Tag Archives: South Carolina

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.

Jon Huntsman: Mr. Irrelevant

While polls are showing Utah former governor and Obama ambassador to China Jon Huntsman making a move in New Hampshire, it is unlikely it will have any real effect upon the Republican presidential contest. In New Hampshire, any registered voter can vote in the political primary of his or her choice. Therefore, Democrats and Independents who would normally vote in the Democratic primary are now free to cast ballots in the Republican contest if they so choose. And, since New Hampshire first-in-the-nation primary turnouts rival general election participation, it is likely that we will see another virtual full turnout election.

In the 2008 general election, 710,970 New Hampshire voters cast ballots. In the combined Democratic and Republican primaries of the same year, 522,378 individuals voted, or 73 percent of those who participated in the general election. To underscore just how big that is, only 455,149 New Hampshire voters cast ballots in the 2010 general election.

It is from this latter grouping of Democrats and Independents that Mr. Huntsman is receiving a great deal of his support. Once the battle returns to closed primary states and places where nomination voter turnout is traditionally low, the former Obama Administration official will recede to his single-digit standing.

The big test for tonight is whether former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum can score a second-place finish. If he does, he could become positioned to upset leader Mitt Romney in South Carolina. Should that happen, then a whole new race will begin to unfold.

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.

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.