Category Archives: Election Analysis

Arizona Rep. Giffords to Resign; The Road Ahead

The senseless shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ-8) a little more than one year ago has now led to her leaving Congress, as announced in an emotional video to supporters and her constituents. She will attend tonight’s State of the Union message, but then officially leave the House later this week and return home to Tucson to continue her recovery.

Once the resignation becomes official, Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has only 72 hours to schedule a replacement special election. Based upon Arizona election code requirements in relation to the timing of the vacancy, the nominating contest will be in mid to late April (within 80 to 90 days of the official date of vacancy) with the special general in June (within 50 to 60 days after the special primary). The vote will occur within the current 8th District boundaries, which is slightly more favorable to Republicans than the post-redistricting Tucson-based 2nd District, re-numbered as such by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. In 2010, Rep. Giffords won re-election in a tight 49-47 percent contest over Iraq War veteran Jesse Kelly.

Expect a large number of Democrats and Republicans to run in the marginal open seat race. Five Republicans, including Kelly and state Sen. Frank Antenori, have already indicated their interest in becoming a candidate for the new 2nd District, so it is assumed that they will participate in the special election. Several state legislators are Democratic potential candidates. The winner will serve only to the end of the current Congress. It is assumed the victor will run in the regular new 2nd District election, meaning he or she will endure four elections (two primaries, two generals) over a period of eight months.

With Newt Gingrich’s Win in South Carolina, Now What?

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s strong 40-28 percent victory over former Gov. Mitt Romney in Saturday’s South Carolina primary means the Republican presidential nomination fight is far from being decided. The 40 percent total represented the largest winning percentage thus far in the campaign, topping Romney’s showing in the New Hampshire primary (39 percent).

Turnout was a record high for an individual party. The 2008 Democratic primary, featuring then-senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, topped 532,000 ballots cast. That year more than 443,000 also voted on the Republican side. On Saturday, GOP voter participation broke the 600,000 threshold.

The evening proved to be a disappointment for both former Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14). Both had hoped to do better. Santorum needed to at least finish a close third to realistically continue performing as a first tier candidate, but tallied only 17 percent of the South Carolina vote. Following Santorum was Rep. Paul with 13 percent. The congressman stated publicly he was hoping for a strong third place finish. Gingrich won 43 of the state’s 46 counties and Romney three, while both Santorum and Paul were shut-out.

Mr. Gingrich again rebounded from what appeared to be a relentless downward spiral based upon his Iowa and New Hampshire finishes. Every other candidate in this race, once they began to fall, never recovered. As we saw in South Carolina over the weekend, Gingrich has now bounced back twice, once from his staffing debacle at the start of his presidential campaign, and now, overcoming the negative ad barrage that damaged him in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Additionally, South Carolina may have given us the first practical test of the theory that a conservative who can isolate Romney in a two-way race beats him, irrespective of who may be that individual. Since the Palmetto State vote is the first instance where the campaign winnowed down into basically a two-candidate race, the theory, at least as exemplified during this past weekend, appears to have legs.

We also have the underpinnings of a nomination fight that could soldier on for a long while, or at least through the end of April when more than two-thirds of the delegates will be apportioned. With Gingrich’s victory in South Carolina, three candidates have now won nominating events: Santorum in the Iowa Caucuses Romney in the New Hampshire primary, and now the former Speaker during this past weekend.

Projecting forward from the progression of events just passed, let’s try to project what comes next in Florida on Jan. 31? As the party leaders had hoped for when they accepted reducing the size of their delegation by half for the right to vote before Super Tuesday (March 6), Florida could determine who wins the nomination. Not only will it be the first big state to host a nominating event, but a victory by either Romney or Gingrich could send the other two candidates, Paul and Santorum, out of the race. Santorum’s departure would have a greater effect because his constituency will almost assuredly go to Gingrich as their second choice.

The Florida vote will answer the following questions: Will Gingrich have generated enough momentum in South Carolina to win a big state primary? Will Romney’s superior financial resources and campaign management team return him to the winner’s circle in what could become the most important of states? Will Paul and Santorum drop out if they again finish poorly? Will an eventual two-way contest between Gingrich and Romney favor the former Speaker despite his carrying substantial personal and political baggage? The answers to these and many other race-defining queries will be uncovered to at least some degree when people from Pensacola to Key West cast their ballots in eight days. Stay tuned.

Here We Go Again!

Just when it appeared the Republican presidential contest was beginning to normalize, the unexpected happened yet again. A series of six polls taken within a three-day period ending Wednesday shows former House Speaker Newt Gingrich gaining sustained electoral momentum, thus becoming positioned for a possible upset win tomorrow in South Carolina.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the leader of the race entering the Palmetto State primary, is clearly enduring his most difficult week of the campaign. Besieged with questions about his tax payments and off-shore corporate investment accounts uncovered in the Cayman Islands, discovering he actually placed second in the Iowa Caucuses to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum by 34 votes instead of claiming an eight-vote victory, seeing Texas Gov. Rick Perry drop out of the race and endorse Gingrich, and giving his worst debate performance of the cycle has apparently eroded Romney’s always tenuous lead in conservative South Carolina.

Four of the six polls now show Gingrich with the advantage in South Carolina, revealing margins from two to six points. American Research Group (Jan. 17-18; 600 likely South Carolina GOP primary voters), Insider Advantage (Jan. 18; 719 likely South Carolina GOP primary voters), Public Policy Polling (Jan. 18; 379 likely South Carolina GOP primary voters – the first night of a three-night track), and Rasmussen Reports (Jan. 18; 750 likely South Carolina GOP primary voters) post the former Speaker to leads over Mr. Romney of 33-32; 32-29; 34-28; and 33-31 percent, respectively.

Two other surveys, NBC/Marist (Jan. 16-17; 684 likely South Carolina GOP primary voters – a tally of 349 pre-debate and 335 post-debate), and Politico/Tarrance (Jan. 17-18; 600 likely South Carolina GOP primary voters) still show Mr. Romney ahead. He registers more substantial 34-24 and 37-30 percent leads over Mr. Gingrich, respectively.

All of the surveys feature substantial sampling universes except the Public Policy Polling effort (giving Gingrich his largest lead), but these numbers represent only the first day’s results from a three-day track. To fully comprehend the complete results of this particular poll, all of the cell group responses must be tabulated. If the PPP preliminary result is put on hold, then the remaining Gingrich-leading studies all fall within the same 1-3 point range.

The NBC/Marist poll, which surveyed some people before the mid-week debate and others after, concluded that the forum proved to be of major importance, is a potential outlier. First, its methodology is different from the others and second, their results (Romney +10) are inconsistent with the other professional pollsters who were in the field at the same time. The Politico/Tarrance data (Romney +7), is also curious, but it’s at least closer to the norm than the NBC/Marist study. The fact that two of the six surveys still show Romney leading the race, while four others reveal the opposite conclusion suggests that the contest is very tight. However, because Gingrich is now leading in more polls, it provides further clues that the momentum is on his side.

If Newt Gingrich manages to win the South Carolina primary tomorrow, one of two things will happen: first, if Romney rebounds with a Florida victory on Jan. 31, then the Gingrich win may prove to be just a bump on the former governor’s road to the nomination. Second, should the race continue to evolve into a two-way Romney-Gingrich race and the Florida result is close, we could be starting a whole new campaign phase; one that could lead to all 50 states having an important role in the delegate count.

Contrary to popular opinion expressed earlier in the week, it now appears that the Republican presidential nomination campaign is not over, and the former House Speaker has again successfully rebounded from oblivion. It is fair to suggest that even more surprises are headed our way.

Why Gingrich is Right … and Wrong

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, on the campaign trail in Florence, SC, intimated that former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Gov. Rick Perry should drop out of the race and unite behind him as the only viable conservative candidate who can still overtake former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. The South Carolina primary is this Saturday, Jan. 21.

While Gingrich is correct that conservatives need to unite behind one candidate, he’s wrong in saying he’s that man. Actually, of the three, it is Rick Santorum who has the better chance of beating Romney in South Carolina and beyond. While it is highly unlikely that anyone drops out of the race before Saturday, and thus Romney probably wins the Palmetto State primary even though South Carolina is arguably his weakest state in the country, it is Santorum who has the least political baggage among the three remaining conservatives.

Santorum is routinely attacked for his position on social issues, but his stands are closer to the average Republican primary voter, particularly in South Carolina, than almost anyone else running, though both Gingrich and Perry also have consistently strong records from a GOP perspective.

Gingrich showed he had a glass jaw in Iowa when, after establishing a lead across the board in all polls, issue advocacy ads highlighted some of his weaknesses. In particular, reminding the electorate of the Cap & Trade television commercial in which he appeared with then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi proved to be most damaging. Once the voters remembered this and his other less-than-conservative stances, Gingrich’s numbers came tumbling down and he ended up finishing fourth in the Hawkeye State Caucuses. If matched with President Obama’s political machine in a general election, the attacks upon him would be even more severe and devastating, thus making the former Speaker unelectable.

There is no question that Gov. Perry is finished, though he continues to say he is staying on through South Carolina and probably Florida. Perry has the money to compete, but not the voter support. After a brilliant start, the governor fell to the depths of polling statistics quicker than anyone in recent memory. Failure to properly handle the immigration issue, coupled with horrendously poor debate performances and speaking gaffes in New Hampshire, have relegated him to also-ran status. But he will still attract a significant vote percentage away from another conservative, and that only helps Romney.

For his part, Gingrich argues that only he has the experience to run a national campaign against Mr. Obama. “I helped Reagan in ’80, I helped Reagan in ’84. I helped in ’88 when Bush was down 19 points in May and we won by 6 in November … I helped design the ’94 campaign, which had the largest one-party increase in an off year in American history,” the former Speaker said. While it is undoubtedly true that he helped Messrs. Reagan and Bush, it is clear that claiming victory had more to do with their own candidacies and campaigns, spiced with reverse assistance from then-President Jimmy Carter in 1980 and Democratic nominees Walter Mondale in 1984, and Michael Dukakis in 1988, than what role Mr. Gingrich played in the conquests. There is no denying, however, he was the principal architect of the 1994 Republican landslide that brought the GOP their first House majority in 42 years. But, does that change this week’s result in South Carolina after 18 years have elapsed? Almost assuredly not.

While Mr. Gingrich is right that former Gov. Romney will win this primary if conservatives don’t unite, he’s wrong in thinking he is the focal point around whom the movement coalesces. A victory in South Carolina will virtually clinch the nomination for Mr. Romney, thus bringing the preliminary campaign to an early close, while simultaneously jump-starting the general election.

Gingrich Rebounds Yet Again

A new Public Policy Polling survey of the South Carolina Republican electorate (Jan. 11-13; 803 South Carolina GOP primary voters) entered the public domain over the weekend, and it shows former House Speaker Newt Gingrich making another climb back up the candidate preference charts.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leads the poll, but again with a percentage under one-third of the Republican vote (29 percent). Gingrich now closely follows at 24 percent. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) is third with 15 percent, and Pennsylvania ex-Sen. Rick Santorum is in a virtual dead heat with the Texas congressman at 14 percent. Again, as has been the pattern around the country and especially so in South Carolina, a clear majority of the respondents favor a candidate other than Romney to be the eventual Republican nominee but fail to coalesce around one alternative candidate.

Answering the question as to whether or not the polling sample would favor Mr. Romney as the nominee or someone else, 58 percent responded that they want a candidate other than the one-term former Massachusetts governor. Thirty-four percent, about five points higher than the number choosing him on the ballot test question, said they want Romney to win the nomination.

An interesting series of questions asked the respondents who they most trust to handle issues within a certain public policy sector. In relation to whom they believe would best handle economic issues, Mr. Romney topped the universe of candidates with 35 percent, followed by Mr. Gingrich at 25 percent. Pertaining to foreign policy, this particular South Carolina polling sample believes that Mr. Gingrich is the most trustworthy (41 percent), followed by Mr. Romney (22 percent). On the social issues front, it’s former Sen. Santorum who places first (23 percent), followed closely by Messrs. Romney (21 percent) and Gingrich (19 percent). Therefore, it appears the issues most closely identified with a particular candidate do resonate with the South Carolina voters at least to a degree.

In terms of who the individuals want as their second choice, Mr. Gingrich again does well. A full 20 percent of those questioned say the former House Speaker and Georgia congressman would be their second choice to become the Republican presidential nominee. Messrs. Santorum and Romney both scored 17 percent on this question. The answers to this question again suggest that Gingrich is gaining strength among South Carolinians, since his numbers across the board are noticeably improving from his disappointing showings at the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

In the remaining week of the South Carolina campaign, can Gingrich amass enough support, likely requiring him to convert voters that now support Mr. Santorum and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (standing at 6 percent in the poll), to overtake Romney and win the Palmetto State primary? It doesn’t appear so, but the PPP findings suggest that Gingrich does have hope to do so if things break his way in the next couple of days.

Should Romney hold on to win South Carolina, perhaps his weakest state in the country, it may deal a death blow to the other candidates or, at the very least, increase his already substantial momentum in Florida, which is the next stop for the candidates on Jan. 31.

If Gingrich, or one of the other candidates, somehow builds a coalition to topple Romney this Saturday, then the whole race would scramble again and a long battle possibly touching all 50 states might conceivably ensue. It will be an interesting week in the south.