Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Romney Didn't Beat The Spread

Romney's victory in Florida is, to be sure, impressive. He took everything but north and (very) central-south Florida. Where he didn't win outright, he mostly split. It's a convincing win and, going into Mitt-friendly February it could be enough to quash Newt's fund-raising for good.

From Talking Points Memo (TPM)

But there are some storm-clouds on the horizons of his triumph. Let's take a look:

  1. Turn out was low. Where Iowa (+3% over 2008) and New Hampshire (+6%) were on their way up, South Carolina was a huge +35%. Florida then dropped by 14% and, while those are just percents, when you add up total number of voters, Florida is freakin' huge: the sum total for 2012 vs. 2008 is down by a whole 4% even given the higher numbers in 3 of the 4 voting states. Nate Silver notes that there was a ballot measure that was key to turn-out in '08 but still ...
  2. Newt + Santorum (45.3%) is basically a tie with Romney's 46.4%. This means when / if one of them drops the other stands to get enough lift to be "back in the game." While Gingrich has vowed to go all the way to the convention, some of his, erm, practices (see below) might end him sooner. This is actually good for Romney as, so long as Santorum thinks he has a "second life" he'll keep on fighting--but it bodes ill for the future where he might suddenly be facing a land-slide against him.
  3. The Tea Party--especially the southern Tea Party--is not sold on Romney. Yeah, this month is all the western states--but those southern states may get their vote. The Strongly Support Tea Party vote went to Gingrich 45%  to 43%--and while Romney won "Somewhat Support" 50% to 28% if this race settles on Tea Party vs. the Establishment (and people like Sarah Palin are trying to do just that) then would it mean that (a) later in the cycle Romney could get clobbered or--more likely--the later states would be (b) a lot more expensive. Look at north Florida for a preview of what the south might look like: if you squint it looks like Newt Gingrich!
  4. Nasty: There's a Newt Robo-call (he's disavowed knowledge) saying: "As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney vetoed a bill paying for kosher food for our seniors in nursing homes. Holocaust survivors, who for the first time, were forced to eat non-kosher, because Romney thought $5 was too much to pay for our grandparents to eat kosher." That's nasty. Again: this probably hurts Newt more than Mitt in the long run--but if that suppressed turn-out is due to voter-dissatisfaction with the negativity of the campaign in general and Newt doesn't leave? That could, as they say, "leave a mark."
  5. Romney's air game was expensive. Romney outspent Newt by a hell of a lot in Florida and it showed--but while he can likely keep that up through the primaries if the other candidates choke on fund-raising he won't be able to do that to Obama who will have, if not 1bn to spend, somewhere close enough. That's worrying some voters who see Romney's Florida-advantage as cash--one he won't be the alpha-dog with in November.
  6. He didn't blow-out South Carolina. He won by 15 points which is impressive--but not by what Newt won in SC. Granted, Florida is both much larger and a key swing-state so this means a lot more but given the spending amount it may mean that psychologically Newt feels bloodied but not beaten.
What Does It Mean?
I was listening to National Pravda Radio--Er--I mean National Public Radio--last night as they were doing the primary coverage and one of the commentators said that Newt's big win in South Carolina came with the debates where he stood up to the liberal media and, notably, a black reporter (Juan Williams) and said everything that the conservative Republicans had been dying to say--said things they never thought a candidate would say--and they voted for him in droves.

When he choked in both Florida debates his narrative faltered. That, combined with a coordinated attack by Romney overwhelmed his comparatively rag-tag operation. Worse: while he "ought to" be the favorite of pragmatic evangelical voters, Erick Erickson thinks that the truth is that they care more about Newt's three wives than beating "a Mormon." 

This could mean that Newt, as the Not-Romney, is still just a place-holder and, while it might not eventually be Santorum either ... it might not be anyone. Maybe ... it's just Mitt?

What Do I Think?
I'm not sure how much war-chest Newt's campaign has--can he afford to keep the pressure up? That's key because so long as Mitt is slinging mud at Newt and forced to "roll around with the pig" he keeps Romney from doing two things:
  1. Attacking Obama. There's nothing Mitt would like more (especially now) than to train all his rhetorical guns on the target everyone can agree on. This will boost Mitt's positives like nothing else he could do with his base. So long as Newt is out there sucking up his oxygen, though, he can't.
  2. Pivot. In the GOP you run to the right in the Primary and then run to the middle in the general (for the Democrats, of course, the direction is reversed). However, if Newt is there pressing Romney hard he has to go further and further right--clearly further than he feels comfortable with. The sooner he can ease up on the right-wing sloganeering the better the chance that he won't have terminally injured himself with moderates and independents. The good news is that he's already perceived as a flip-flopper so people may believe he'll do "the right thing" no matter what he says (Obama benefited from something similar: he was a blank-slate historically speaking so a lot of people assumed he was some kind of super-leftist despite him saying he was a moderate). On the other hand, the GOP base isn't happy with that and they want to hear him say things like he'll bomb Iran or build a military "so strong no one will think of challenging us"
The one thing I am waiting to see is whether Newt really does stick it out--or, if he loses enough momentum, he falters.

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