Wednesday, February 10, 2016

New Hampshire Results: Trump, Sanders and Kasich are the Big Winners...And We Nail It Again!

Now we can say the once unthinkable.  It is so outlandish as to be the stuff of parody.  Reality TV comes to politics?  It’s real all right, even surreal.  The 2016 New Hampshire primary is like none that came before it, and now it is in the books.

Who Won:  We can now say the words that were unfathomable just eight months ago – the winners of the New Hampshire primary are Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.  Both won comfortably, Trump by 19 points, 35/16 over John Kasich, while Bernie thumped Hillary Clinton by a whopping 60/38 (with 93% of the vote in).

Who Also Won:  The other big winner was John Kasich, who finished a solid second and won the mainstream “race within a race.” He garnered 16% of the vote, creating clear space between him and Jeb Bush (fourth with 11%), Marco Rubio (fifth, also with 11%) and Chris Christie (sixth, with 7%), beginning what he hopes will be the consolidation of the more moderate wing of the party around him.  Bush can call this a win of some kind, having beaten Rubio and Christie, and Ted Cruz hung in by coming in third (with 12%), in a state with few evangelicals.

Who Lost:  Marco Rubio took his Iowa momentum and lost it all in the face of a disastrous debate performance last Saturday night when he was publicly mugged by Chris Christie and reduced to an automaton.  He slumped to a meager 10%, barely ahead of Christie.  Christie did the dirty work but his sixth place finish will be good for a one-way ticket to Jersey.  At least he goes with the knowledge that for all intents and purposes he took Rubio down with him.  If Christie exits (and he has canceled all South Carolina appearances), he may be joined quickly by Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson, who each finished in the low single digits and no longer have a rationale for their candidacies.

Hillary Clinton did not have a good night either.  Her hope was to win the expectations game by keeping her losing margin in the single digits.  She did not come close.  She may take comfort in her looming southern “firewall,” but if she wants to become President, she had better come up with a compelling message to drive her candidacy.  Whatever she has tried so far – her experience, her competence, her pragmatism, even her fighting spirit – none of it is working.  She needs Eli Gold on the scene, right now.

And We Won Too:  It was another excellent night for Born To Run The Numbers, giving us not only a perfect 4-4 in calling winners so far, but the key call of Kasich in second (with exactly 16% no less).  Plus all the predicted numbers were remarkably close to the actuals.  The only big miss was Rubio, who dropped to fifth instead of the predicted third.  The Bernie margin was a bit bigger than we thought, but most of the pundits thought it would actually be much closer.  Here are our predictions versus the actuals.

NH GOP
Actual
Prediction
NH DEM
Actual
Prediction
Trump
35
32
Sanders
60
57
Kasich
16
16
Clinton
38
43
Cruz
12
14
Bush
11
12
Rubio
11
15
Christie
7
4
Fiorina
4
4
Carson
2
3

But it wasn’t just our numbers that nailed it in New Hampshire.  Check out this paragraph from Steve’s write-up of last Saturday’s GOP debate:  “But we doubt that the good people in New Hampshire will reward the thuggish Jersey Boy for ripping Rubio. Rather, the likely beneficiaries were Kasich and Bush, who were both spirited, upbeat, and appealing. Look for Kasich’s stock to soar over the next 72 hours, as he showed more force, more vision, and more gravitas than Bush.”  Pretty darn accurate.

Where to next?  The action moves to South Carolina and Nevada, with the Dems in Nevada and the GOP in South Carolina on February 20, and then they flip with the GOP in South Carolina on February 23 and the Dems in Nevada on February 27.  South Carolina does a primary while Nevada caucuses.

The most recent polls, while a bit stale, show Hillary with big leads in both states, but New Hampshire could change all that.  I can’t see Bernie ever overcoming her 37-point lead in South Carolina (that poll was in mid-January), but he could heavily dent her 23-point lead in Nevada as of mid-December.

On the GOP side, South Carolina will be a bloodbath, as the (presumed) remaining five candidates (Trump, Kasich, Cruz, Bush and Rubio) go at it ferociously.  Trump and Cruz were 1-2 in polling from a month ago, but lots has happened since.  This is pro-Bush country, as both 41 and 43 won the primary there.  This may be a last stand for Rubio, and Kasich needs a decent showing as well.


We’ll be back with our predictions!

Monday, February 8, 2016

New Hampshire Primary Predictions: Could You Have Imagined This Eight Months Ago? Trump and Sanders Will Win in New Hampshire, Rather Easily

We are back, fresh off our excellent prediction in Iowa (read all about it right here: http://www.borntorunthenumbers.com/2016/02/iowa-2016-results-good-night-for-cruz.html) with our fearless prediction of the New Hampshire primaries.  Let’s start with the GOP.

You have doubtless heard about all the late breaking movement in the race.  How Donald Trump is fading in the face of an indifferent debate on Saturday night and a few shaky performances on the campaign trail on Sunday.  How Marco Rubio, morphed into a repetitive droid in the face of a withering Chris Christie attack in the debate, has started to free fall.  How Christie, Bush and especially Kasich are rapidly filling the now vacated passing lane among the so-called moderates.

The problem with all that breaking news is that none of it is true.  The most recent polls, and there have been a bevy of them, including quite a few taken after the debate, add up to…no movement whatsoever.  Check out the chart below.  Donald Trump is steady as she goes in the 30%+ range.  Marco Rubio is still riding his mini-bump from a solid third place finish in Iowa.  The Governor’s Ball is showing no excitement at all, with no Bush, no Kasich and no Christie emerging.

This is not to say that the notoriously fickle and last-minute-deciding New Hampshire primary voters won’t have a few surprises up their sleeves; they might.  After all, 8% are still avowedly undecided, and the others are hardly bound to the answer they gave in the last poll they answered.  But one cannot divine any movement from the very latest polls.

NH
Jan 1 - 23
Jan
23 - 31
Feb 1 - 8
Trump
31
32
31
Rubio
13
11
15
Cruz
12
11
12
Kasich
11
12
12
Christie
8
6
5
Bush
8
11
10
Fiorina
4
3
4
Carson
4
3
3
Other/NA
9
11
8

As for the Democrats...is Hillary losing steam, gaining steam?  Nope.  The Democratic race, from a polling perspective, is as placid as a lovely New Hampshire lake, with Bernie continuing to hold the ~15-point lead he has had for the last three weeks.  The polls all are over the map:  CNN has Bernie at +26, the Boston Herald has him at +9.  But average them all out and you get that persistent +15.

NH
Jan 1-18
Jan 20 - Feb 4
Feb 4 - 7
Sanders
51
55
55
Clinton
41
39
40
Other/NA
8
6
5

That doesn’t leave too much room for a forecaster.  In Iowa, one could detect the slight upturn for Rubio, and bet on the vaunted Cruz organization over Trump.  At least we could here at BTRTN.  But if we thought the New Hampshire outcome would vary much from these latest polls, we would be guessing.

I find it hard to believe that Rubio wasn’t damaged on Saturday night, or that Kasich isn’t rising, but since when do New Hampshirites listen to the national media, or to me?

So here goes, our predictions for New Hampshire.  Stubbornly, I’m going with a slight Kasich bump, which, well, two of the last three polls showed, and for a Rubio stall.  But the winners of the New Hampshire primary will be the incredibly unlikely odd couple: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

NH GOP
Prediction
   Trump
32
Kasich
16
Rubio
15
Cruz
14
Bush
12
Fiorina
4
Christie
4
Carson
3

NH DEM
Prediction
Sanders
57
Clinton
43


Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Seventh GOP Debate: Marco Pole-Axed

Steve is back, debate watching at night, 20K in the morning, review in the afternoon, commenting on the evisceration of Marco Rubio at the hands of a bouncer from Jersey.

This state ain’t big enough for the four us.

That’s been the narrative for months: that New Hampshire would decisively winnow the overcrowded “establishment lane,” in which Kasich, Bush, Rubio, and Christie have been fighting to be the last moderate standing. The theory: the deeply worried donor pool of centrist Republicans would quickly consolidate behind the “moderate” who performed best in New Hampshire on the hope that a well-funded “establishment” candidate could stay in the race, and ultimately defeat the Trump/Cruz outsider bandwagon.

This narrative evolved in Iowa as Marco Rubio’s strong showing made him the presumptive favorite to be the consensus choice of centrists.

So everyone knew one thing: tonight was the night that Rubio’s momentum had to be stopped in its tracks, or only three tickets would be issued for the train South Carolina… Trump, Cruz, and Rubio.

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey took this challenge to heart. And in no debate in my memory have we witnessed a pubic mugging on the magnitude of what Christie pulled on Rubio Saturday night.

There is no doubt that Christie’s clumsy but powerful machete damaged Rubio, who seemed genuinely stunned by the ferocity of Christie’s wildly flying blade. While Rubio settled down over the course of the debate, the damage had been done.

But we doubt that the good people in New Hampshire will reward the thuggish Jersey Boy for ripping Rubio. Rather, the likely beneficiaries were Kasich and Bush, who were both spirited, upbeat, and appealing. Look for Kasich’s stock to soar over the next 72 hours, as he showed more force, more vision, and more gravitas than Bush.

Not twenty minutes into the debate, Christie went directly for Rubio’s jugular, openly taunting the senator’s legislative background as just so much ineffectual speechmaking. Christie cast Rubio as a do-nothing debater who is slick with a sound bite but who has not been involved in a “consequential act” in his entire career in government. He ridiculed Rubio for dodging questions and made fun of him for twice repeating a tightly scripted, clearly memorized “25-second speech.”

Once again Christie leaned into his favorite rhetorical device, in which he dramatically turns to the camera and announces that he is speaking to all the people at home across the United States. “I want the people at home to hear that…  that memorized 25-second speech doesn’t solve one problem… none of that stuff happens in the Senate prepare you to be President of the United States.”

What happened next bordered on surreal. Rubio, apparently deeply flummoxed by Christie’s boldness, actually began to recite that exact same tightly scripted sound bite about Obama for yet a third time. Christie could not believe his good fortune. “There it is again!” he gushed incredulously, “the same 25-second speech!”

Now all this made for great drama for the television viewers across the country, but within the state of New Hampshire, it actually had a much larger significance. Chris Christie has been targeting Rubio in his town halls for weeks, singling him out as the “boy in the bubble,” the heavily scripted candidate who is overly coddled and protected by handlers. Christie has been telling people in New Hampshire ad nauseum that Rubio’s town halls are tightly controlled PR events, with only pre-selected questions and little opportunity for voters to interact with Rubio, and no possibility that Rubio would have to deal with issues spontaneously, openly, and off-the-cuff.

Therefore, when Christie was pummeling him at the debate, Rubio’s robotic retreat into the irrelevant canned speech played precisely into Christie’s broader narrative. It vindicated Christie’s unrelenting and withering assessment of Rubio as the boy among men, the inexperienced rube who had no record of true accomplishment or executive leadership in a paper-thin resume.

Very shortly thereafter, the topic of immigration came up, and Christie reloaded. Poor Rubio is haunted by his flip-flops on immigration; the man has had to hold more positions in an hour than your average Bikram yoga class. Christie pounced again, ferociously clawing at Rubio for failing to support legislation that Rubio himself introduced. “A leader must fight for what he believes in,” Christie sneered.

The one-two punch in the first 40 minutes of the debate left Rubio stunned and stammering; one imagined the donor class quickly counting the lifeboats. The essential question about Rubio’s candidacy – for the electorate and the donor class alike – is whether he is the fresh-faced powerful voice of a new generation, or the baby-faced boy who does not have the experience and gravitas to stand toe-to-toe with Hillary Clinton.

We have observed many times before: any “gaffe” on the debate stage is bad, but when the gaffe appears to prove a candidate’s suspected liability, it can be absolutely devastating.  Rubio’s failing, flailing response under Christie’s howitzers cut to the essential viability of his candidacy. It was a devastating moment. Over the course of the debate, Rubio would regain his footing and settle back into his usual game. But the damage had been done.

All of this is not to say that Chris Christie benefitted from this encounter. Ironically, Christie – in savaging Rubio – may have actually stepped deeply into the liabilities of his own candidacy. Christie positions himself as the tough guy who fights hard to get things done; he was willing to take on the teachers’ union and he was the tough United States prosecutor in the wake of 9/11. But he was also the ham-fisted thug whose minions waged a ruthless personal vendetta against a New Jersey mayor who had the audacity to not endorse Christie’s bid for re-election, which has entered into popular lore as “Bridge-gate.”

When Christie tore into Rubio, he appeared to be just so much the Jersey enforcer; the angry bouncer in some Asbury Park arcade who can’t wait to toss the handsome preppie into the street. In the very act of validating the most negative narrative about Rubio, he validated the most negative narrative about himself.

A half-hour or so after the Christie v. Rubio knockout, the second heavyweight match of the evening would begin between Jeb Bush and Donald Trump.

This was triggered by a question about the policy of “eminent domain,” the government’s legal power to appropriate land for the purpose of the public good.  It is a lively issue in the land of “live free or die,” as New Hampshire residents are split as to whether the state government should be seizing private land for the purpose of building a pipeline that could expand the state’s capacity to generate electric power.

The question went to Trump, the professional real estate developer, who spoke forcefully and knowledgably about the vital need for government to possess the power of eminent domain. Simply put, he explained, government must have the ability to seize private land for the public good, in order to build schools, roads, and infrastructure.

Jeb Bush, however, saw this fast ball coming. He leaned in and pointed out that Donald Trump himself petitions the government to use public domain not for the “public good,” but so that he can build bigger parking lots for the limousines of high rollers in Trump’s Jersey casinos. Indeed, Bush pushed on, the Donald had in one such case forced the eviction of an octogenarian grandmother.

Whenever afforded the option of a reasoned rejoinder or a personal insult, Trump cannot resist: he immediately began taunting Bush about his energy levels, lending new meaning to the phrase “bully pulpit.” This time, however, Jeb Bush hung tough, refusing to stand down. In the exchange, Trump was booed lustily. It may have been Jeb’s single most glorious moment of a very painful campaign.

But Trump doubled down. Hearing the boos, Trump had to insult the audience, as well.  Trump explained to the TV viewers at home that the tickets for the auditorium “had been reserved for campaign donors,” and since Trump has no donors, he mused, the audience with packed with the donors of other candidates. “That’s why they don’t like me,” he explained. The audience was only too willing to concur with his appraisal of their feelings if not his explanation for it.

Trump had a mixed night. He was spared the usual fury directed at the front runner, simply because the sub-plot – the battle for the mantle of the establishment lane – was actually much more critical to four of the seven candidates on the stage.  Trump neither helped himself nor hurt himself, but the strong performance by the establishment wing in total is certain to drain his poll numbers going into Tuesday. And that will be problematic for a candidacy that is showing surprising weakness just as the voting actually begins.

Ted Cruz failed to capitalize on whatever Big Mo he might have wished to leverage from his caucus win.  Indeed, the only mention of Iowa quickly proved embarrassing, as ABC’s David Muir raised the murky issue of whether Team Cruz had intentionally misled Iowans about an erroneous CNN report that Ben Carson was “leaving the race,” and then encouraging voters to abandon Carson and caucus with Cruz. Demonstrating exactly what kind of captain steers the Cruz ship, Ted was quick to disavow any knowledge of his underlings’ underhandedness, and he turned and made a broadly theatrical apology to Carson. Dr. Ben, however, didn’t let Cruz off easy; insisting that CNN had corrected its reports within minutes, but that the Cruz operation made no effort to relay the correction. Unfortunately for Cruz, that was his sound bite for the night.

In what was a truly adorable moment that somehow captured the full zeitgeist of Ben Carson’s campaign, the good doctor somehow failed to hear his name being called out by the moderators at the opening of the debate. Thus, fully on camera, he stood uncomfortably offstage as the other candidates strolled past him in wonder.  Finally, Carson had to be coaxed out my Martha Raddatz and David Muir. The image of Dr. Carson, sleepy-eyed and befuddled, hesitantly peering out onto the stage as the other candidates streamed by, was a delicious metaphor for the manner in which he has squandered an early lead. Believe me, the next time I try to tell someone that a difficult task is not as hard as it looks, I am going to think long and hard before I say “well, it isn’t brain surgery.”

However, the real winner of the evening was Governor John Kasich of Ohio.

Governor Kasich has proven to be a patient and eminently likable candidate. He brings together a mix of real world grit – working knowledge of how to get things done and how to find common ground among competing interests – with a decidedly upbeat worldview, and profound belief in the need to unify rather than divide.

He was particularly effective Saturday evening, as he repeatedly elevated the quality of the discussion, citing the need for Republicans to be a party that cares about all citizens. He spoke movingly of the need to help those in need; to view drug addicts as people who suffer from disease rather than as criminals. He spoke of the need to be Americans first, and members of a political party far second. In a campaign that has been more characterized by fear, hatred, and exclusion (that would be of immigrants, Obama, and Muslims), Kasich stands alone as a unifier; a plain spoken man whose idea of making America great again does not involve walls, bigotry, and bloodlust.

When the moderators teed up the profound issue of the intense tension between police and minority populations all across America, Donald Trump made an unapologetic and unalloyed statement of faith and belief in the police. In contrast, Kasich eloquently spoke of the bipartisan taskforce he had created in Ohio of police, community leaders, and public safety officials.

Most interesting of all, Kasich was animated with passion to get things done. “I will push so much legislation in my first 100 days,” he vowed, “you should head out and buy a seatbelt!”

It will of course be fascinating to see what happens in New Hampshire on Tuesday. There’s really not much time for big changes, and Trump, Rubio, and Cruz have very strong positons.

But if anything could possibly have been done to create a seismic shift in the tectonic plates of Republican politics, this debate had it all.

And if – just if – Governors Kasich and Bush do indeed emerge from New Hampshire with a big lift, I hope they have the good sense to send Chris Christie a bottle of champagne.