The State Of The Race In Florida, Post-Debate (And The State Of The Union)

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So many events, so little time.  Between the debates, primaries results, polls and now the State of the Union, I’m hard pressed to keep up with my day job.  But we soldier on, in the belief that these posts bring a ray of sunshine into what may otherwise be a dreary day. Buck up America! It’s election season!

To begin, Bert Johnson and I have our post-South Carolina video comments up online here for your viewing pleasure.

Meanwhile, the immediate post-debate reaction among the pundits seems consistent with my insta-analysis from last night: that it likely didn’t do much to affect the polling trajectory there that, so far, has Gingrich climbing into a lead over Romney, with Paul and Santorum trailing far behind.  Shortly after I posted yesterday, PPP did release their first post-South Carolina Florida poll which shows Gingrich leading Romney 38% to 33%, with 13% for Rick (“I am not a headless chicken”) Santorum, and 10% for Ron Paul. (PPP surveyed 921 likely Republican primary voters on January 22nd and 23rd. The margin of error for the survey is +/-3.2%.) In looking at the PPP crosstabs, a couple of interesting items are worth mentioning.

First, consistent with my prior analysis (but not with that of most other political scientists), the polling data suggests that Gingrich, and not Romney, will benefit if Santorum, the other remaining conservative, drops out. Santorum supporters choose Gingrich over Romney 50-23% as their second choice, and if Santorum is dropped from the field of candidates, Gingrich’s lead grows to 43-36%.

Q9 If the candidates for President were just Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Mitt Romney, who would you vote for?

If Newt Gingrich, press 1.

If Ron Paul, press 2. If Mitt Romney, press 3.

If you’re not sure, press 4.

Gingrich …………………………………………………. 43%

Paul ………………………………………………………. 12%

Romney …………………………………………………. 36%

Not Sure…………………………………………………. 9%

If I’m Newt, I am making kissy noises at Santorum all this week, in the hope I can get benefit from an endorsement when Santorum concedes the race, as he inevitably will.  (Interestingly, Paul’s supporters are evenly divided between Newt and Mitt as their second choice, at 41% a piece.)

Second, PPP finds that 16% of respondents have already voted in Florida.  This is consistent with the number I’ve heard elsewhere.  Among those, Romney has a slight lead, 43-40%, over Gingrich. This gives him a bit of a cushion against a late surge towards Gingrich, but only if the race is close.

Third, and in a sign of just how much success begets success, Gingrich is now viewed as equally likely as Romney to defeat Obama.  This is consistent with Gallup’s results at the national level which I reported yesterday.

Q10 Which of the Republican candidates do you think has the best chance of defeating Barack Obama?

Newt Gingrich …………………………………………. 37%

Ron Paul ………………………………………………… 5%

Mitt Romney……………………………………………. 37%

Rick Santorum………………………………………… 6%

Someone else/Not sure …………………………… 14%

Remember, about 25% of likely Republican primary voters in Florida support the Tea Party, and fully 44% describe themselves as evangelicals Christians.  Tea partiers support Gingrich over Romney 46-20%, but 21% support Santorum.  If he drops out, these Tea Partiers are likely to throw their support to Gingrich. Among evangelical Christians, Newt leads 42-23% over Mitt, with Santorum at 18%.  So much for the argument that Gingrich’s “baggage” will make him unacceptable to the religious right.

It is still relatively early in the Florida race to be drawing firm conclusions, particularly with another debate coming on Thursday.  But notice the RealClearPolitics aggregate polling in South Carolina leading up to Newt’s resounding win there on Saturday (Gingrich=Green, Romney=Purple, Paul=Yellow, Santorum=Brown).

Now look at the current polling trends in Florida (same color scheme).

Yikes! It’s deja vu all over again!  If I’m Mitt Romney, the parallels between South Carolina and Florida – Newt’s surge to the top, his polling collapse, and his resurgence – would make me uneasy enough to want to change tactics and disrupt the dynamics before Newt pulls off another Bachmann miracle.  That means going negative bigtime, a la Iowa, and another nasty debate performance on Thursday.

Meanwhile, we have the State of the Union tonight.  Remember, these speeches typically serve primarily as an agenda-setting device. Presidents tend not to get any lasting polling bump out of them, and because the viewing audience tends to self-select toward the President’s supporters, reviews tend to be favorable. In an election year, however, the dynamics change just a bit because the speech often serves as preview of the President’s coming electoral strategy.  So this one may have a bit more bite in it than we normally see in one of these staged events.  I look for Obama to lay out some of the campaign themes for the coming year: the need for fairness, a recitation of some of his accomplishments, and a laundry list of items he’d like to see passed as a way of putting down an election year marker by which to paint the Republicans as obstructionist.  I’ll be interested to see who the “man in the balcony” will  be this time around.  Bet it won’t be Tim Thomas!

While I’ll certainly be watching the affair, I wasn’t planning on live blogging unless you, our blogging community, wants the opportunity to participate. If so, I’ll fire up the ‘ol keyboard, pour a scotch, and go at it.  Let me know.

2 Responses to The State Of The Race In Florida, Post-Debate (And The State Of The Union)

  1. Tarsi says:

    I plan on camping out (probably just with a glass of wine though) and participating in the Twitter world as well as preparing for a discussion group on the event tomorrow. I’d join in…

  2. C. Barwick says:

    Sorry, I didn’t see that you asked for readers’ input on this. If it’s not too late (I’m sure it is), I’d love to read your responses! In any case, I really enjoy your writing, and I’ll keep reading!

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