I think we all understood from the late polling movement that South Carolina was going to Newt, stunning as it was given Romney’s strength just a week before. Everyone on this list who offered an opinion said Gingrich would win…well done. But the movement was so swift and kept building that none of us saw the magnitude of the Gingrich win in South Carolina…..13 points (40% to 27%) over Romney. And Gingrich’s margin over Santorum was also stunning…recall that they were even just a week ago in the immediate aftermath of New Hampshire, ten points behind Mitt.
It was a fitting conclusion to the wildest week of the entire campaign (and that is quite a statement)! A week that began with the abrupt departure of John Huntsman, followed by two debates that revealed an unsteady Romney and a weak spot on releasing his taxes, an abrupt departure of Rick Perry, a reversal of Iowa into the win column for Santorum, culminating with the saucy details of Gingrich’s second marriage – which turned out to be a gigantic PLUS for him! Wow!
Romney’s meltdown was pretty much self-inflicted -- a gross miscalculation that he could avoid releasing his tax returns until the presumably safer timing of April. Wobbly responses in both debates undermined him.
And Gingrich’s rise owed as much to CNN’s John King as anyone, who chose to open the Thursday debate with a direct question to Gingrich on his second wife’s allegation that he asked her to have an “open marriage.” To say that Gingrich was prepared is a gigantic understatement, as he deftly turned the question into his most forceful attack on the media yet, to wild applause from the audience. I think he picked up 10 points right there – among evangelicals!!! Incredible!!!!
So now it’s on to Florida on January 31st…
Florida should be a good state for Mitt, and, at this point, he desperately needs it! He came in a very close second to McCain in 2008, losing 36% to 31%, and he has improved his numbers over 2008 in every primary so far, even South Carolina.
But of course, this is not 2008. It is not even 2012 a week ago. We are post-South Carolina now. There has been one post-South Carolina poll and it is a stunner. Romney had been well ahead in Florida, running roughly 2 to 1 (40% to 20%) over Mitt in all the post-New Hampshire polling. But now, in the new poll, Gingrich is ahead, with 34% to Romney’s 26%, Paul 13% and Santorum 11%.
Florida is not a heavy evangelical state, and of course it has a surplus of retirees. Calls to cut entitlements do not go well down here. Florida is also a “winner-take-all” state, meaning the primary victor will get all 50 delegates. It is also a state that tends to require heavy doses of advertising, so that favors Mitt and Newt, of course.
Let’s take it candidate-by-candidate:
- Let’s put it bluntly. Mitt Romney desperately needs a win here. If he loses, it’s not so much that he has to fear Gingrich taking the nomination, though that becomes a real threat. It’s that the party “establishment,” will start making calls. Hello, can I speak to Governor Christie? Hello, is Jeb Bush there? Hey, Mitch….what’s up? I’m not too sure how it plays out, but all I keep hearing is that whatever it takes – late entry candidate, brokered convention – they will do everything possible to keep Gingrich off the top spot. You thought “anyone but Romney” was the call of the day? We will surely witness an “anyone but Gingrich” movement as needed.
- Newt Gingrich is sitting pretty, with the Big Mo on his side. A Florida win would validate that his candidacy is not simply rooted in evangelical turf. He will make a huge play here, especially given how favorable the early polling is.
- Rick Santorum is in a tough bind now. Florida is a terrible state for him: not evangelical, winner-take-all, heavy TV required….that’s a bad confluence of negatives for him. I’m sure he is getting pressure to drop out. But he runs a low budget campaign, so he can stay in (a la Ron Paul) if he can keep up the mantra that he is a reasonable alternative to Newt. It is not a bad strategy to take some lumps now, but stay in just in case Newt blows up or new revelations emerge – face it, the odds are pretty good that could happen over the next month or two. But he has to avoid irrelevancy, and therefore has to achieve (low) double digits in Florida.
- Ron Paul may, in effect, skip Florida. The same factors that hurt Santorum hurt him…the winner-take-all and the TV. Florida is not a big libertarian state either, hardly. People like their entitlements here, thank you very much. Look for Paul to go straight to caucus-land, where his young followers can put together a strong ground game, much like Obama in 2008. Minnesota, Colorado, Maine…you’ll see Ron Paul do just fine in those upcoming February caucuses.
Who knows who wins Florida! With those two debates this week, plenty of nasty ads, and the threat of gaffes, stumbles, new news…I mean, if South Carolina taught us anything, it’s that tons can happen in 10 days. And likely will. First up…Mitt’s taxes…on Tuesday he will release both his 2010 and a preliminary 2011. And he may be questioned heavily as to why he is not releasing more than that. His father famously started the whole business of candidates releasing taxes, back in 1968….and George Romney released 12 years worth!
If I had to call it now, I’d say Gingrich. But Romney will fight back and make it very close.
After Florida the grind begins. First come Nevada and Maine, and then Minnesota and Colorado, all caucuses and all in the first 10 days of February. Then a bit of a break until two very important primaries on Feb 28: Arizona and Michigan. Obviously the latter should be good Romney turf, his real home state where his father was Governor (I remember writing a paper about George Romney and the state of Michigan when I was in 5th or 6th grade!). And then Super Tuesday on March 6th, where 437 delegates will be contested, including Ohio, Georgia, Massachusetts and Virginia (where only Mitt and Ron Paul are on the ballot due to “chronic signature invalidation” for Gingrich and Santorum). Mark that night down now!
If I’m the Obama campaign, of course I want Gingrich to win the nomination. Failing that, they want Romney to win in a long, bloody battle, ever tacking rightward. They do NOT want a better candidate to emerge in a brokered convention. Anything but that!
I think at this point it is fair to say that we are in it for the long haul. The “proportional” aspect to the delegate game, the clear regional (and unspoken ideological) strengths of the various candidates, the Ron Paul factor, all argue for a dispersed accumulation of delegates. A big wild card is Santorum…does he stay or does he go, and how soon if the latter? Another wild card is Gingrich himself – this is his second comeback of the campaign, and he seems destined to self-implode again. All it takes is one really outrageous statement (see: Michelle Bachmann) or one really bad revelation (see: Herman Cain) to drag him back down. But the debates are his friend!
Comments welcome, please!
And on to the next campaign song…it seems like a long time ago, but originally the big news from last week was the exiting of John Huntsman (just one week ago today!) and Rick Perry (just last Thursday). Huntsman never even got a campaign song, and neither did Michelle Bachmann, so I have put them with Perry (and a cameo by Santorum) in this one, called “Rick Perry, Bachmann and John”….to the tune of the old Dion classic “Abraham, Martin and John.”
Has anybody here seen old Rick Perry?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He brain-locked on the DOE,
And it seems that was his norm…
Since then he hung around…for too long.
Anybody here seen old Michelle Bachmann?
Can you tell me where she's gone?
She claimed the HPV vaccine
Based on a sample of….one.
Anybody here seen old John Huntsman?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He was the conservative
The liberals, they all loved
I guess that’s why he’s…in this song.
Didn't you cringe at the things they stood for?
Didn't they try… to move to center stage?
But now they’re free
To contemplate…a run in 2016 or 20…
Anybody here seen old Rick Santorum?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
I thought I saw him walkin' up over the hill,
With Rick Perry, Bachmann and John.