Tag Archives: Newt Gingrich

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.

New Hampshire Analysis

As the final votes were being tabulated in last night’s New Hampshire Republican primary, it appears that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the evening’s clear winner, came close to achieving his needed benchmark as he garnered nearly 40 percent of the total vote. As polling predicted, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) was a strong second with just under 23 percent.

The other major story line, however, focused again on former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. But this time, it was his failure to score big in New Hampshire after forcing Romney into a virtual tie last week in Iowa. Santorum was fighting former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for fourth place, and failed to crack double-digits. Santorum needed a strong finish in New Hampshire to propel him into serious contention for the upcoming South Carolina primary on Jan. 21. A second-place finish in New Hampshire, followed by a win in the Palmetto State, could have made Santorum the conservative alternative to Romney, thus turning the campaign into a legitimate horse race. Now it appears it is Romney who will have the momentum as the candidates head south.

A victory in South Carolina, heretofore one of Mr. Romney’s weakest states, would launch him into Florida 10 days later as the undisputed GOP leader. Taking first in the Sunshine State followed by an almost certain win at the Nevada Caucuses on Feb. 4 would allow Romney to sweep the early states, thereby virtually crowning him as the nominee. At that point, the general election would unofficially begin.

For his part, Mr. Romney is already portraying himself as the nominee. He used his New Hampshire victory speech as a forum to begin developing a clear contrast between himself and President Obama. With still no clear alternative candidate rising above the remaining contenders, it may not be too early for him to begin laying such general election ground work. It is doubtful that any one of the other Republicans can now generate enough momentum to establish the proper position to effectively battle the former governor. South Carolina may now represent the last chance for another candidate to score an upset. Failing to do so lessens the chance of anyone but Romney winning Florida even more.

Turnout for the Republican contest was up from 2008, but not substantially so. When all votes are counted, the total turnout will likely break 247,000 cast ballots, about a 5 percent increase from just under 235,000 votes that were cast four years ago. Mr. Romney’s 92,000-plus votes also exceeded ’08 winner John McCain’s 88,571. While Romney is almost touching the 40 percent mark, by comparison, McCain scored 37.7 percent in 2008.

As for Jon Huntsman, who scored a third-place finish in New Hampshire, I’ll refer you to my post yesterday, John Huntsman: Mr. Irrelevant.

Santorum’s Path

After surprisingly battling former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to a virtual tie last week in Iowa, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum must remain strong with a good showing tomorrow night in New Hampshire. While it is clear that Mr. Romney will win the Granite State primary, any slip in his perceived strength could make him vulnerable in other states such as South Carolina. The Palmetto State primary is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 21, and consistently polls as one of the weakest Romney states.

For Mr. Santorum to build upon his Iowa momentum, he will likely have to overcome Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) for second place. The Pennsylvanian already polls ahead of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Additionally, Santorum’s strength grows if Romney’s percentage dips below projections. Right now, three post-Iowa surveys in New Hampshire – Marist/NBC, Public Opinion Research, and Rasmussen Reports – peg Romney at 42 percent, 37 percent, and 42 percent, respectively. Santorum records percentages of 13 (third place), 14 (fourth place), and 13 (third place), respectively.

While it is obvious that Santorum is a long way from winning the state tomorrow, and very likely can’t make up the necessary ground in the remaining time available, he needs to upset Paul for second place. He lags behind the Texas congressman from between five and nine points according to the three surveys. Accomplishing this would show significant progress and certainly expand his momentum in conservative South Carolina, a state where Santorum’s message resonates well. Placing first there in 12 days is a necessity if he is to become universally viable.

It has long been presumed – after all, Romney never breaks 25 percent nationally among Republicans and failed to do so in Iowa – that if one credible conservative candidate becomes the lone alternative to the more moderate Romney, that individual likely would win the nomination. All but Santorum have already eliminated themselves from competition. A second-place finish in New Hampshire and an outright win in South Carolina could make Santorum that conservative alternative.

Should he achieve these benchmarks, the former senator would then be propelled into serious competition in Florida on Jan. 31, thus making the Republican presidential nomination contest a real horse race. Santorum falling short of this formula, however, probably locks up the GOP contest for Mr. Romney. The next three weeks are critical in determining which scenario actually comes to fruition.

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.