Sunday, March 25, 2012

How the Framing of the Story Changed, Newt - Get Out!, Looking Ahead to the General

The Inevitable Story Gains Legs
One of Mitt Romney's selling points to the GOP for the past couple of months has been that Romney inevitably would become the GOP nominee and had the best shot of beating President Obama in November and that the party should therefore line up behind him as continuing the primary fight only served to help the President's re-election prospects.

It was not a particularly sexy story - if you are a Republican, you'd much rather your nominee seek your vote because his views align with yours, his vision of the country is compelling, he has proven strong leadership, etc. versus "pick me, because you have no choice", but the story was more or less born out by the facts.  Romney wasn't and still isn't completely inevitable, but the math for anyone else to win is extremely difficult, as detailed in my last post.

The media - both the right (Fox News), the left (MSNBC) and the center (CNN) largely reported on but poo-pooed the assertion of the Romney campaign.  The reason is obvious - a competitive primary season that drags on generates more news coverage and ratings than an inevitable candidate just going through the motions.

The right wing of the Republican party largely rejected the narrative as well.  Romney wasn't conservative enough, was only winning pluralities, just COULDN'T be the choice of the home of the tea party if you were on the right.  So this odd marriage between the mainstream media and the right wing of the party kept the story of a competitive primary alive.

But a funny thing happened after Romney's victory in Illinois.  The GOP finally started circling the wagons.  Jeb Bush gave a belated endorsement to Romney.  Conservative king-maker Jim DeMint stopped just short of a formal endorsement, but made his support very clear.  The media started asking if the thing was over.

The odd thing is, the past week has gone exactly how anybody would have predicted it would have gone.  Romney won a large, urban state outside the south (Illinois) decisively, Santorum won a medium-sized deep south state decisively (Louisiana.)  It doesn't seem like the arc of the campaign has changed at all and yet the discussion has shifted entirely.

Maybe people are just finally realizing the math, maybe the election night coverage ratings are dwindling, maybe Republicans are starting to realize that losing to President Obama in November is quickly moving from a possibility to a probability, I don't know. 

At any rate, the race takes a little bit of lull this week with no contests going on (but surely lots of waving of Etch-a-Sketches), but confronts three winner-take-all contests worth a total of 98 delegates a week from Tuesday in Maryland, DC and Wisconsin.  Romney is leading all of those races and could pad his current delegate lead, which I estimate stands as follows (with some delegates yet to be decided in the last two races, pending final results):
Romney - 538 (53%)
Santorum - 254
Gingrich - 149
Paul - 67
Perry - 3
Huntsman - 2

Drop Out Gingrich - And You Too Ron Paul
I have long enjoyed the romantic story of Don Quixote, the Man of La Mancha, a man convinced he was a knight taking on giants (which were actually windmills.)  The term quixotic has entered our vocabulary as a romantically-inspired quest for a near-impossible goal.

But there comes a time to turn the sword in.  Newt Gingrich's time is here.

Newt Gingrich's power base has always been the deep South.  After having lost both the Alabama and Mississippi primaries, coming in a distant third in Louisiana clearly demonstrates that even his base has abandoned him.  If he can't do better than third in Louisiana, what states will he even be remotely competitive in?

Gingrich clearly cannot win the nomination.  He may be hanging around hoping that nobody gets to the magic number and he is a second ballot nominee.  But only an insane GOP would put him through on the second ballot.  In the unlikely event that Romney doesn't get to his magic number, he'd probably be able to build a coalition to get there.  Even if he couldn't, the GOP would be far more likely to broker a deal for a better candidate such as Jeb Bush or Chris Christie than to give the nomination to the third-place also-ran with more baggage than the cargo area of a 747.

Newt's funding has to be drying up - even rich Super-PAC donors want to know that they aren't just burning the money.  I actually expect that he will finally see the light and drop out soon.  He does like the spotlight, but the media has started ignoring him more and more.  It can't be much fun anymore.

And while we are on the topic of people who should drop out, let's talk about Ron Paul.  In the past 16 nominating contests, the man who has said over an over again that "it's all about winning delegates" has won a grand total of 11 of them out of 557 that were available in those contests.  Not only does Paul not have a shot at the nomination, his delegate total isn't gaining, so he isn't even winning any influence at the convention.

Paul, unlike Gingrich, will be able to keep raising funds for as long as he desires to continue.  But it is wrong for him to do so.  It's a free country and people are giving to Paul freely, but telling the devoted libertarians that give small donations to him that they are doing so because Paul has a real shot at the nomination (something that they are still utterly convinced of if you reading the comments section on any story on Paul) is disingenuous.  Paul had a good run, made some great points and had an unblemished legacy of supporting liberty and freedom in Congress and as a Presidential candidate.  It's time for him to stand aside.

General Election Catch-Up
Part of Romney's urgency to get the nomination locked up is so that he can get on to taking on President Obama, who has been quietly building a sizable lead while the Republicans fight for their nomination.

My average of averages has him up by 4.1% nationally in a heads up match with Romney, short of his 2008 victory, but a sizable lead that would surely deliver an electoral college victory.

In the key battleground states, here is the state of things:
Previously Lean Romney States:
Missouri - remains a Lean Romney - Romney +9% in recent polling
Indiana - remains a Lean Romney - no recent polling, but Obama needed a 7.2% national win to eek out a win in Indiana, so he would presume to trail by about 3% here
Florida - FLIPS TO LEAN OBAMA - Obama +3% in recent polling
North Carolina - FLIPS TO LEAN OBAMA - Obama +3% in recent polling
Ohio - stays with Romney...for now - the 2 most recent polls tell opposite stories, with one having Romney up by 6%, the other with Obama up a whopping 12%.  Based on the national margin, I'll leave it with Romney for now, but will keep an eye on it.
Virginia - FLIPS TO LEAN OBAMA - three recent polls all have Obama leading by margins of 9, 8 and 17% respectively.

Previously Lean Obama States:
New Hampshire - stays a Lean Obama - up 10% in the most recent polling
Colorado - no recent polling - stays a Lean Obama based on the national polling
Michigan - now a Likely Obama - up by 18% in recent polling
Pennsylvania - remains a Lean Obama - up 6% in recent polling

Other key states I am watching:
Arizona - remains a Likely Romney for now, but definitely one to watch - the two most recent polls have him leading by 5% and 11% respectively
Iowa - moves down to Lean Obama - Romney is leading in one of two recent polls (by 2%, Obama leads by 5% in the other poll)
Oregon - remains a Likely Obama for now, but his lead is 8 to 11% in recent polls, could be competitive if the race tightens
Wisconsin - another one that remains a Likely Obama but is one to watch, with Obama's lead at 5 to 14% in recent polling.
New Mexico - no sign of let-up for Obama, he is up by 19%.  Remains a Likely Obama and probably will not be competitive in November.
Minnesota - Obama up by 10 to 13% in recent polling.  Remains a Likely Obama.
Maine - Obama now up by 23% in recent polling.  Move from Likely Obama to Strong Obama.

So with all of that, we get the following map (assuming neither Nebraska nor Maine split their congressional districts):
Note: Map created with the help of

Clearly at 329-209, Mitt Romney has work to do in the general election.  He needs to take back Virginia, North Carolina and Florida plus one additional state from the Lean Obama column (either New Hampshire, Colorado or Iowa.)

And keep in mind, his war chest is oversized relative to the GOP field, but not relative to the President, who will surely be a fund-raising juggernaut again this year.

Of course, it is way early.  Michael Dukakis looked pretty good against George H.W. Bush at this stage in the race.  The economy, public perceptions, the foreign policy arena, it could all change a lot between now and November.

But what is clear is that Romney has an uphill battle.  Which is why he wants to wrap up the nomination now.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Romney Rolls On in Puerto Rico - What Would Puerto Rican Statehood Mean?, What a Mess in Missouri

The Romney Train is On the Rails
Some advise to Rick Santorum - if you are going to invest scarce primary campaign resources in campaigning in US territory, you might try to find a better sales pitch than "all of you need to learn better English."

Mitt Romney delivered a thumping to Santorum in Puerto Rico, scoring over 80% of the vote.  Now, even the most devoted Santorum supporter knew that Right-Wing Rick had no shot on the liberal island, but as recently as a week ago, the Santorum campaign had hoped to hold Romney to under 50% of the vote, allowing Santorum to score at least a few of the 20 delegates at stake.

It was not to be.

Romney appears poised to win Illinois decisively on Tuesday, with Santorum favored to score a similarly strong victory in Louisiana on Saturday.

And thus continues the perfect geographic pattern that we have seen in this election - Romney dominating the Northeast, more liberal mid-west and Mormon-dominated western states with Santorum taking the deep south and the center of the country.

This pattern would all but assure a Romney victory but would drag the campaign out until June when Romney is likely to vault over the 1,144 delegate finish line with winner-take-all victories in California and New Jersey on June 5th.

As of today (excluding RNC delegates who are unbound), my tally is as follows:
Romney - 466 (51%)
Santorum - 227
Gingrich - 150
Paul - 67
Perry - 3
Huntsman - 2

Romney remains over the 50% mark, which is critical for a first-ballot victory.  And the landscape gets more friendly to him from here.

Illinois next Tuesday has 69 delegates that should go disproportionately to Romney
Santorum certainly figures to fare well in the proportional primary in Louisiana and its 46 delegates

The next round after that moves to Winner-Take-All events in Wisconsin (42 delegates), Maryland (37 delegates) and DC (19 delegates) on April 3rd.  Of those 3, Santorum only really has a shot in Wisconsin and could well lose all three.

April 24th will be even uglier for Santorum with events in New York (95 delegates), Pennsylvania (72 delegates), Connecticut (28 delegates), Rhode Island (19 delegates) and Delaware (17 delegates).  Santorum should win Pennsylvania, but will likely lose all the rest.  Delaware is winner-take-all and the remainder are proportional.

Assuming the best case for Santorum - that he wins Louisiana, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and loses the rest of the races and assuming a 50%/30%/20% delegate split in a three way race for proportional races, on April 24th, the count would look something like this:
Romney - 680 Delegates
Santorum - 391 Delegates
All Others - 288 Delegates
Note: My numbers exclude Missouri - which is a complete mess, more on that later.

Again, Romney with a big lead and slightly more than half the total, but still a long way from 1,144. 

Romney would then have to plow through a very uncomfortable May that involves contests in North Carolina, Indiana, West Virginia, Nebraska, Oregon, Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas.  Of those, only Oregon looks friendly to Romney, although he might have a shot in some of the more diverse states like North Carolina and Texas.

Assuming he wins only 30% of the delegates in the month of May (all of the May contests are proportional), on top of my April projection, he would win an additional 129 delegates and be at 809.

Romney would then enter his June firewall which includes contests in California, New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana, New Mexico and Utah with CA, NJ and UT being winner-take-all.  Even assuming Santorum found a way to win in Montana and South Dakota (which is by no means a lock), if Romney takes 30% of the delegates in those contests, 50% of the delegates in New Mexico and wins the three winner-take-all states, that yields him 290 additional delegates, putting his total at 1,099.

Romney would then need only 45 of the 168 or so RNC delegates to put him over the top.  He has 25 that have at least tacitly committed to him.

So, it still appears highly likely that Romney will get the nod, but you can see the challenge in a mostly proportional system in a multi-way race of getting to 1 vote more than 50%.

One for Puerto Rican Statehood
Since it became a U.S. Territory in 1917, every U.S. President has backed "self-determination" - the right of the territory to decide whether it would like to leave the United States, remain a territory or become a state.

Puerto Rico has voted several times on this issue, always choosing to remain a territory.  But each time a vote is held, it gets a little closer to picking statehood.

Statehood would mean that Puerto Rico would have to pay federal income taxes from which it is currently excluded but would also give it 2 Senators, likely 5 Congressmen and 7 Electoral Votes.  It is highly likely that most of these votes would go Democratic.

The statehood question is back on the ballot in Puerto Rico in November and many believe, as a new generation of voters comes of age there, that Puerto Rico will finally choose statehood.

Now, despite the stated policy of past and present U.S. Presidents, passage of the ballot initiative does not necessarily guarantee Puerto Rican statehood.  An act of Congress, signed by the President would still be required.

Even though it would be to their short-term detriment, Republicans would be wise to embrace Puerto Rican statehood if voters there approve it.  Denying Democracy to a generation of Hispanic American citizens would be poor politics indeed.

The Missouri Train Wreck
What a convoluted mess Missouri is.  First, they had a "beauty contest" primary, which didn't count for anything other than show (and spent a bunch of tax payer money.)  Next, they had caucuses last Saturday, but did not conduct a straw poll and didn't even select delegates to the national convention.  Instead, they selected delegates to the state convention, who in turn will select delegates to the national convention next month.

Confused yet?  I know I am.

And nobody has any clue where those national delegates will eventually go, although one presumes that Rick Santorum will do pretty well, based on the primary results.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Updated Delegate Totals

After analyzing the "final" results from the Super Tuesday primaries, here are my latest estimates of the delegate totals for each Republican candidate, excluding RNC delegates, who are not obligated to any particular candidate:

Mitt Romney - 385 Delegates (53% of total awarded to date)
Rick Santorum - 154 Delegates
Newt Gingrich - 124 Delegates
Ron Paul - 63 Delegates
Rick Perry - 3 Delegates
Jon Huntsman - 2 Delegates

Latest polling for the next week's contests:
Alabama - looking like a three-way dog fight.  2 recent polls.  Unified average methodology: Gingrich 26%, Romney 24%, Santorum 24%
Mississippi - Romney is leading in the only poll available (Rasmussen): Romney 35%, Santorum 27%, Gingrich 27%
Kansas - no recent polling available

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Romney May Be Winning Ugly, But He Is Winning

The media narrative over the past couple of weeks has consistently been about how Mitt Romney is struggling to close the deal with Republican primary voters.  The argument is not completely without merit.  He is running against a crew of retreads and discards that includes a former House Speaker who resigned his office after his own party forced him out of the Speaker's seat and who has managed to secure no allies among his former colleagues, a Senator who was bounced from office by voter in Pennsylvania by a large double-digit margin, and a 76 year old libertarian who wants to abolish social security.

Yes, if Mitt Romney were a better candidate, he would have sealed this deal a long time ago.  But he is who he is.  And it is important to understand that while Romney may have underperformed what some expected of him against this field, he is methodically winning.

Should Romney have had to resort to scorched Earth politics to win Florida?  Maybe not, but he won Florida and all its delegates.  Should he have won bigger in his birth state of Michigan?  Probably, but the fact is that he won the primary, even if it was ugly.  Should Ohio have been such a close battle?  Probably not, but Mitt walked away with a small popular vote victory and a large delegate victory, thanks to Rick Santorum's inexplicable inability to even register a full delegate slate.

Different web sites have different delegate counts, thanks in large measure to the complex, multi-step processes that some of the caucus states use to allocate delegates, but I've done my own math.  I also exclude RNC delegates from my count, which are the Republican equivalent of Super Delegates, party leaders from each state that have automatic votes at the convention, since their pledge or endorsement from a candidate is not a firm commitment and can change at any time.

As of today, in the contests conducted to date, there are 34 delegates that I need more information and final counts to allocate.  Excluding those delegates, the counts to date, through the first 21 contests are as follows:
Mitt Romney - 368
Rick Santorum - 149
Newt Gingrich - 116
Ron Paul - 63
Rick Perry - 3
Jon Huntsman - 2

Of note, Mitt Romney is now across the 50% threshold of the delegates awarded to date, thanks to his overwhelming victory in his home state of Massachusetts and his big win in Virginia, where Santorum and Gingrich failed to make the ballot.

Of course, you need 1,144 delegates to secure the nomination.  While I can't see any conceivable math to get any of the other candidates to 1,144, their best collective hope would be to keep Mitt from 1,144.

But even this seems highly unlikely.  In theory, the next couple of weeks could be tough for Romney with Kansas, Alabama, Hawaii, Mississippi and Missouri on tap next.  But Romney is ahead in Alabama in a recent pole and if he wins Alabama and Hawaii (where he will presumably do extremely well) in addition to picking up delegates from the territories in Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the Northern Marinas (yes, the get delegates and their events are also in the next two weeks), he will maintain a large lead.

And the map gets a lot more favorable from there.  Illinois is a big delegate prize on March 20th that should break strongly for Romney.  And he has an April firewall of Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New York and Rhode Island, with Santorum only having a real shot in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

And if it goes deep, Romney has the ultimate firewall in June, winner-take-all contests in California and New Jersey, which award a whopping 222 delegates between them, plus a last-in-the-nation contest in Utah that seems sure to award him all 40 of its delegates.

So it appears highly likely that Romney will get to 1,144 by the convention.  The math and all the proportional contests make it difficult to do so anytime soon, which will probably keep at least Santorum alive and running until then (presumably Gingrich will finally bow out if/when he fails to win any of the deep south contests in the next week), just as Hillary was able to keep running against Obama until the bitter end, despite the fact that Obama held a delegate lead the entire course of the 2008 primary season.

It will keep being an entertaining race, but for all the twists and turns, it certainly looks to end the way I always believed it would, with Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee.

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