Tag Archives: Mitt Romney

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.

Iowa Winners and Losers

Two clear winners emerged from the Iowa Caucuses last night – former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Both men earned 25 percent of the vote, give or take a hundredth of a point when all of the votes are officially tabulated, which means they fought to a virtual draw. The latest tally after last night still shows Romney leading by a scant eight votes of the just over 60,000 votes cast between the two of them.

There had always been speculation about whether Mr. Santorum would get the same surge that every other candidate had received at some point during the Iowa election cycle. Attempting to project ahead for the long term, since 49 other states still must cast their votes, it’s difficult to see another candidate besides Romney having the staying power to claim the nomination throughout the grueling 50-state nomination process.

But the candidates who didn’t perform well in Iowa might be the bigger short-term story. After he spent what will likely add up to be more than $500 per vote cast for him when the financial accounting becomes final, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has returned to Austin to consider whether he should continue his campaign. Fellow Texan Ron Paul also under-performed, after many polls and predictions suggested that he would win the Iowa Caucuses. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) just barely cracked 6,000 votes. During the Iowa Straw Poll, which she won back in August, her grand total was 4,823. Such little growth in the months between the Straw Poll and the full Caucus vote suggested that her campaign was doomed. And it ended today when Mrs. Bachmann announced that she was suspending her candidacy.

Does the Santorum performance now allow him to coalesce the more conservative Republican voters, attracting them from Perry, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (whose precipitous drop in the polls translated to a similar performance when actual votes were cast), and Bachmann? Will it propel him into a one-on-one race with Mr. Romney? It has always been the conventional wisdom that if a candidate could isolate Romney, that individual would win.

Santorum is moving on to New Hampshire with the considerable momentum from Iowa behind him. And although Romney enjoys big leads in the Granite State in polling, if Santorum can place a clear second, it might be enough to secure the mantel as Romney’s top challenger. South Carolina would then become hugely important. If Santorum can upend Romney there, his national campaign could quickly become the real deal. Republicans are returning to a more traditional primary and caucus schedule (meaning the majority of the states are voting after Super Tuesday – March 6 this year), which could favor the late breaking candidate and not Romney, who has been in the top tier since the beginning.

If the eight-vote statewide Iowa margin stands, it will of course be the closest primary or caucus victory in presidential campaign history. Romney’s unofficial total of 30,015 votes is eerily similar to the total he received in 2008, when he lost to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. In that year, Mr. Romney accumulated 29,949, only 66 fewer votes than his performance last night.

Turnout also was similar to 2008. That year, 118,696 people participated in the Iowa Caucus meetings. Last night, the total was 122,255.

It was clear that the predictions of many Democrat and Independent voters would come to the Caucuses in order to re-register Republican and vote for Ron Paul did not materialize. Even in the key college counties of Johnson (University of Iowa) and Story (Iowa State University), Paul failed to place first. Mr. Romney carried both places, albeit only by 10 votes in Story, however.

The only candidate other than Santorum, Romney, and Paul to carry any county was Perry. He won in both Taylor and Union Counties, two southern Iowa entities that border each other.

Once again, it has been proved that a candidate who travels the state and works in a grassroots, one-on-one fashion can score big in the Iowa Caucuses. Santorum understood that and adopted this strategy well. Moving to the larger states like Florida and California, where such campaigning is virtually impossible, will prove more daunting.

Santorum is clearly the big story coming out of Iowa. But what is also clear is that this race has a long way to go.

It Begins Tonight in Iowa

The Iowa Caucuses are finally here and late polling shows that tonight’s result may be inconclusive. Several surveys forecast a very tight race among Mitt Romney, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14), and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who appears to be surging at precisely the right time. The attacks on former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have worked as his fortunes are declining to the point where even he says victory at the Caucuses is beyond his grasp. Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) are hovering around the 10 percent mark, but do not appear to be in serious contention.

Still, a bunching of these candidates where the winner is only a few points ahead of those in the middle of the pack will render the Iowa Caucus vote somewhat meaningless because it is likely that the entire field will continue to New Hampshire (Jan. 10), South Carolina (Jan. 21), and then to Florida (Jan. 31) and Nevada (Feb. 4).

Here are the results of the latest polls:

• Insider Advantage (Jan. 1: 729 likely voters): Romney 23 percent, Paul 22 percent, Santorum 18 percent, Gingrich 16 percent, Perry 10 percent, Bachmann 6 percent.

• Public Policy Polling (Dec. 31-Jan. 1; 1,340 likely Republican Caucus attenders): Paul 20 percent, Romney 19 percent, Santorum 18 percent, Gingrich 14 percent, Perry 10 percent, Bachmann 8 percent.

• American Research Group (Dec. 29-Jan. 1; 600 likely Republican Caucus attenders): Romney 22 percent, Paul 17 percent, Santorum 16 percent, Gingrich 15 percent, Perry 9 percent, Bachmann 8 percent.

• Selzer & Company for the Des Moines Register (Dec. 27-30; 602 likely GOP Caucus attenders): Romney 24 percent, Paul 22 percent, Santorum 15 percent, Gingrich 12 percent, Perry 11 percent, Bachmann 7 percent.

Several points merit attention. First, should Mr. Romney finish ahead of his opponents, he will become the first non-incumbent Republican to ever win both the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primary, assuming he is not surprised there next week. Polling shows him holding consistently large leads in the Granite State. Winning the first two nominating events would give him needed momentum heading into South Carolina, which is clearly his weakest state. He will then need to rebound in Florida (possible) and Nevada (likely) to possibly deliver a knockout blow to some of the weaker candidates.

Second, it’s possible that Rep. Paul is under-performing in polling because the surveys do not accurately detect the number of non-Republicans who could come to the Caucus meetings for the purposes of switching to the GOP in order to participate in the presidential contest. Paul’s strength outside the Republican Party is an x-factor that could provide him enough of an added push for him to claim victory.

Third, it is clear that Santorum is gaining momentum but probably not enough to actually win the Caucuses. Still, a strong top-three finish will definitely keep his campaign alive through at least South Carolina, another state where he has the potential to perform well.

After more than a year of campaigning and enduring countless twists and turns, the first votes of the 2012 presidential contest finally will be cast tonight. The apparent closeness of the Iowa vote will likely yield to a lengthy nomination contest since all of the candidates will move on to other states. With more places holding their primaries and caucuses on a more traditional schedule vis-a-vis the front-loading that occurred in 2008, it is likely that we won’t see a definitive nominee until at least late April and possibly beyond.

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.