Swing State Pres

Monday, June 4, 2012

2011 12 27 Pre-NH

Watching the campaign in the year before the primaries is a bit like watching NASCAR…it’s filled with   spectacular flaming crashes.  Gary Hart and “Monkey Business.”  Joe Biden quoting Neal Kinnock…without attribution.  But the 2011 campaign has been replete with them, virtually monthly.  Michelle Bachmann snatched defeat from the jaws of victory after winning the Iowa Straw Poll by stating that a young woman became “mentally retarded” after taking the HPV vaccine, thus confirming the suspicion  that she does not have a keen grasp of facts.  Rick Perry’s 53 seconds of desperate groping for a third federal agency to eliminate reinforced the emerging view that he is a few bricks shy of the Presidential lode.  And then came Herman Cain, tainted by accusations of sexual harassment, fully kayoed by the revelation of a 13-year affair by Ginger White.  

And now as we stand on the precipice of 2012, I think it’s fair to say that things are not exactly where the Republican “establishment” might have hoped they would be.  After about a year of hard campaigning, guess who is on top of the national polls?  Newt Gingrinch!  And who is on top in Iowa?  Ron Paul!  RON PAUL!!!!!!!   Far from a coronation, we enter 2012 able to construct reasonable scenarios for ANY of the seven official candidates winning the nomination, PLUS scenarios where third party candidates or deadlocked-convention-drafted candidates can emerge.  We are firmly in the land of alternate reality here.  I thought things were crazy six weeks ago when the Hermanator ruled.  Surely when the Herman embarrassment was over, and after flirtations with crazies like Donald Trump, Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry, surely the Republicans would finally flock to Mitt and end the madness?  But…no.  Apparently there are plenty of candidates left to try out, even as the clock ticks down to Iowa.  Do I hear Rick Santorum?

We are one week away from actually beginning to select delegates:  January 3, 2012, the day of the Iowa caucus.  To be followed by the other January primaries and caucuses that have traditionally essentially ended the process with a clear winner:  New Hampshire (on the 10th), South Carolina (21st) and Florida (31st).  But let me say it right now, I do not believe we will have a clear cut winner by February 1.

So I have four simple questions for you, and please reply to ME ONLY (not “reply all”).  And please, everyone join in!

  1. Who will win the Iowa caucus?
  2. Who will win the New Hampshire primary on January 10th?
  3. Who will win the Republican nomination?
  4. Who will win the general election on November 6th?

THE LATEST POLLS

Not that it will necessarily help you in answering those four questions, but here is a summary of the most recent polling data.  This represents the average of a number of polls taken between December 13th and 21th, as reported by RealClearPolitics.com, an excellent summary site for polling data.  The other number is the change versus polls taken in early December, so you can see the recent trend.  But even these polls vary widely within this time span.  The last Iowa poll had Romney up 5 (over Paul), and the one just before had him down 6 (also over Paul).  Things are in flux, to say the least.
         National              Iowa    New Hampshire     South Carolina
12/14-23
Change
12/16-19
Change
12/14-18
Change
12/18
Change
Gingrich
28
-6
15
-9
17
-4
31
-9
Romney
25
-4
21
4
35
2
19
-3
Paul
12
2
22
1
19
3
7
-3
Perry
7
0
12
1
2
0
5
-1
Bachmann
6
-1
9
0
5
2
8
2
Santorum
4
1
8
1
3
1
4
2
Huntsman
2
-1
4
-1
13
2
4
1



Newt, quite clearly, has been taking a beating over the last two weeks, in the press and in opponent’s ads.  Plenty of fodder there, and all of this continues what my brother, Steve, calls the “whack-a-mole Presidential campaign,” in which any candidate that achieves 25% in the polls proceeds to get pummeled into submission.  It’s Newt’s turn.  He peaked a tad too soon.  Did Ron Paul time it right?

Lest one put too much stock in these figures, consider the following.  At this exact point in 2007 – on December 27, 2007 -- John McCain was in 3rd nationally at 15%, behind Rudy Giuliani (21%) and Mike Huckabee (18%), and he had just passed Mitt Romney (14.5%).  It’s been demonstrated that about half the voters in both Iowa and New Hampshire make up their minds with less than a week to go.  McCain lost Iowa (to Huckabee and also finished behind Romney and Thompson) but won New Hampshire and South Carolina and won it from there.

THE FIELD

Let’s review each candidate in turn:
  • Before dispensing entirely with Herman Cain, it is worth noting that he looked to be on the verge of surviving the various sexual harassment charges and headlines…he had settled in the 15-17% range in the polling on the heels of those charges, and might have stayed there -- if not for Ginger White and her revelation of a 13-year affair with him.  That did it.  She revealed this relationship on a Monday, and he was out by Saturday.
  • Newt Gingrich was the direct recipient of the Cain fallout; his stock was already rising based on his combative (to the media) and informed (at least relative to the others) debate performances.  But predictably, his rise to the top was an open invitation to weigh in on his baggage:  his affair while pursuing Clinton’s impeachment, his three marriages, his censure and demise as Speaker, his “invention” of the health care mandate, his $1.8 million in fees from Freddie Mac, and on and on.  He compounded these issues by inviting controversy with his statements – his amnesty for longstanding illegal immigrants and his desire for the President to ignore the Supreme Court when convenient.  And of course the many stories, eagerly planted by his own party, about his erratic, bombastic personality, enormous ego (even by Washington standards), and his role as the prime practitioner and originator of divisive politics as Speaker.  

Newt has lost his big lead, but is still running just ahead of Romney, and he is very strong in South Carolina, traditionally the “face off” state pitting the winners of Iowa and New Hampshire against one another.  If he manages to survive January, he will be a force, assuming he actually creates a reasonable field organization.  (His failure to get on the ballot in Virginia suggests otherwise.)  He could pull off a “first” – winning South Carolina after not winning either Iowa or New Hampshire.  Possible, but not likely;  I think whomever wins in Iowa will shoot to the top of the polls in South Carolina, pending the results in New Hampshire.

Wendy and I recently saw “Morning” Joe Scarborough in a panel along with Tom Brokaw and John Heileman (“Game Change”).  This will be no surprise to “Morning Joe” viewers, but it was shocking to hear him excoriate Gingrich.  Basically, he said Newt is a bad guy, a bad politician, and a Gingrich nomination would be a disaster for the party, and a Gingrich Presidency an utter debacle for America.  (But tell us how you really feel, Joe?)  He concluded by saying the Republican “establishment” would do anything to block a Gingrich nomination – even at the convention.
  • Mitt Romney continues to plug along in the 20-30% range, by far the most consistent performer over the year.  But how much colder could the rest of the Republicans be to him?  He’s avoided major gaffes (apart from the $10,000 bet offer to Rick Perry), he’s all over the issues, he’s warmed up a bit, he’s electable and has strong economic credentials (if not a strong program per se).  But he is simply not winning the party over, and his range of potential outcomes, even on the eve of Iowa, run the gamut.  He could win Iowa and New Hampshire and declare victory.  Or he could come in 4th in Iowa, lose New Hampshire, come in 4th in South Carolina and be struggling to remain viable.
  • Which brings us to the new man on the rise, none other than Ron Paul!  Not only is he in the lead in Iowa, he’s doing quite well in New Hampshire.  It’s phenomenal for a guy who is a true Libertarian; not a “mainstream” or “far right” Republican at all, he is anti-federal government right on down to opposing all wars, most government agencies and the right of the federal government to intervene on social issues.  But he could easily win Iowa.  And then New Hampshire!  And then what?  
  • The “second tier” far right candidates all have a chance of pulling a “Tebow” in Iowa.  Any of Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry or Rick Santorum could actually win Iowa, or at least exceed expectations by far enough (a solid second place finish) to attract some money and stay in the hunt.  Nate Silver recently wrote a piece in which he says the evidence is that conservative Republicans tend to over-perform the polls on caucus day, whereas moderate Republicans under-perform.  That’s the scenario these three want to hear.
  • Bachmann won the Iowa Straw Poll back in August and was, after all, born in Waterloo, Iowa (home of John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer, and not John Wayne, the actor, as Bachmann once stated.)  She did an excellent job pummeling Gingrich in the later debates, and has cut the gaffe-o-meter down dramatically of late.  Unfortunately, she has done nothing to really advance her candidacy, and her self-positioning as the “true” conservative in the race has not stuck.
  • Rick Perry has grabbed the evangelical label and is running with it, spending his ample financial reserves in Iowa (nearly $3 million in the month of December alone!) and slowing building some momentum.  His debate performances also improved (how could they not?) and he drew Mitt out on the $10,000 bet.  He managed to get to 16% in Iowa in one recent poll.
  • Rick Santorum has garnered some very strong endorsements in Iowa and has achieved 10% figures in two recent Iowa polls – he was averaging in the 3% range just one month ago.  It could be his time!  Some buzz is being generated (such as in the New York Times the past few days) that a Santorum boomlet is afoot.  
  • It’s a far different calculus for John Huntsman.  While I’ve been predicting a Santorum boomlet, my brother Steve has been predicting a late rise for Huntsman for quite some time.  He is skipping Iowa and focusing exclusively on New Hampshire.  He has clawed his way up to consistent low double digits in New Hampshire and if Mitt blows Iowa (4th place), he will have the opening he needs.  

Morning Joe said two interesting things about Huntsman.  One, he thinks his odds are “better than 10%” that Huntsman will get the nomination.  For a candidate who’s highest national poll figure in 2011 – highest! – was 5%, which he did exactly twice (and he only got as high as 4% one other time), this is quite a statement.  But all it takes is one amazing showing in New Hampshire.  Frankly, even a strong second could propel him into the top tier, especially if it was, say, Paul first, then Huntsman, then Romney.

The second thing Scarborough said is that he, as a conservative, considers Huntsman the only “true” conservative in the field.  He believes Romney and Gingrich are simply opportunists, not true conservatives.  Paul is a Libertarian.  And the others, Perry, Bachmann and Santorum (and Cain, for that matter) are basically and more concerned with social issues than the “true” conservative (that is, Reagan) dogma:  small government, strong defense, low taxes, and always ready to cut a deal.  Is there such a thing as moderate conservatism?  

Obama does not want to run against Huntsman.  He’d be pretty delighted to run against any of the other official candidates.  But Huntsman carries no baggage (aside from being a Morman, if that matters), he’s intelligent, articulate, handsome and independently wealthy.  He’s been a successful governor and has strong foreign policy credentials.  There is a path here for him, and we’ll know on January 11th whether that path is still open.

2012 CONSIDERATIONS

Third Party Candidates?

Tom Cox brought this up a year ago.  And he’s right.  This is an excellent year to speculate about 3rd party runs, because of the unhappiness of the American people, the weakness of Obama, the weakness of the Republican field, the chasm that divides the Repblican party, and the amazing amount of money out there.  A number of names pop up and it is good to consider them, because it very well could happen:
  • If the nominee is “anyone but Romney,” there are any number of “moderates” who could run:  Huntsman and Michael Bloomberg head the list here.  Both have lots of money and good name recognition, certainly more than Ross Perot did, and he got 19% of the vote in 1992.
  • If the nominee IS Romney, perhaps the Tea Party will come up with a candidate….do I hear Sarah Palin?  
  • And there is no lacking for other rich people to jump in.  Donald Trump keeps threatening.  And Fred Smith, the CEO of Federal Express, is getting some play.
  • And by the way, Rudy Guiliani never announced the he was NOT running!  And four years ago today, Rudy was at the top of the GOP field in the national polls!!!

Brokered Convention?

The MOST important thing to remember about this year’s primary/caucus season is that, UNLIKE in 2008, the Republican delegates will be awarded PROPORTIONATELY, not “winner take all,” just like the Democrats do it.  There it is, in bold, italics, underlined.  That is HUGE.  That may not only lengthen the primary season, but, to the extent that multiple candidates remain viable, could set up a scenario where no one candidate enters the convention with enough delegates to claim the nomination.

If that happens, it’s anyone’s bet.  A brokered convention could lead to all sorts of “establishment” (that is, reputable) candidates to emerge.  The top of that list would include Chris Christie (the Republican dream come true!), Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush….basically, all the strong names that, for various reasons, passed in 2011.

Attached is a file with all the primaries in “scorecard” fashion.

Obama?

He’s not as weak as you think.  Most recent polling has him at a 45-47% approval rating.  Here’s the formula:  if he’s below 47% and there is a strong Republican candidate, he loses.  If he’s above 50%, he wins.  When it’s between 47% and 50%, it’s a ground game, all about turnout, organization, money and maybe a late surprise issue (“peace is at hand!”).

The Republicans seem intent on blowing it….as I write this, the House Republicans have just decided to back down and eat crow after overreaching on the payroll tax cut extension.  They were being excoriated on the left, of course, but also on the RIGHT, by Fox and the Wall Street Journal.  Picking a fight with Obama, Reid and Pelosi is one thing….picking one with Mitch McConnell is quite another!  And Boehner finally got his, um, house in order.  (I remember saying on Election Day 2008 that John Boehner was about to enter a living nightmare as Speaker of a Tea Party-driven House.  I think that was a correct statement.)

Morning Joe said Obama would do well to make the following pitch, a full-throated defense of his record, with no apologies and no mincing words.

“No one hated the bailouts more than I.  But if we hadn’t done them, we’d be in a depression now.  Detroit would not exist -- but now the US auto industry is thriving.  And I did the stimulus package, too.  Every objective analysis shows that it created 3,000,000 jobs.  You may not like 8% unemployment – I sure don’t – but how does 13, 14, 15% sound?  My Health Care bill righted a wrong and will provide coverage to 50 million previously uncovered Americans.  And it already is allowing kids to stay on their parents insurance until they are 26, eliminated denial based on pre-existing conditions, and is reducing the rate of cost increases and will continue to do so over time.  Plus it is fully paid for.  I killed Osama, and have weakened Al-Qeada immeasurably.  I got us out of Iraq – completely.  And we did the right thing in Libya, and our coalition killed Qaddafi and freed his people without losing one American life.  And the economy is picking up…if not for the European sovereign debt issues, the leading economic story right now would be the rise of the U.S. economy.  With the European Central Bank jumping into the quantitative easing game – finally following what we did -- Europe will lessen as an issue as well.”

Is this a winning argument?  Well, a lot depends on the unemployment rate as of November 6th, and also the price of gas.  My guess is if those numbers are 7.5% and $3 (nationally), he’s back.  Of course, we’ve got a whole new year of congressional stand-offs (beginning in two months with the payroll tax extension, again), volatile world events (North Korea, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Egypt, just to name a few) and totally unforeseen happenings (which always happen).

Obama does have a ton of money and a crack organization.  So things may work out for him in the macro picture in 2012.  

SO…on to Iowa!  Please get me your answers to the four questions, and all comments welcome!

I close, of course, with a new campaign song, this one for Newt Gingrich.  Kristy suggested basing it on “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” – I considered not changing the words, but decided they were too mean!  So here is my take.  It’s a holiday theme (I guess!), and I hope you are all enjoying a wonderful holiday season….

You’re a Mean One, Mr. Gingrich!

You’re a mean one, Mr. Gingrich
You really are a pill.
You were cheating with Callista,
While you tried to impeach Bill,
Mr. Gingrich!

You're a “historian”…
At a lobbyist’s billing rate!


You're a monster, Mr. Gingrich!
Your heart's an empty hole.
Your divisiveness is legend

Your ego out of control,
Mr. Gingrich!

I wouldn't vote for you
Even if you led by…39-and-a-half points in the polls!


You're a vile one, Mr. Gingrich!
You have no polite decorum.
You have all the grace and charm
Of a desperate Rick Santorum,
Mr. Gingrich!

Given the choice between the two of you,
I'd take….a desperate Rick Santorum!


You're a foul one, Mr. Gingrich!
You're an opportunist skunk!
You were censured as the Speaker,

Your final grade at that was “flunk,”
Mr. Gingrich!


The three words that best describe you
Are as follows, and I quote,
”Stink!  Stank!  Stunk!”


You're a rotter, Mr. Gingrich!
You're a media-bashing dope!
You sneer at your inquisitors,
You’re a total misanthrope,
Mr. Gingrich!


Your brain is an appalling dump-heap,
Overflowing with the most discordant
assortment of ludicrous ideas imaginable,
Hey, for one, let’s ignore the Supreme Court!


You nauseate me, Mr. Gingrich
You really are a curse
But you are still atop in Gallup

Can the other ones be worse?
Mr. Gingrich!

You're a warmed-over flip-flopping upside-down cake
With arsenic frosting!



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