Tag Archives: Iowa

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.

Winning the “Not Romney Primary”

Now that most of the dust has settled from the first-in-the-nation caucus for the GOP presidential nomination, it may be a good time to provide additional texture to the popular political punditry concerning the current state of the GOP presidential nomination contest. Sorting out the true meaning of an election is rarely done well during the night of the contest itself, and so it is with Iowa in 2012.

The major media and the “political punditariat” always are inclined to follow the horse race aspect of any campaign. As media consultant Mike Murphy humorously said recently on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program, “the pool of national political reporters are like a bit like a Tyrannosaurus – 30 feet tall, sharp teeth, red meat-eating, with small brains, but they can follow movement.”

Watching only the shiny moving objects this past Tuesday would indicate that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney very narrowly won the Iowa Caucus over former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. The real importance of the Iowa Caucuses, however, may not be his eight-vote victory. Rather, the truly significant aspect is the winnowing of the field in the “Not Romney primary.”

In fact, Romney’s difficulty in cracking through an apparent support ceiling among GOP primary voters and caucus participants has led to a virtual parade of aspirants to the “Not Romney” mantle in this year’s nomination contest.

After Iowa, it seems clear that Mr. Santorum has become the true leader of the GOP’s “Not Romney” primary contest.

All of the political air that had filled the Palin-Trump-Bachmann-Perry-Cain-Gingrich bubble had to go somewhere and in Iowa that somewhere was to the campaign of Rick Santorum, the only contestant not to have a turn at being the “Not Mitt Romney” candidate. His timing was fortuitous, message clear and pitch-perfect for Iowa Caucus goers, and he failed to implode as others had done before him.

At this writing it’s becoming increasingly clear that Mr. Romney has a current “floor” of about 18-23 percent of the Republican primary electorate and a hard “ceiling” ranging from 25 (Iowa, South Carolina, Georgia) to 40 percent (New Hampshire, Michigan, Massachusetts), depending upon the state. In a six- or seven-candidate caucus or primary field, that’s almost always enough to finish in the top three, and sometimes first. As the field winnows, however, a hard ceiling of 25-40 percent rarely prevails.

It seems clear that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich will now turn his rhetorical fire toward Romney, which seems unlikely to improve his own standing, but will very likely hurt his target, thus making him more vulnerable to a Santorum charge.

Performance in the nomination contests through Super Tuesday will largely be expectation-driven. The punditariat has already begun saying that should Romney score less than 40-45 percent in New Hampshire, he will have insufficient momentum to be successful in South Carolina, Florida and the Super Tuesday states of the South. Santorum has been in the low single digits in New Hampshire (and elsewhere) and his impressive showing in Iowa already is being discounted as a “one-state wonder” in some quarters. If, however, the Pennsylvanian places second in the Granite State and Romney finishes in the 30s rather than the 40s, the fight for the nomination will essentially become a two-man race.

The serial movement of conservatives from one “Not Romney” candidate to another, and the former governor’s lack of growth among self-described conservatives suggests that he has emerged as their least favorite option. This is anything but a catbird seat for someone hoping to win the GOP presidential nomination. Romney does have large amounts of campaign and Super PAC money, but conservative dollars are sitting on the sidelines just waiting to flow to the eventual “Not Romney” primary contest winner.

The days and weeks ahead will put all remaining GOP candidates to the test. Considering all that we’ve seen so far, how this ends is anyone’s guess.

Bachmann Out of the House, Too?

Yesterday, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) ended her presidential quest after a poor showing in her native state of Iowa. Now, she must soon determine whether she will seek re-election to her House seat, a decision that is apparently not clear cut.

While campaigning for president these past many months, Rep. Bachmann’s attendance for House votes has been poor. In a body where almost all members participate in more than 90 percent of the recorded votes per session, the former presidential candidate’s absentee rate is well above 40 percent. Regardless of ideology, voting attendance tends to be a killer issue for incumbents in both parties.

The Minnesota representative also has to decide whether continuing to serve in Congress helps her achieve national political goals. Like former presidential or vice-presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin have found, having a regular media presence is a much better forum than representing a single political constituency.

Redistricting is another concern. Though Bachmann has won her seat three times, twice in the most difficult Republican years of 2006 and 2008, her district is marginal and potentially competitive in a general election. It’s a sure bet the Democrats will target her if the soon-to-be-released, court-drawn 2012 map keeps her in a vulnerable position.

The Minnesota Republican convention is scheduled for April 14, when party delegates will choose nominees for the various positions. Under Minnesota law, individuals can force an August primary if they are not victorious in the convention, but that rarely happens.

Expect Rep. Bachmann to take some time before deciding her next political move, but it would not be surprising to see her leave Congress when her current term expires.

Iowa Confusion – Anything Can Happen

Public Policy Polling published a new survey of Iowa Republican Caucus voters as part of their ongoing tracking program. The study (Dec. 16-18; 597 likely Iowa GOP Caucus attenders), now gives Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) a 23-20-14 percent lead over Mitt Romney and ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Several things to make note of regarding this data: First, Mr. Paul is now surging to the top of the heap. This means his loyal band of committed supporters become even more important as the field of candidates begin to bunch together before the final stretch run. Secondly, it is clear the attacks launched against Gingrich over the airwaves by the Paul and Romney campaigns are taking a toll upon the former Georgia representative, particularly without an in-kind response. But, there is more to these results.

The lower tier of candidates is also creeping up. For the first time, a poll shows Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum all in double-digits. All three are tied in this poll, commanding 10 percent. It is the first time a distinct upward move has been detected for Santorum, in particular.

The fact that the race is getting closer from top to bottom could suggest that the Iowa campaign is far from over, even though the vote is just two weeks from today, with Christmas and New Year’s in between. Much more will unfold here very shortly.

The Ron Paul Surge

A new Public Policy Polling survey (Dec. 11-13; 555 likely Iowa Republican Caucus attenders) shows Texas Rep. Ron Paul pulling to within one point of present campaign leader Newt Gingrich, 21-22 percent. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney places third, tallying 16 percent, followed by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) at 11 percent, while Texas Gov. Rick Perry trails with 9 percent.

The results show an eight-point swing in Paul’s favor since PPP’s Dec. 3-5 poll. In that study, Gingrich scored 27 percent and Paul 18 percent, while Romney remained steady at 16 percent.

The current poll respondents are more informed and politically active than those in an average sampling cell. Fifty-two percent of the group members watched last Saturday night’s televised debate held in Des Moines. A full 15 percent of those polled said that they have personally seen more than one candidate give a speech. And, by a margin of 67-20 percent, the sample cell believes it is very or somewhat important that a candidate has spent “a lot of time” in Iowa.

Though the candidate preference question has tightened, the respondents’ perception regarding which contender has the best chance of defeating President Obama hasn’t changed much. Here, it is former House Speaker Gingrich who is perceived to be in the best political position for the general election. A full 30 percent say he is strongest. Twenty-one percent believe Mr. Romney has the best chance of unseating the President, while only 14 percent say the same about Rep. Paul. Following this question was one that clarified the respondents’ perspective: by a margin of 56-32 percent they say the candidates’ issue positions matter more than their ability to win the 2012 general election.

Since 40 percent of this polling sample said they could eventually support someone other than the person they named in this survey, a second-choice question was asked. There, the leading candidates basically fought to a draw. Gingrich is the second choice of 14 percent of those polled, Romney 13 percent, Paul 12 percent, Bachmann 11 percent and Perry 10 percent. In answering the question about who they believe will actually win the Republican presidential nomination, again Gingrich is the top choice. Twenty-six percent of the respondents named him, Romney polled 21 percent, and Paul 12 percent. All others were in single-digits.

Like the Caucus goers as a whole, this polling sample is comprised of very conservative voters. Seventy-seven percent of those surveyed consider themselves to be very (42 percent) or somewhat (35 percent) conservative. Additionally, by a margin of 46-24 percent the participants believe there is a “war on Christmas.”

This poll, like so many others taken of the Iowa caucus electorate, again reveals the closeness and volatility of the current Republican presidential contest. As the candidates turn toward the home stretch in Iowa, it appears that a three-horse race is headed to a possible photo finish.

Iowans attend their Caucus meetings on Jan. 3, so it remains to be seen just how the race changes over the holiday period. With Christmas now just days away, the field could become politically frozen. If so, the campaign becomes a turnout game for Jan. 3. The Hawkeye State result will likely set the tone for the rest of the campaign.

Gallup: Who’s Acceptable

The Gallup organization conducted a different type of national Republican presidential poll last week. Their survey (Nov. 28-Dec. 1; 1,012 adults; 464 self-identified Republicans or Republican-leaning Independents) was designed to discover which of the GOP candidates is the most acceptable to the base electorate. Not surprisingly, considering the events of the past few weeks, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney top the charts.

Sixty-two percent of those sampled rated the former House Speaker as acceptable versus 34 percent who feel he is not. Romney scores a ratio of 54:41 percent acceptable to non-acceptable. No other candidate is in positive numbers.

Despite the national polling as well as within the state of Iowa, the candidate in the third-best position in terms of having the widest acceptability rating is not Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14), but rather Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Though both men are upside down, Perry scores 41:52 percent, while Rep. Paul posts only a 34:62 percent tally.

Gallup also analyzed the results by political ideology. Of those identifying themselves as conservatives or Tea Party supporters, Gingrich performs even better with 68 percent of the first subset saying he is acceptable and a whopping 82 percent of the TP group signaling favorability.

Romney only gets a positive acceptability rating from 55 percent of the conservatives and 58 percent of the Tea Party supporters.

Gov. Perry receives only a 45 percent rating from conservatives and an identical percentage from Tea Party members, far below what he should be scoring within what should be his strongest base group. But Rep. Paul is even more disappointing, tallying just 30 and 27 percent acceptability among conservatives and Tea Party supporters, respectively.

Three Scenarios: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina

Now that retired business executive Herman Cain has effectively ended his presidential quest, how will the campaign now unfold?

A new Iowa poll (Selzer & Company; Nov. 27-30; 401 likely Republican Caucus participants) stakes former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to a relatively substantial lead as we come within four weeks of the Hawkeye State Republican Caucuses. At these meetings attenders will cast the first live votes of the 2012 presidential contest.

According to the latest polling data, Gingrich places first with support from 25 percent of those polled. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) is second with 18 percent, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney follows with 16 percent. No other candidate registers in double-digits.

Without Cain in the race, the national campaign will likely evolve into a two-way race, but it’s a threesome in Iowa. A Gingrich win there on Jan. 3 will begin a two-way campaign between Romney and him. Romney still leads in New Hampshire polling and is expected to win the Granite State. No non-incumbent Republican presidential candidate has ever placed first in both the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, and so chances are good that will play out again.

If Gingrich and Romney both have a win under their belts, then the two would go into South Carolina, arguably Romney’s weakest state, tied 101. But a big win there could catapult Gingrich to a victory in Florida, where he is already enjoying landslide leads in polling, and the culmination of these results might make the former Speaker unstoppable.

Should Romney pull what would now have to be considered an upset win in Iowa, he could be in position to wrap up the nomination early; that’s unlikely, but possible. With plenty of resources to turn out his vote, a lower participation rate three days into the bitterly cold new year could allow him to steal a win. Gingrich, because he has less in the way of money and organization, could be polling better than he will actually perform on Caucus night, thus opening the door even wider for Romney.

Capturing both Iowa and New Hampshire would give Mr. Romney strength going south, something he badly needs. Though he would have difficulty winning in South Carolina on Jan. 21 under any circumstance, a good showing coupled with his two earlier victories could make him the favorite in Florida.

Winning three out of the first four nominating events and then moving to the Nevada Caucuses on Feb. 4 (the first western delegate selection event and a Romney place of strength) would make the former Massachusetts governor extremely difficult to stop. At that point, it is likely Gingrich and the others would not have the resources to complete with Romney, whose fundraising would undoubtedly be even more robust than it is today. Should events unfold in this manner, it would be Romney who would then be moving unencumbered toward the nomination.

But, what if Ron Paul wins Iowa? This, too, is possible since he has polled well there for the past several months and has an army of loyal supporters who have proven repeatedly that they will turn out for him. Chances are, however, that a Ron Paul win would be a one-state occurrence. He would likely finish back in the pack in New Hampshire, effectively neutralizing any Iowa win. A Paul victory might then turn the race into a free-for-all, making it a wide-open affair and possibly allow some of the candidates who are not currently polling well to come to the forefront.

The Iowa Caucuses are carrying greater importance than they have in the past because they will almost assuredly set the tone for the balance of the race.

Should Gingrich take Iowa, as he apparently would if the election were today, he sets himself on a path to the nomination with a better-than-expected finish in New Hampshire, followed by wins in South Carolina and Florida.

Back-to-back victories for Romney in Iowa and New Hampshire could, conversely, launch him toward an early clinching.

Finally, a Ron Paul Iowa win would set the stage for a long-term, wide open race that might involve all 50 states before any contender has enough delegate strength to claim the nomination.

It all begins a month from now. Iowa becomes the trendsetter.