Tuesday, January 10, 2012

On to New Hampshire

Now it is time for the first primary of the 2012 election cycle. New Hampshire is typically a wild ride, so predictions are a fool's errand. I think I qualify, so here goes: Romney in first, Perry in last seem to be all but locks at this point. Romney owns a home in New Hampshire, governed next door in Massachusetts, announced his campaign there and generally expected it to be his firewall against a disappointing showing in Iowa. Suddenly, he won Iowa with only a couple of months effort and now is playing from a position of strength. Perry, on the other hand, expected a dominant performance in Iowa to give him the lead going forward. Instead, he stumbled to a fifth place finish and abandoned New Hampshire to focus on South Carolina in hopes of capturing the conservative vote there.

The latest polls I saw  had the middle group going, in order, Paul, Huntsman, Santorum and Gingrich. However, they were very close and it is tough to gauge momentum (look at Santorum's surprising finish in Iowa). Romney has taken a few lumps lately, which will not be enough to keep him from winning. But they may breath life into Huntsman's campaign. The former governor and ambassador to China skipped Iowa to try and build his own firewall in New Hampshire. He has come under attack for serving as ambassador under a democratic president but that sort of bi-partisanship may help in New Hampshire. He is the moderate alternative to Romney while the other three fight to be the conservative alternative. If Romney is hurt by the recent attack ads, the Bain Capitol issues, or anything else, independents and moderates may swing to Huntsman, who really needs a strong finish to stay in the race. I think he finishes a close third, behind Paul, with Santorum in fourth and Gingrich in fifth. Given my success in predicting last weeks caucus, you'd have to be fool to think I'm right.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Iowa Recap (Political Junkie Boxing Day?)

Time for a quick recap of the Iowa Republican caucuses from last night, especially in light of my predictions from yesterday. First, what I got right - umm, well, Romney won (8 votes is still a win, right?). What I got wrong - everything else. Literally everything else, including my description of the caucus process. I described a caucus where the votes were counted by a head count. Iowa uses a paper ballot format. I actually participated in a paper ballot caucus in Colorado in 2008 so I have seen the process up close and personal. (I also participated in a head count type caucus in 1988, so I have seen that as well, the memories are just a bit hazier). There is less opportunity to switch candidates with the paper ballot, and your ballot is private so less pressure as well. But, having participated in a hotly contested caucus in a swing state in 2008, I can tell you it is very easy to read the temperature of the room. The county divided into voting district and each district met in a classroom at the local high school. There may have been 40 people in my room and I could easily predict the order of finish and relative vote count before the balloting began. This is because the process allows voters to make a supporting speech for their preferred candidate. These speeches draw audience response and you can tell who is supporting each candidate from the reactions to the various speeches. As a result my original point still has some viability, though less than what I originally proposed. Mainly, evangelical supporters of one of the three lesser candidates (Perry, Gingrich, Bachmann) may have switched late to Santorum after realizing their candidate was not going to win.

The rest of my predictions were absolute rubbish. Santorum finished ahead of Paul (and nearly won everything) with an even stronger late surge than I thought possible. Paul actually faded one or two points below what I thought he would receive. Gingrich really surprised me - I thought his statement "we are not going to win Iowa" was tantamount to a surrender and, combined with his fall from the top of the polls, I expected him to crumble into sixth, meaning I expected Perry to finish stronger than he did. Rick Perry's announcement that he was "going to reevaluate his campaign" is tantamount to surrender and I expect him to be out, possibly before South Carolina. My biggest misjudgment, however, was Michelle Bachmann. I thought she would be able to rally some support given her family connections to Iowa, her extensive time in the state and the fact Newt was admitting defeat in advance and Perry had lost luster. I thought she would possibly pick up some undecided votes or get some people from the anybody but Romney camp to return to her at the eleventh hour. Instead she had a dismal showing and is not a contender anymore, barring a miracle comeback in South Carolina.

Most of the stories I have read take the slant that Santorum was the big winner and Romney took a (small) defeat. The logic is straightforward - Santorum was polling sixth just a few weeks ago and suddenly jumped up to a virtual first place tie. All with limited funds and infrastructure. This is true but it ignores three essential facts, in my opinion. First, Romney essentially ignored Iowa until about two months ago. While Santorum has spent massive time and energy in Iowa, Romney has focused on other states. Romney was able to come in late and equal Santorum's months of efforts. Moving forward, Romney has a much stronger network and much, much deeper pockets. Second, Romney was able to win despite a very strong Anyone But Romney segment in Iowa. The right-wing had months to pick one candidate, galvanize behind that candidate and defeat Romney thereby forcing him into a must win in New Hampshire and making South Carolina key. Given the fact that nearly half of the voters (47% according to the last poll I saw) identified themselves as evangelical or born again, and those voters were, in general, strongly opposed to Romney, I think the right wing took a defeat. They had months and months, a strong base, limited opposition from Romney himself, and still could not carry the state.  Third, and this point seems to have been lost in the shuffle, Santorum is not on the Virginia ballot and there is no write in process - only Romney and Paul are going to be on the ballot. Assuming Romney wins New Hampshire, and his lead there is fairly large, he will have victories in the first two states and have Virginia in his back pocket, at least as concerns Santorum and Gingrich. (One note - all of the stories I could find highlight that Perry and Gingrich failed to make the Virginia ballot, they do not even mention Bahcmann or Santorum. This highlights how quickly Santorum jumped up, he was a non-factor a few days again when the Virginia ballot story broke. However, the stories go on, uniformly, to say the ballot will have two candidates - Paul and Romney. It may be the case than Santorum is on the Virginia ballot and all of the stories overlooked him, but the best information I have been able to find is that only Paul and Romney are on the Virginia ballot. Interestingly, Newt Gingrich leads the Virginia polls 30-25 over Mitt Romney, but he failed to get enough signatures to qualify. If Santorum is on the ballot, I would assume most Newt support will switch to Santorum and he will be in a position to win Virginia. Virginia votes on Super Tuesday, March 3.)

Finally, I said yesterday that a Romney-Paul or Paul-Romney finish were the two best outcomes for Mitt Romney. Well, I think a Romney narrow win followed by the all but withdrawal of his most troublesome rival (Perry) may have been even better. Perry had the resources, infrastructure, and star power on his side. In fact, it was assumed when he entered the race he would walk away with the nomination. Now, he may not even survive through New Hampshire. Every other candidate seems to pose a lesser problem for Romney. Even the base coalesces around Santorum I think that the defeat of Perry serves Romney very well. His advantages in networks and money, especially money, will most likely overwhelm Santorum on a day like Super Tuesday. They might not have been able to overwhelm Rick Perry.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Political Junkie Christmas

Since it is a new year I feel I should have a resolution. In the real world I have resolved to complain less and enjoy more. But here in the cyber world I thought I should have a more concrete goal. Something like resolving to actually post a few blogs on my blog.

Today is like Christmas for political junkies because it is Iowa caucus day! And even better than that, it is totally unpredictable Iowa caucus day! By my count at least six different candidates have been in the lead during some portion of the Iowa campaign season (Bachmann, Cain, Perry, Gingrich, Paul and Romney) and a seventh (Santorum) appears to have the momentum now. So anything might happen. I think the most interesting dynamic is the fact that 41% of likely voters who already have a first choice candidate say they could be swayed to change their pick.  That does not include the sizable number of undecided voters.

If you have never participated in a caucus, just know it is very different than regular voting. The polls are not open all day for you to drop off an anonymous ballot. Instead, everyone shows up and the same time and sits in cliques for their candidate. You actually see who is supporting which candidate. This means peer pressure can play a huge part in the decision making process. If you show up intending to support Michelle Bachman but then notice your boss, your father-in-law and your best customer all sitting with the Ron Paul group, and the Bachmann group is pretty small and insignificant anyway, well, maybe you go ahead and switch seats just to be safe.

There is also always the chance for a last minute deal, either by a candidate or by a candidate's supporters at a local level. Again, suppose in a couple of caucus sites it is very close between Paul, Romney and Santorum, as the polls suggest. Now suppose the Bachman and Gingrich groups realize they are too small and their candidates are goners. But Gingrich is in a war of words with Romney (calling him a liar on TV this morning) and Bachmann supporters are mad at Paul for stealing campaign staffers, so they agree, amongst themselves, to support the candidate who is socially conservative and can cause the most problems for Romney and Paul - Rick Santorum. so, just before the final count they all move and declare their support for Santorum who suddenly wins that caucus site. Given how the social conservative wing has flailed about in an attempt to find an ABR candidate (anybody but Romney) I would not be surprised to see those types of switches happen. I don't think Romney will lose too many people - he is seen as a moderate and his supporters are less likely to tack to the right, I would guess. Paul supporters seem fanatically loyal so I do not expect him to suffer losses of this kind. But the supporters of the other four candidates seem less loyal to any person and are more about an agenda, so I could easily see huge swings as the voters try and find a candidate who can beat Mitt Romney.

As it is, the Iowa caucuses are shaping up to be better than Romney could have ever hoped for when he started his campaign. Until recently he did not think he could do well enough in Iowa to justify time or money. Instead he concentrated on New Hampshire where he is expected to win convincingly. But the ebb and flow of the campaign has left him an opening to win Iowa, have Ron Paul (who cannot win the nomination or the general election) finish second and the social conservative of the moment, probably Santorum, third. Romney's fear has always been that one social conservative candidate would emerge, draw in the support and money of that wing of the party and he would have a long, bloody battle to the finish. Instead, the four main conservative challengers remaining have swapped the mantle amongst themselves (and Herman Cain) with no one emerging. Ron Paul is far too extreme for most voters and could not gather enough support to win, so having him finish second just hurts the social conservative candidate more. In fact, Romney's second best scenario is a Paul win with Romney second. Given Romney's lead in New Hampshire, and the news this week that only Paul and Romney qualified for the ballot in Virginia, a win tonight would essentially give Romney a 3-0 lead in the early states against BGPS (Bachmann Gingrich Perry Santorum), and maybe enough momentum to coast to the nomination.

My prediction (for what it is worth, given how fluid things have been), Romney wins narrowly over Paul with Santorum a very strong third, Perry a distant fourth and Bachmann edging Gingrich for fifth. Bachman will probably bow out after New Hampshire, Gingrich and Perry may try to hang around for South Carolina in hopes of winning the very conservative, religious block there and jump starting their campaigns.

Happy New Year and Merry Political Junkie Christmas!

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