putting forward an agenda that was heavy on defense, heavy on tax cuts and brought a new brand of social conservatism into the mix.

There have been more or less four wings to the party ever since, and we see them loudly and clearly in this primary cycle, as each has its representative members.

(1) Establishment Moderates
This wing of the party tends towards social conservatism, but not drastically so.  They are more fiscally conservative than Democrats, but tend to be more concerned with low deficits than with low taxes.  They are pragmatic moderates on foreign policy - they tend to be for relatively larger defense spending but are hesitant to use military force except were imminent risk to US interests are at stake.  In spite of the Reagan revolution, most GOP Presidential candidates since have fit this profile.
George W. Bush was an establishment moderate.  So was Bob Dole.  John McCain fit this description, although at times in 2008, he attempted to shed it.
This cycle, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are carrying the banner for the establishment moderates.

(2) Small Government Libertarians
This group joins the GOP because they hate government in almost all forms.  They are military non-interventionists, still believe the New Deal and the Great Society social programs were a mistake and carry the banner for individual liberty, both socially and economically.
Small government libertarians have rarely done well in GOP primaries.  You have to go all the way back to Barry Goldwater to find a true small government libertarian that got the nod.  Arguably Pat Buchanan fit this bill in 1992. 
This cycle, Ron Paul carries the banner for this group.

(3) Social Conservatives
Evangelical Christians and socially-oriented Catholics that oppose abortion and gay rights make up this group of very-active Republicans.  Straight social conservatives rarely win the nomination but often make waves, Pat Robertson in 1988 being one of the most obvious members of the group to make noise in a nominating process.
This cycle, Rick Santorum runs as a social conservative.

(4) Foreign Policy Hawks
The "strong on defense" crowd focuses its efforts around pushing for American activism on the world stage, increased defense spending and an aggressive foreign policy.
George W. Bush was a foreign policy hawk.  Arguably, it was Ronald Reagan's single biggest issue. 
This cycle, after over a decade of war fatigue, in a stunning reversal, no one is carrying this banner.

The coalition of these 4 groups work when they find a candidate that can more or less align the 4.  But when the group's key interests collide, chaos ensues.

Mitt Romney is unacceptable to Small Government Libertarians and Social Conservatives because of his universal health care plan in Massachusetts and prior support for abortion rights and gay rights.

Jon Huntsman angers everyone but the establishment moderates as he has supported civil unions, has a far less aggressive target for reducing government than other candidates and a less interventionist view of foreign policy.

Rick Santorum is loved by the social conservatives, but angers libertarians with his interventionist view of government and his support for social programs (such as Bush's prescription drug program), bank bailouts and earmarks and scares the heck out of establishment moderates with his extreme social conservative views.

Ron Paul is loved by the small government libertarians but angers social conservatives over his support for gay rights, infuriates foreign policy hawks over his non-interventionist views and is probably most scary to moderates.

Newt Gingrich doesn't fit cleanly into any category but has something for everyone to hate - past support for Cap and Trade makes the libertarians mad, his personal life angering social conservatives and his caustic slash and burn approach to politics maddening moderates.

So, can one of these candidates unite the party?  If Romney gets the nod, libertarians and social conservatives may have to suck it up and vote for him, although Romney almost certainly has to fear the prospect of a third party candidate from the right if he gets the nod.  The same can be said for Huntsman.  The other 3 candidates have almost no hope of uniting the party, with "Reagan Democrats" likely to run for the hills and either stay home or reluctantly support Obama.

And where is the Tea Party in all of this?  It's impossible to say, because the Tea Party is actually not a cohesive movement.  If the Tea Party is about small government, then Ron Paul should be their guy.  But a substantial wing of the informally identified Tea Party are not small government people at all but social conservatives that latched on to an anti-Obama movement. 

I've said it many times, but I'll say it one more time...the Tea Party will NEVER be the path to national success for the GOP.  It created noise and energy but ultimately cost the GOP several Senate seats it should have won in 2010 (Delaware and Nevada most notably) and had far more of an impact on the news discussion than it did on general elections.

It all seems like a can't win for the GOP unless the other wings fall in line behind Romney.  They probably don't have another horse that can run close to a still-cagey President Obama.

New Polling Makes It Clear: Three Candidates and Some Also Rans
Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul finished 1, 2, 3 in Iowa in that order, each close enough to win the same 7 delegates. 

New polling indicates that they are likely to finish Romney, Paul then Santorum in New Hampshire.

If the same candidates are top 3 in those two extremely different contests in extremely different demographics, it is clear to me that there are only 3 candidates left worth talking about.

Sure, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry are apparently going to make a go of it in South Carolina.  But they can't win if they can't crack the top 3 in either New Hampshire or Iowa.

Rick Santorum could still collapse in the next week as he falls under increased media scrutiny, allowing a Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich or even a Jon Huntsman into contention.   But it is also quite possible that the door is slamming shut on those other candidates.

5 short days to New Hampshire....

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What Last Nights Results Mean, The Rick Perry Rope-a-Dope (That Won't Work)

What Did We Learn In Iowa?
Mitt Romney's ultra-narrow victory over Rick Santorum by a historically-small 8 votes in the Iowa Caucus with Ron Paul a not-too-distant third clearly frames the race going forward.

First, it turns out my predictions were a lot better than I thought last night when I saw the entrance polling.  Indeed, as I'd thought, Paul's avid supporters were not enough to overcome the mass of the less committed but greater numbered Romney and Paul supporters.  And Romney's organization edged out the passion of the "not Mitt" crowd....but just barely.

We already know that Michele Bachmann is out of the race and that Rick Perry is still in (more on that later.)  Let's assess the candidates chances and what they will need to do to secure the nomination.

Mitt Romney - must win New Hampshire.  Not because his back against the wall for the nomination - far from it.  But if Mitt can't win in the moderate neighbor of his home state, how could he possibly win in South Carolina or Florida?  Assuming Romney wins New Hampshire, he can afford a second place finish in South Carolina, although it would likely prolong the race against at least one opponent.

Rick Santorum - needs to register significantly ahead of recent polling. in New Hampshire  He probably needs a top 3 (maybe a top 4 if he and Huntsman are neck and neck) in New Hampshire and then a win in South Carolina.  South Carolina is the most fertile next ground.  If Santorum can be halfway competitive in New Hampshire and win in South Carolina, he's positioned to be a top 2 candidate going into Florida and Super Tuesday.

Ron Paul - must win New Hampshire.  Paul won't drop out of the race, that's to be sure, but he has no better shot to win a primary than New Hampshire and if he fails there, he effectively is relegated back to being a protest candidate.

Jon Huntsman - must win New Hampshire.  Huntsman forwent Iowa to bet the farm on New Hampshire.  He might stay in the race if he gets second, but neither South Carolina nor Florida looks particularly welcoming to his brand of moderate Republicanism.  If he finishes third or below, I suspect he will graciously bow out and endorse Romney.

Rick Perry - must win South Carolina.  Perry has wisely already written off New Hampshire (and wisely so) and hopes to unite the "not Romney" vote in a pretty "not Romney" kind of state.  This is actually more possible than it would look from recent polling.  Gingrich is collapsing, Bachmann is gone and Santorum is about to get a torrent of coverage, much of it about the extreme social conservatism he has preached.  I don't know how gung ho a lot of the Tea Party is going to be about a guy who wants the government to regulate adultery, birth control and sodomy.

Newt Gingrich - must win South Carolina.  Gingrich won't win New Hampshire, but could reinvigorate some of his earlier magic with a South Carolina win.  Gingrich is probably way past his due date, but the "not Romney" crowd may give him a second look if Santorum flames out.

So, we are down from 7 to 6 candidates.  After New Hampshire, we are likely to be down to 5, unless Jon Huntsman catches some fire and fast.  After South Carolina, we are quite likely to be down to 3, Romney, Paul (who may well be a protest candidate at that point) and someone else.  The most interesting fight over the next 2 weeks will likely be for who that "someone else" is.  Romney continues to be a huge favorite to get the nod, but if the right wing consolidates down to one candidate going into Florida, it could make for an interesting - and protracted horse race.  Or Romney might run the table and shut it down early.  But given the ceiling we've seen on Romney's support, I'm betting on the former, although I still believe Romney ultimately gets the reluctant nod from the GOP.

The Ol' Rope-a-Dope
Rick Perry heads back to Texas to "reassess" his campaign, then is full guns ahead as soon as competing conservative Michele Bachmann blinks and drops out?  Nice.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

It's Going to Be Too Close to Call for a While

The lead is just swapping back and forth as counties favorable to each of the candidates come in.  With half of the vote in, it is a virtual tie between Santorum, who is the nominal leader and Romney, with both at 24%.  Ron Paul is currently in third, but with less than 2% separating him from first.

It will likely be very late tonight before a winner can be called.  In terms of delegates, the differences will not be meaningful.  In terms of psychology, they could be huge.  A Rick Santorum first place finish vaults him into the top tier going forward (probably not in New Hampshire, but certainly in Florida and South Carolina) whereas a third place finish makes him an interesting also-ran.  A Ron Paul win breathes life into his campaign to make a run for independents in New Hampshire.  A third place finish makes him just an interesting side show.

All there is left to do now is just sit back and watch the votes.

Have a great night...full recap tomorrow.

Returns Continue to Track a Close Race

With 18% of the vote in, Ron Paul continues to lead narrowly with 24% with Rick Santorum just behind him (also with 24%) and Mitt Romney in third with 22%.

As a political-watcher, a Santorum win would be by far the most interesting result.

Big Error on CNN Poll

CNN has just published a correction to their exit poll, apparently, they didn't have all the entrance poll data when they published their first set of "final" entrance poll results.

Their revised numbers for the top 3 shows a virtual tie:
Ron Paul - 24%
Rick Santorum - 23%
Mitt Romney - 23%

Actual votes with 10% of the precincts in mirror these results exactly.

This is a huge fubar by CNN - expect the betting odds on Santorum to rise significantly in the next few minutes.

A Romney Wall to the East, a Santorum/Paul Checkerboard in the West

It's a tale of two states in Iowa, which is very similar to 2008.  In 2008, Mitt Romney won heavily in the Eastern, more rural part of the state.  That time around, Mike Huckabee consolidated the central and western parts of the state to win it.  This time, it looks like a checkerboard of Santorum and Paul counties.

Will one of the two of them get enough of the Huckabee plains to win it?

Does the Firmness of Ron Paul's Support Fortell a Big Win?

Ron Paul's supporters tend to be amongst the most loyal in politics.  If he was slightly ahead in the exit polling, is it possible he could pull off a big win tonight?

It's quite possible I had this race pegged very wrong.  I'm recalling how good Paul is at getting people to show up for Straw Polls and a caucus isn't that dissimilar.  We should have a good feel for the race within the hour.

Neck and Neck in the Early Going

With 4% of the vote in, which is still way too early to project a conclusion, Santorum, Paul and Rommey are tightly bunched at 24%, 24% and 22% of the vote respectively.  The other candidates are behind considerably.

Full Entrance Poll Results Shows Narrow Paul Lead

Well within the margin of error and people can still change their minds, but good news in the totality of the entrance polls for Ron Paul.
Full Poll Results:
Ron Paul 24%
Mitt Romney 23%
Rick Santorum 19%
Newt Gingrich 13%
Rick Perry 11%
Michele Bachmann 7%
Jon Huntsman 1%

Early returns are flowing in, but the numbers are way too small to derive any meaningful information from.  Santorum leads slightly in the very early returns.

Newt and Mitt are basically even on Intrade at around 40.  Rick Santorum has recovered slightly from his low of 12 to near 20.

Santorum Betting Odds Crashing

Santorum's chances appear to be fading as a result of these early polls.  He is down to 12% on Intrade, with Romney and Paul still showing strongly.

It stands to reason - if Santorum was going to win, he'd likely have his passionate supporters show up early.

Early Arrival Poll: Romney and Paul Out Front

Early entrance poll results:
Mitt Romney 24%
Ron Paul 24%
Rick Santorum 18%
Newt Gingrich 13%
Rick Perry 11%
Michelle Bachmann 7%
Jon Huntsman 1%

Bear in mind that these are poll results of the early arrivers to the caucuses and likely represent the most passionate supporters as the weaker supporters tend to show up later.  It also does not project any "night of" switchers.

Overall, obviously very good news for Romney and Paul nonetheless.

Gamblers Give Ron Paul More Credit

Current Intrade odds:
Romney to Win: 42%
Ron Paul to Win: 28%
Rick Santorum to Win: 30%

I guess the betting public gives Ron Paul much better odds than I do.

No Surprises in the Top 3

The doors have just closed at the Iowa Caucuses.  Early entrance poll data indicate that the top 3 (in some order) are Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and Mitt Romney, in no particular order.  This confirms the possible scenarios that I discussed earlier - it certainly doesn't appear we will have a dramatic upset.

Let's see how the actual results roll in.

Tonight Is The Night

Tonight, for at least a while, power gets taken out of the hands of pundits and into the hands of registered voters as the Iowa Caucuses kick off the election season.  I'll be posting live updates as events unfold. 

First, a primer on the caucuses:
Who May Participate: Any registered Republican willing to show up on a Tuesday night, declare openly their support for a candidate and invest three hours or so in the process.

 How It Works:
 (1) At each caucus precinct, 15 minutes are allocated to a representative of each campaign to speak on behalf of candidates.  Typically well funded campaigns have representatives at virtually every location, whereas some of the more shoe-string campaigns may focus only on more populated areas.

(2) A first ballot is tallied with the preference vote of each party member in attendance recorded.  In some precincts, this is done by paper ballot, in others by a show of hands or by standing under a candidate's sign.

(3) Based on the first round results, candidates receiving an insufficient percentage of the vote to warrant a delegate are eliminated from contention and a new round of balloting ensues, with the supporters of the now-eliminated candidates free to join any of the candidates still left.

(4) The results of the second round of balloting are used to award delegates.

Obviously you can see the inherent unpredictability of these events versus a primary.  Whose supporters will show up and invest the considerable commitment?  What will happen with supporters of eliminated candidates?  How will speeches and friends and neighbors sway the more-public voting?

Handicapping the night, there appear to be three viable scenarios that could happen:
(1) The Romney Squeaker
Mitt is able to maintain the 25%ish support that he has been steadily holding in the polls and eeks out a victory over both Ron Paul and Rick Santorum.

(2) The Momentum Play
Rick Santorum's surge from virtually nothing two weeks ago continues and he pulls of an improbable upset.  This could well come into play if some of the lower-polling conservatives, such as Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry are knocked out of contention for delegates in some precincts in the first round of balloting, freeing them up to support someone else.  One would presume that they would break disproportionately for Santorum.

(3) The Passion Play
Ron Paul's avid supporters show up in far greater numbers than the lukewarm support for Romney and Paul outperforms recent polls slightly and pulls off the upset.

My prediction?  I think Scenario 1 is about a 60% probability, scenario 2 about a 30% probability and scenario 3 a 10% probability.  Caucuses are tough to poll for, Santorum is rising and Paul's supporter are passionate, but I'm amazed how often, in spite of all the unpredictable dynamics, these things seem to resemble the late polls in the final tally.  But certainly any of them are possible.

So what would each scenario mean?
Scenario 1 portends a very high probability of a Romney nomination.  He is almost sure to win New Hampshire in this scenario.  Newt Gingrich would likely stay in to make a stand in South Carolina and Florida, where he is still polling more strongly and Ron Paul would stay on, but as more of a sideshow than a serious candidate.

Scenario 2 could create a real horse race.  Other conservatives such as Bachmann and Perry may well withdraw from the race, consolidating the "not Mitt" vote behind one candidate.  Keep in mind though, that because of his late rise, Santorum hasn't really been vetted or taken heat the way the other candidates have.  I still like Mitt in all the scenarios, but this scenario is by far the most intriguing of the bunch.

Scenario 3 could well catapult Ron Paul into contention in libertarian New Hampshire, but even if he wins a one-two in the first two states, does he have any real shot to broaden his appeal in other, later venues?  It's doubtful although this would not doubt leave him in the spotlight until the end and assure that Romney does not wrap up the nomination quickly.

Stay's going to be a fun night.