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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