February 9, 2012

Political Nerds Rejoice: CNN’s Delegate Calculator Now Online

  3:47 pm

CNN has just given us political junkies a powerful excuse to give productive work or school days the middle finger: their interactive GOP Delegate Calculator.

You can choose who wins each state, who gets how many delegates, and watch the totals along the side as you go. So here are the questions for you to play with: does Romney get to the magical 1,144? Does this end in a brokered convention? Does anyone else other than Romney have a realistic shot at 1,144?

Each scenario you build yields a different link to share, so make your scenario (click the link above), share your link with everyone in the comments, and explain a little of what you did. Let’s see what our community can come up with!


February 8, 2012

Romney’s New Two-Front War

  10:10 am

Or, History Class Does Politics

There is no way to sugarcoat it: last night was a horrible night for the Romney campaign. Even putting aside Missouri for a moment, since that contest was less than meaningless, Romney’s showings in Colorado (losing to Santorum) and Minnesota (losing by double digits to both Santorum and Paul!) were simply awful. It’s as if the Romney campaign was so focused on winning Arizona and Michigan heading into Super Tuesday that they completely overlooked the PR nightmare that would come with losing CO and MN along the way.

Yes, there were no delegates awarded last night. Doesn’t matter. The headlines of an unexpected three-state sweep – and in two of Romney’s strongest states from 2008 to boot – just gave Rick Santorum new life and a surge of momentum. In politics, as in other areas of life, perception is reality. Perception now is that Romney is weak and that he can’t seal the deal.

If South Carolina was the proverbial ninth inning where Romney failed to close out the game once, then Florida and Nevada were the top of the tenth inning where Romney took the lead. Now, Santorum came back in the bottom of the tenth to tie the game up and send it into extra innings again.

Once you get past the strained metaphor, it truly is remarkable how long this primary fight is being dragged out. Romney is still the overwhelming favorite to win it (82% on Intrade), but if this drags on past Super Tuesday we might start asking if having the nomination will be worth it.

Speaking of Super Tuesday, last night’s victories for Santorum present Romney with a whole other set of problems with regards to the calendar. Rumors all over the place are the Gingrich is skipping Michigan and Arizona (much in the same way he skipped the three contests last night) so he can focus on Super Tuesday states like GA, TN, OH, and OK. Even though the campaign publicly denies this being the case, his schedule screams affirmation of the rumors. His goal is clear: knock Romney down while Romney is focused on the February calendar. It’s a risky strategy – will Gingrich even be relevant after skipping an entire month’s worth of contests? – but it’s all that Gingrich has left. And given his utter disdain for Romney, it’s one he will pursue with passion.

If it was to remain a Mitt vs Newt deathmatch, Romney could have continued to coast to the nomination. Now, however, we have a third player complicating the picture: Rick Santorum. The man who was rumored to be dropping out of the race one week ago now has found his campaign amazingly revived again. (Hey, it’s the 2012 Republican Primaries – why not? Nothing should surprise us anymore after this roller coaster of a race.)

While Gingrich skips Arizona and Michigan to focus on Super Tuesday, Santorum this morning announced that he would be focusing all his time and effort on Michigan for the next three weeks. He is hoping his blue collar message, background, and style connects with voters there, and is hoping for another major upset over the Romney machine.

So this is what Romney now faces: a new two-front battle with Santorum in Michigan and Gingrich on Super Tuesday. It is vaguely reminiscent of the two-front war he attempted to take on in 2008 against Huckabee in Iowa and McCain in New Hampshire. (The difference, of course, being that Gingrich and Santorum are far weaker than Huckabee or McCain were.) Still, if there is an underlying lesson to be learned from military history classes, it is this: if at all possible, don’t fight a battle on two fronts. (This, of course, comes right before another important lesson: never get involved in a land war in Asia.)

Romney may well win Michigan – at the moment it is difficult to see a scenario in which he loses what is considered one of his three or four “home states.” However, he will be focused on Arizona as well over the next few weeks, splitting his time and energy between the two while Santorum piles the love and attention on the Great Lakes State. Even if Romney wins Michigan and Arizona, he will turn the corner to find Gingrich and his pile of mud waiting for him one week later. So now Romney, as frontrunner, has to do something the other two campaigns have the luxury of not doing: spend time, resources, and focus on around a dozen states at once.

For whatever reason – and there are innumerable theories out there – Romney cannot end this extra innings version of a primary. It will eventually be over and Romney will eventually be the nominee, but the question now is: at what cost? The longer the GOP primary stretches on, the higher Barack Obama’s chances of re-election get. Romney’s got to find an efficient and effective way to outright win this two-front battle he now finds himself faced with, for the good of the party and ultimately, for the good of the country so he can focus his resources and energy on Obama.


February 1, 2012

An Example of Slanted Reporting

  9:35 pm

Media bias has been a historic criticism of conservatives for many decades and rightfully so.  Most usually, it has involved biased reporting and media coverage that presents the liberal political philosophy in a favorable light and the conservative philosophy is a less favorable light.  While media bias of one sort or another is often times assumed even when it may or may not be the case, it is less often that we can point to a glaring example of such, especially the more subtle variety that might better be described as “slanted reporting” or, if one wants to be more exotic, borderline “disinformation.”

Today’s Wall Street Journal—yes the Wall Street Journal—presents us with an outstanding clinical example of slanted reporting that borders on “disinformation” via omission and incomplete reporting which in the ‘trades’ is considered a more sophisticated, more deadly,  form of bias, less obvious to the reader not fully informed on the subject matter in question.

The article in question is headlined “Outside Groups Outspend Candidates on Ads.”   You can access the article here, but I will copy it in toto below since it is short:

A small group of individuals have donated millions of dollars to a host of new campaign entities that have helped rewrite the presidential-election playbook, according to a new series of campaign-finance reports filed late Tuesday.

Through the first several contests in the Republican presidential primaries, the new breed of campaign entities, called super PACs, have spent more money on television advertising than the candidates themselves.

The data show the super PACs have been funded primarily by a small group of wealthy donors, some of whom have donated $500,000 or more. The new data are the most dramatic evidence yet of the influence that wealthy donors can have on the 2012 campaign as a result of recent court decisions on campaign-finance law, superseding the efforts of established party and candidate organizations.

In all, super PACs supporting the four major Republican presidential candidates have spent a combined $23.5 million on TV ads thus far, while the candidates themselves have spent a total of $20.7 million on TV ads, according to advertising data.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has spent $11.5 million on campaign ads, more than any other GOP candidate. His super PAC, called Restore our Future, is also the largest super PAC: It has spent $14 million so far on campaign ads. In all, the pro-Romney PAC raised $30 million last year, according to campaign-finance reports released late Tuesday. That’s more than many of Mr. Romney’s opponents have raised through their campaigns.

A pair of new political entities created by Democrats last year to support the re-election of President Barack Obama, one of which operates under the same guidelines as the GOP organizations, said they raised $6.7 million last year. Among the largest donors to Mr. Obama’s primary super PAC were the Service Employees International Union, which donated $1 million, and filmmaker Jeffrey Katzenberg, who donated $2 million.

Unlike candidates, the super PACs can raise an unlimited amount of cash. The candidates themselves are limited to donations of $2,500 or less. The result this year, unlike previous presidential primary elections, has been the impact of the small number of wealthy donors.

Mr. Romney’s super PAC raised millions of dollars from Wall Street, paced by contributions from hedge-fund billionaires John Paulson, Robert Mercer and Paul Singer, who donated $1 million each, according to the reports. The super PAC also received $250,000 from energy executive William Koch, $200,000 from hedge-fund investor Paul Tudor Jones and $500,000 from Miguel Fernandez of MBF Healthcare Partners.

The super PAC supporting former Sen. Rick Santorum reported that its top donor was retired investor Foster Friess, who gave $250,000 as of Dec. 31. Mr. Friess has promised to donate more in the future.

Winning Our Future, the organization backing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, raised a total of $1 million from relatives of Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, according to the reports. Mr. Adelson and his wife donated a further $10 million to the organization in January.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul was supported by a super PAC that received a total of $900,000 from Peter Thiel, an investor with San Francisco-based Clarium Capital Management.

The super PACs’ bankrolls have allowed the GOP candidates to rely on them for millions of dollars in TV ads.

In Iowa and Florida, the pro-Romney PAC unleashed a torrent of negative ads that helped dent Mr. Gingrich’s poll numbers. In Florida, the pro-Romney group has spent $8.8 million on TV ads, while Mr. Romney has spent $6.8 million. Of the $17.5 million the group has spent on the election, more than $16.3 million was spent opposing Mr. Gingrich, according to data from the Federal Election Commission.

Mr. Gingrich’s super PAC has spent a total of $4.4 million on ads, while his campaign has spent $2.7 million on ads.

Mr. Paul’s campaign has benefited from about $3.5 million in spending from a super PAC supporting his campaign, according to records.

The article does a reasonable job of providing a summary report on SuperPACs and correctly identifying some of the key players, including Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate who has been bankrolling the Gingrich campaign via the SuperPAC.  Now, here is the problem with this article and its excellent example of sophisticated bias or slanted reporting.  Note carefully the next to the last two paragraphs:

In Iowa and Florida, the pro-Romney PAC unleashed a torrent of negative ads that helped dent Mr. Gingrich’s poll numbers. In Florida, the pro-Romney group has spent $8.8 million on TV ads, while Mr. Romney has spent $6.8 million. Of the $17.5 million the group has spent on the election, more than $16.3 million was spent opposing Mr. Gingrich, according to data from the Federal Election Commission.

Mr. Gingrich’s super PAC has spent a total of $4.4 million on ads, while his campaign has spent $2.7 million on ads.

Reading the conclusion of this story, one would come away with the impression that Mr. Romney and his SuperPAC was the one that unleashed a torrent of negative ads.  There is no mention of the Gingrich SuperPAC ads financed almost entirely by one source, the Adelsons, that produced and aired the TV video/movie ad “King of Bain” or the fact that the Gingrich SuperPAC was bombarding Florida viewers with a torrent of highly negative ads directed against Romney.  It is only the Romeny ads that are described in this fashion.  No mention of the torrent of highly negative Gingrich ads much less that they were financed by one individual.

So, for anyone wanting an example of sophisticated media bias and highly slanted reporting, this is it.  It is not so much what they say or any error in what they say, it is the incomplete reporting—what they don’t say—that gives the reader a distorted picture of reality.

It is sad, I think, that this comes from the Wall Street Journal, once an august newspaper of Dow Jones fame, but now part of the Rupert Murdoch media empire along with Fox News, The Weekly Standard, The New York Post, and other tabloids.  That Murdoch & company are supporting their former employee Gingrich has been obvious for some time.  That the Wall Street Journal would become an accomplice is sad.


January 31, 2012

Florida Results Open Thread

  6:02 pm

Here’s a clean piece of screen to discuss the results as they trickle in. Most polls are now closed in the state; those in the Central time zone will be closing in one hour.

The latest exit poll from Drudge shows Romney’s lead expanding to 49-33 over Gingrich.


Florida Primary Day Open Thread

  4:00 pm

Polls across most of Florida are now open as of 7:00 am eastern time (the rest will open at 7:00 am central time).

As of yesterday afternoon, 600,000 votes had already been cast (308,416 absentee ballots and 283,250 early voters). That matches the total number of votes cast in the South Carolina primary.

Consider this your open thread for the day – it will be updated as time allows throughout the day. Polls close at 7:00 pm eastern/central time.

Update #1: 8 1/2 hours until the first polls close

Here’s a compilation of all the final polls coming out of Florida — someone will have a little egg on their face when the day is over:

InsiderAdvantage: Romney +5 (36-31)
PPP: Romney +8 (39-31)
War Room Logistics: Romney +10 (40-30)
Mason-Dixon: Romney +11 (42-31)
Quinnipiac: Romney +14 (43-29)
NBC/Marist: Romney +15 (42-27)
SUSA: Romney +15 (41-26)
Rasmussen: Romney +16 (44-28)
Suffolk: Romney +20 (47-27)
We Ask America: Romney +22 (50-28)

RealClearPolitics Average: Romney +13.0
Pollster.com Average: Romney +8.5

Update #2: 6 hours until the first polls close
Today isn’t only the Florida primary, fellow political nerds. It is also the filing deadline for the year-end FEC fundraising reports. We’ll be back later tonight with an official Q4 fundraising leaderboard, but here’s what we know so far: Huntsman’s daddy pumped $2 million into Junior’s campaign via his Super PAC; Rick Perry raised less than $3 million in Q4 (!) and blew through his entire cash on hand totals during the December leadup to Iowa; Gingrich’s Q4 haul neared $10 million.

Oh, and according to a new “study” released this morning, the Florida campaign over the past week has been measurably the most negative in modern political history, with 92% of the advertisements being attack ads. Yikes.

Update #3: 2 hours until the first polls close
This is the Hour O’ Exit Polls, folks, so post ’em when you see ’em. CNN, ABC, and the NYT should be releasing some information, among others.

The Drudge siren announces some (leaked) exit poll results:

  • Romney – 46%
  • Gingrich – 32%
  • Santorum – 12%
  • Paul – 7%

Other numbers:

  • 70% identify as conservatives;
  • 37% said Romney ran a more unfair campaign, compared to 34% who said Gingrich did;
  • 45% said electability was the most important factor in choosing a nominee (experience – 20%; character – 17%; being a “true conservative” – 13%)
  • 67% said the debates mattered in who they voted for;
  • 40% are age 65 or older

Update: NYT exit poll numbers peg the race at a 44-30 lead for Romney, the same 14% margin that Drudge is reporting.

A source inside one of the GOP candidate’s campaigns tells Andrew Breitbart that they have seen numbers indicating a 47-34 Romney lead — a similar margin.

Romney is winning seniors by a 15% margin over Gingrich.


January 27, 2012

Newt’s Money Man Under Investigation for Bribery and Alleged Chinese Mob Ties

  3:35 pm

Yesterday I posted a CBS News profile of the Gingrich presidential effort’s primary money man, Sheldon Adelson.  Today, ABC News is out with a story that Adelson has been under investigation for nearly a year by the Justice Department concerning allegations of bribery and connections to Chinese organized crime. Read the story here.  As I discussed in yesterday’s posting about the Gringrich-Adelson connection, the most compelling cause for concern is that Adelson is essentially the source of funding that has kept Newt’s campaign viable via the SuperPAC.  He financed the “King of Bain” TV/video that made false and dishonest allegations concerning Romeny and his activities while at Bain Capital, as well as financing what can only be described as blatant attacks on the fundamentals of free enterprise capitalism.  One might expect such activity from the likes of George Soros or other “billionaire socialists” shilling for the left-wing of the Democratic Party, but it is shocking to see that kind of thing play out in a Republican presidential primary.  There is absolutely no way that Gingrich can avoid the logical suspicion that, should his campaign succeed, he would be owned by Mr. Adelson.  That point might be debatable if Newt had say a dozen $10 million plus contributors to his SuperPAC or other associated campaign support activities—but he does not.  Just this one.

As I have made clear in past writings, I am no “Rombot.”  I initially preferred either of two other candiates (Daniels or Christie).  So, while I do plan to vote for Mitt Romney (along with a little sentiment for Ron Paul) in my state’s primary, that is not what motivates my concern over the character, direction, and style of the Newt Gingrich campaign.  I have seen a lot in presidential politics over many years.  I totally identify with that old Reagan punch-line:  “They say politics is the second oldest profession, but from what I’ve observed it bears a close resemblance to the first!”  Yet, I cannot recall anything like what we have seen from Gingrich in the last 60 days.  His penchant for serial prevarication and revisionist history,  calculated manipulation, lack of a consistent identifiable philosophical framework, dependence on essentially one primary financial backer, together with what can only be described as volatile and (in my judgement) sociopathic behavior, combine to make him unacceptable for the presidential nomination of the Republican Party, much less for the presidency itself.  And, if all of that were not enough, his own history and track-record should be the final straw.



January 26, 2012

Newt’s Sugar Daddy

  2:54 pm

There has already been some discussion in the various media concerning Newt’s principal source of SuperPAC support.  Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is reported to have already contributed $10+ million (with more likely to come) to the Gingrich effort in one way or another.  Regardless of what anyone thinks about the merits, or the free-speech rights, of the SuperPAC’s, when one individual (or individual and spouse) contribute $10+ million to a presidential campaign effort attention is warranted.  This is not to suggest that there is anything illegal or unethical, rather it is that in politics money buys influence regardless of party, philosophy or whatever—it’s just a fact.  Yesterday, CBS News profiled Newt’s largest contributor, and because some might suggest that he is largely responsible for the Gingrich campaign’s viability, the profile is worth a look:


January 22, 2012

Sean Trende on South Carolina.

  2:58 pm

Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics is out with a cursory analysis of the South Carolina results and their implications for the GOP race as of today.  Many long-time Race readers are familiar with Sean as he periodically wrote for Race in the 2008 cycle.  As readers know, I am not a Newt fan; I have serious concerns over his suitability for the presidency.  Those characteristics of concern to me—his volatility, his sense of personal grandiosity, and his seeming lack of a true philosophical anchor—may once again precipitate a decline in his standing.  Nevertheless, Newt is scoring points with the GOP base vote largely by attacking who and what they reflexively dislike.  His ability to use the embarrassing assertions of his ex-wife as a weapon against the hated “liberal media” was nothing less than stunning.  As Sean points out, the vote in S.C. was a clear repudiation of Romney’s performance during the all important week leading up to primary day and that similar results will occur in numerous other states unless Mitt quickly changes the dynamic and the narrative of this contest.  Sean’s conclusion that there is a reasonable chance that Romney will not be the nominee is, I think, on the mark.  Read his analysis here.


January 21, 2012

Where the Race 4 2012 Goes From Here

  11:19 pm

For the first time in modern political history, the first three states have chosen three different winners in the Republican primary. (Which means, also, for the first time in modern political history a candidate has won South Carolina after losing both Iowa and New Hampshire.)

I’m beginning to think Newt is actually a zombie, reanimating over and over again when people write his political obituary. For sure, the sane elements of the Republican Party have been wishing for his political death ever since last summer when a vast majority of his campaign staff quit in disgust of a man who couldn’t organize his way out of a paper bag or maintain a focus or vision for longer than it takes Barack Obama to say, “Look…”

My friends from the left side of the political spectrum are literally celebrating tonight in glee over Newt Gingrich’s victory in South Carolina. And it makes sense. Newt Gingrich’s approval rating sits at 27% among Americans at the moment. (Apparently, all 27% live in South Carolina.) Nominating this guy would be a nightmare scenario for the Republican Party, not just in 2012 but for many election cycles to come. Just as we were negatively branded ‘the party of George Bush’ in 2006 and 2008, we would be branded ‘the party of Newt Gingrich’ in 2012, 2014, and probably into 2016 (unless the all-star lineup of benchwarmers we’ve got now actually decided to get in the race next time and made a positive impression on the American people — but even with that they would start at a disadvantage).

However… I’ve told my friends tonight not to celebrate too much. Mitt Romney will still, ultimately, win the nomination. Fourteen days ago, when everyone thought Mitt Romney had won Iowa by 8 votes, I wrote this here on Race:

if Romney doesn’t finish off Gingrich and Santorum in South Carolina or Florida, he will finish them off on Super Tuesday, March 6. The race will not go beyond that date. Romney is set up to sweep the February caucuses and primaries and, more importantly, is the only one left in the race with any semblance of organizational structure.

Of course, Gingrich and Santorum may be able to stop Romney in Virginia… oh, wait…

And ten days ago, after Romney’s huge win in New Hampshire, I wrote this:

South Carolina does still represent Romney’s biggest challenge to date. Gingrich still looks remarkably strong there even after a couple of incredibly rough defeats in Iowa and New Hampshire. Romney’s lead in most SC polls is in the single digits. And a massive onslaught of negative advertisement is heading in Mitt’s general direction. There is the possibility that someone upsets Romney in South Carolina. If they do, then Romney’s competitors get an extended lease on life until Super Tuesday. If they don’t, this race will be over on Jan 21.

I stand firmly behind both of those predictions. And it’s not difficult to understand why. In terms of money, Gingrich raised just $9 million in Q4. Romney has more than twice that much just in cash on hand totals (Gingrich’s cash on hand totals are likely to be roughly half that $9 million – or less – after factoring in the millions he paid in campaign advertisements that didn’t help leading up to Iowa). Romney raised over $24 million last quarter and has no debt; Gingrich, on the other hand, is still toting around over a million dollars in debt. And it is incredibly difficult to imagine Gingrich’s fundraising picture being bright as he placed fourth place in Iowa and fifth place in South Carolina.

Of course, his fundraising will get a boost now that he has won South Carolina. But it won’t be enough to match Romney’s advantage in the area. Newt will have to be very selective in choosing which parts of Florida to compete in; as has been mentioned on this blog by many different authors, Florida has eight different media markets and costs well over a million dollars to competently run a single TV ad. Newt will find it difficult to play statewide like Romney will — and setting out a coherent, organized, and focused strategy has never been anywhere close to one of Gingrich’s strengths.

So Gingrich has that working against him. He also has Romney’s strength in Florida working against him as well. Gingrich was able to turn a 3- to 5-point Romney lead into a 12-point Gingrich victory in South Carolina. (The largest Romney’s lead ever got on the RCP average was 8 points.) But that was a small lead in a state that everyone knew at the beginning of last year would be one of Romney’s most difficult. Now we pivot to Florida, which Romney nearly won four years ago — even after losing Iowa and South Carolina. In fact, in the last three polls there, Romney has leads of 22, 24, and 26 points. Even with a surge of momentum from South Carolina, Gingrich will find it difficult to cut down those size of leads. More importantly, Romney has built a campaign infrastructure in Florida that is simply and objectively second-to-none. His statewide organization is impeccable, representing much more time, effort, and resources than he ever invested into South Carolina.

Beyond money, Romney’s strength in Florida, and the organizational mismatch, Gingrich also has something much more important working against him: the Republican Party hates him. Perhaps not the Church of the Loud and Angry Conservative primary voters, but the actual Republican Party machine will now pull out all the stops to end Gingrich’s career once and for all. As the esteemed Larry Sabato put it tonight:

Expect a flood of establishment endorsements for Romney before Florida. Republicans that might have to share the ballot with Newt in November are terrified.

And for good reason. Newt is about to find himself to be the loneliest winner of the South Carolina Republican primary history has ever known. Now that Gingrich has shown himself to be capable of actually winning something rather than just making a whole lot of noise, the Party will coalesce around Mitt Romney to stop him, just as they coalesced around John McCain in the final days of the 2008 primary season. Expect a rash of endorsements now for Romney, which equals a rash of new surrogates and campaigners.

And finally, perhaps the biggest thing Romney has going for him at the moment – and that Gingrich has working against him – is the primary calendar. Everyone knew when the Nevada caucuses chose to move their contest back to February that January was going to be Romney’s toughest month in this competition by far. Well, once Florida is in the rearview mirror, the calendar is coming up all Romney:

  • Feb 4 – Nevada caucus
  • Feb 7 – Colorado caucus, Minnesota caucus, Missouri primary
  • Feb 11 – Maine caucus
  • Feb 28 – Arizona primary, Michigan primary
  • March 3 – Washington caucus

Romney is the heavy favorite to win every one of those contests. Eight victories in a row heading into Super Tuesday on March 6. The fact that five of the eight are caucuses helps, since Gingrich couldn’t organize his way out of a paper bag. The fact that Gingrich isn’t even on the Missouri ballot also helps (even though the primary is non-binding, it will still get headlines and be mentioned in with Romney’s victory in CO and MN that night and the next morning).

That’s a whole lot of positive press for Romney, and a long time for Gingrich to go without a win. And once it gets to Super Tuesday, let’s take a look at what Gingrich is up against:

  • Alaska caucus (safe Romney)
  • Georgia primary (safe Gingrich)
  • Idaho caucus (safe Romney)
  • Massachusetts primary (safe Romney)
  • North Dakota caucus (safe Romney)
  • Ohio primary (lean Romney)
  • Oklahoma primary (lean Gingrich)
  • Tennessee primary (lean Romney)
  • Vermont primary (safe Romney)
  • Virginia primary (safe Romney)

If somebody can explain how in the world Newt Gingrich can stay in the race after losing eight in a row during February and then winning only two states on Super Tuesday (one of which is his home state), I’m all ears.

Newt’s victory tonight in South Carolina was impressive. Twelve points is a huge margin, and especially so for someone who placed fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire.

My advice to Newt Gingrich is this: enjoy the high while it lasts. Because as I wrote ten days ago, all you’ve done is delay the inevitable.


January 15, 2012

2012 Isn’t 2008

  6:01 pm

In the wake of Mitt Romney’s victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, some commentators suggest that Romney may be close to clinching the Republican nomination.  Allahpundit summed up the attitude of many saying, “Despite the fact that only a small part of the party seems passionate about him, he’s 11 days and one win away from wrapping this race up.”

The assumption is not made without reason. Since 1980, the winner of the South Carolina Primary has won the GOP nomination. And also since 1980, the winner of South Carolina won either Iowa or New Hampshire first. Therefore, by the logic of the historical record, as Romney won Iowa and New Hampshire, he’ll win South Carolina, and then the GOP nomination.

This problem is that this sort of analysis is too shallow. South Carolina has been critical to the GOP nomination for so long that many have forgotten why it became so important in the first place.

 In 1980, South Carolina held its primary three days before Alabama, Florida, and Georgia voted. Reagan won South Carolina, knocking out southern competitor John Connally and picked up valuable momentum that allowed him to sweep the three southern states. In 1988, the power of South Carolina was further magnified with the introduction of Super Tuesday, with seventeen states (mostly in the South) voting three days after South Carolina. And in 2008, South Carolina occurred ten days before the Florida Primary and 17 days before the biggest Super Tuesday ever: twenty-one contests including many winner-take-all affairs in large states such as California, New York, and New Jersey.

South Carolina’s influence has depended on its proximity to a huge number of primaries, particularly those that are winner-take-all to provide crucial momentum to candidates. This situation prevailed for 28 years, but not any more.

The RNC has given the Republican nominating process a makeover. First, it required that with the exceptions of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada that states hold their contests no earlier than March or face the loss of half of their delegates. Secondly, the RNC required that contests held before April allocate their delegates proportionally. The net result is that many of the big states that made it impossible for candidates to come back from a South Carolina loss in 2008 are slated to vote much later in the process this time around. This makes it virtually impossible for any candidate to mathematically clinch the nomination by winning the required 1,144 delegates until well into the spring when winner take-all-states begin to vote.

In addition, because of Florida moving its primary forward, South Carolina is now voting forty-five days before Super Tuesday, which will only feature eleven contests this year. This doesn’t mean that should Romney win in South Carolina, Florida, and Nevada that he will not have a ton of momentum. It does mean that conservatives opposed to Romney’s nomination will have time to rally and try to beat back the Romney juggernaut, particularly if Romney’s support from party regulars remains as cool as it has been. As of this writing, the Real Clear Politics national polling average shows Romney at 29% among Republican Primary voters, hardly overwhelming support.

Right now the anti-Romney conservative vote is split between Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich. None of these candidates are leaving the race after New Hampshire, but it’s a safe bet that the field will be winnowed after Florida, giving the remaining candidate a chance to consolidate opposition to Romney. While, a difficult task, history tells us it’s not impossible. Ronald Reagan nearly defeated President Gerald Ford for the GOP nomination in 1976 after losing the first six primaries in a row.

The only way the presidential race will be over after South Carolina is if Romney opponents buy into out of date media analysis or surrender to the idea of Romney’s inevitably due to not liking the other alternatives. While after the first two contests, Romney is the clear frontrunner, the ultimate fate of his campaign is still in the hands of Republican voters. Smart political analysts would do well to remember that.


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