Monthly Archives: January 2012

The State of the Race in Florida, Post-Debate II

Two new Florida polls, one commissioned by SunshineState News, and the  second by Quinnipiac, came out today, and both show Romney leading Gingrich by identical 9% margins, 40-31% and 38-29%, respectively.   Both polls were conducted prior to last night’s debate.  But nothing I saw last night persuades me that it will change the general polling trend, which since Monday’s debate has favored Romney.   As I noted at the conclusion of last night’s event, and which many of you picked up on in your comments, Gingrich was not at his best.  Although he scored some points, he was on the defensive most of the night, and even his attempt to score points at the media’s expense  – a favorite tactic – did not work last night, as Wolf Blitzer was prepared for Newt and did not back down.  In the end, the audience turned on Newt during that particular exchange.

I think at least some of the blame for Newt’s less-than-stellar performance, however, has to be credited to Mitt. Whether it was his new debate coach, or some other factor, he came into the debate with a game plan – attack Gingrich – and he executed it well, if not flawlessly.   Yes, he occasionally revealed his ham-handedness in interpersonal relations, but it was also clear that he was better prepared than Newt, thanks in no small part to better opposition research.   This was one of those organizational factors which was supposed to be Romney’s strength, and it showed last night, when Newt thought he had scored a point in citing Mitt’s investments in Freddie Mac, only to have Mitt tit-for-tat Newt by citing the latter’s investments in the same mortgage company.  That blunted some of Newt’s strike, and really set the tone for the debate.

Let’s be clear here:  Florida was always Romney’s state to lose.  Newt’s only chance was to build off his South Carolina victory with two strong debate performances in order to offset Mitt’s superior organization and resources.  Remember, Mitt has been running television ads in Florida since before South Carolina, and he had a 20% lead in most polls prior to Gingrich’s victory.  Even with two strong debate performances I wasn’t sure Newt could pull this out.  At this point, however – unless I’m missing something – Romney is going to win this by a margin similar to Newt’s victory in South Carolina.

About the only other factor that might upset this outcome is Rick Santorum dropping out and endorsing Newt. Santorum had a very strong performance last night, leading some on-air pundits to speculate that he might have resurrected his candidacy.  But he has run, to my knowledge, no television ads whatsoever in Florida, and in a winner-take-all state (at least so far – there is some debate about whether that might change), he will receive no delegates here.  Indeed, beyond the visibility afforded by the national debates – and the chance to visit his remarkable youthful 93-year-old mother, there is absolutely no incentive for Rick to invest any resources whatsoever in Florida (again assuming they retain the winner-take-all delegate format).   He’s polling at about 12% – that may increase a couple of percentage points as a result of last night, but he’s not in any danger of winning there.   This was all about the road ahead, and I persist in thinking that road leads to only one destination.

So where does the race stand?  Political scientist John Sides posted this self-deprecating piece recently in which he imagined a conversation with a fictional “cranky reader” who took him to task for his failure to adequately forecast how the Republican nomination race was playing out.  And while I have disagreed with John on some aspects of his analysis – particularly the idea that the winnowing of the Republican field would benefit Romney – we shouldn’t lose sight of his larger point.  Journalists, by necessity, must chronicle the daily ebbs and flows of the nomination race, something I pay attention to by virtue of posting on a daily basis (and which I mostly critique.)   As a political scientist, however, John is really taking a longer view of this race, and everything political scientists think they know regarding the nomination process has indicated from the beginning that Mitt Romney should be the eventual nominee.   That’s John’s view and nothing that has happened so far suggests his long-range forecast is wrong, even if the race may not have played out exactly as some of us anticipated.   Contrast that with the bandwagon effect playing out in the punditocracy, which first had Mitt coronated, then after South Carolina was breathlessly speculating about a brokered convention, and after next Tuesday will likely be back to coronating Mitt again.

Nothing is certain in life except death and taxes.  The nomination process is inherently more fluid, and hence less predictable, than the general election.  But it is not a random process – political scientists have some ideas regarding which factors tend to exert the greatest influence on outcomes, even if we aren’t completely certain how they interact over a sequential process that stretches across many months.  Sometimes new variables – say, 18 debates in which one individual generally is superior – can alter the course of the process, at least in the short-term, in unpredictable ways.  But that doesn’t mean we start from scratch every four years and build a new forecast model.  It’s still all about the fundamentals. I’ll develop this notion in a separate post.

A final point.  I have long pushed back against the idea that an extended nomination fight will weaken the eventual Republican nominee by providing fodder for Democrats to use in the general election. Instead, I have said a lengthy process can only strengthen the eventual winner. Last night provides evidence supporting my argument.  Romney has sharpened his defense of what were potential weak points regarding his taxes, and his work at Bain.  He has also become a better debater – as I noted above, Newt struggled in part because Mitt was more effective at parrying Newt’s now somewhat predictable thrusts.  If Newt is to stay in this race, he has to elevate his game as well.  This will be harder to do in the absence of more debates, and with fewer resources on which to draw.  But he has no choice if he wants to remain competitive.

Less than five days before Tuesday’s Florida primary.  Are there any surprises yet in store? Stay tuned.

Live Blogging the Final Florida Debate

(Sorry about the typo-filled email – just predebate jitters…)

It’s hard to underestimate just how important this debate is for both Mitt and Newt.  How big is it?

It’s Tea Party versus Republican Party.

Main St. vs. Wall St.

Insurgency vs. Establishment.

Rotund guy vs. Not rotund guy

Walmart Look vs. GQ Look

Loose vs. Stiff

Button down vs. Button Up.

Many marriages vs. One Marriage

Need I continue?  I thought not.

In short, it’s big.  What must each candidate do?

Newt needs to trigger some audience response with his patented media putdowns/I can’t believe you are asking such a dumb question routine that worked so well in past debates, but which was missing on Monday.  He needs to press Mitt on immigration, and back off of the Bain attacks, using them only in response to Mitt critiquing his Freddie Mac connnections. He wants to be aggressive, but in a sensitive cuddly way.

Meanwhile, Mitt must stay on the offensive, pushing Newt on the lobbying connection, not backing down on his defense of capitalism, and for Pete’s sake having a stock, short, simple and believable answer on his income taxes.

Don’t forget that Santorum and Paul are bookending the two main participants.  Paul has largely moved on from Florida, but the debate matters to him because it is shown nationally.  He’s already looking ahead to Maine and Nevada.  Santorum, meanwhile has to view this as his last shot to gain traction in Florida and justify staying in this race.  If he can’t turn the polling numbers around, he may have to decide when to get out, and who to endorse.

The crowd looks very un-Newt like – lots of formal wear.  They seem ready to make noise, however.

National Anthem time. Once again, the virtual flag. I’m feeling virtually patriotic.  Mitt and Rick sing, Newt and Ron do not. Ron can’t because he’s sucking on a lemon.

Introductions. Rick’s Mom Lives in Florida.    Wow – she looks great!  And gets a huge ovation!   Newt, as always, pushing the local issues.   Did you know Mitt was married?  To the same woman?  And that he has several kids?  Just in case you forgot.

Did you hear Newt’s strategic cough during Ron’ s introduction?

Immigration is a difficult issue here for all candidates.  The safe route is to take the Romney/Santorum position, in the belief that you win more Republicans by being hard on immigration than you potentially lose among Hispanics.  For what it’s worth Romney was leading among Hispanics in recent polls.

Newt is jumping on Romney’s “self-deport” comment.  Look for Mitt to point out that Newt used that phrase once before.  I still don’t think this is a strong point for Mitt.

So, am I right?: is there no applause allowed tonight, or are these answers simply not resonating?

Doesn’t take long for Paul to segue from immigration to reducing our presence overseas.

Wow, cheers for English as the official language.

Mitt is incensed!  I take umbrage!  That over-the-top language is code word for Newt is erratic!  He was well prepared for that.  Mitt is energized very early.  Two strongly worded rebuttals.  Similar to the exchange they had on Monday.  Remember that after that early clash, the animosity petered out.

Ok, now both sides are equally offended.  Good. What about Rick and Ron?

Is it a winning issue to be pro-trade with Cuba at this point? Or does it largely not matter to most Floridians?  I honestly don’t know.

Intense Rick is back.  When he gets ignored, the passion builds and spills out when finally gets to speak.

I’ve said it before, but Paul is quite willing to stick to principle, even if it costs him support among Republicans.

Oooops!  Mitt supposedly never saw the ad – the one that he endorsed.  And once that is made clear, he decides to embrace it.  Will this remind voters of flip-flop Mitt?  The crowd boos!

Let’s see if Newt has a better answer on the Freddie Mac lobbying issue.  And he does!  Romney owns shares in Freddi Mac!  Take that, Mitt – you forecloser!

Again, these are distinctions that may not resonate with everyone in the audience.    Nonetheless, I don’t think this is a winning issue for Newt.

Et tu, Newt! Romney obviously prepared for Newt’s line of attack. Score one for opposition research.

I just don’t think Newt gains much here with this attempt to say he’s not a lobbyist, he’s a consultant.

Interlude:  Let’s sit back and hear Dr. Paul explain how Freddie Mac is linked to currency reform.

Rick steps up to try to elevate this discourse.  Let’s stop the feuding.  Frankly, I think he’s right.  The freddie mac issue has been so thoroughly hashed through that I just don’t think more discussion is going to help anyone.

Break I.

Initial scoring: I think Mitt has been generally a bit more effective than Newt because he’s both been on the offensive, and he obviously has been prepared for Newt’s ripostes.  But once again he comes across as less than authentic in both his feigned ignorance of his own ad, and his attempt to say he has no influence over his investments.

In my view, if Newt was on his game, he should have said he was a tiny cuddly cat, and Mitt was a big donkey.  Much better than mouse and elephant.

Now Newt wants to elevate the discourse, trying to attaboy Rick.  He tries to use the attack the media tactic that has worked so well in the past.

Oops, Mitt ruins the mood, and invites scrutiny of his overseas accounts.   Is this a mistake?  Once again, Mitt seems prepared for this exchange.  And he rejects Newt’s second effort to call a personal truce.  He’s really on the offensive tonight, much as I suggested he should be.  But he’s really on the offensive.  Is it too much?  He’s showing little interest in calling off the attack dogs.

Rick comes out sounding like a moderate on tax policy here – score some points for him.

Once again, if you ignore the suggestion to rescind the 16th amendment, Paul talks just enough sense to potentially attract broader support.

Bet Paul would ride circles around Newt.  And he scores point with the elderly voters.

Cool – space talk! Newt can go wild here.  Moonbase Newt!   He reprises his Lindbergh analogy.

Newt, to his credit, doesn’t back down from his grandiose ideas.  Mitt says it wouldn’t fly in his company.  Just another harebrained scheme – Mitt dresses down Newt for “spending billions of dollars to make people happy”.   We just have to say no.  Again, Mitt has come prepared.  He’s determined to put Newt away tonight.

Ron reprises his claim that when the government gets involved in medicine, costs rise. Not clear how he’s going to rein in those costs.

A better answer for Newt than he’s been giving on other issues.  Romney reprises Newt’s refrain, and equally effectively for this audience.  He’s having a good night.  But will someone go after him on Romneycare?

Yes!  Rick does! and he hits Newt too – Rick is also having a good night – passionate, energized, but not angry.

Mitt consulted with the “citizens of the nation” in Massachusetts? Rick has his teeth on Mitt’s leg and will not let go. Mitt’s response here really fudges the issue – the nuances he is trying to identify are not going to sell well.  Rick is on fire here.

“It’s not worth getting angry here”?!   Wow, how patronizing can Mitt be? He’s been showing a real mean streak here.  This is a winning issue for Rick – and Newt benefits while Rick does his heavy lifting.

(Newt really likes Ron – he laughs at all of Ron’s zingers tonight.  But can he win over his supporters in Florida?)


Thoughts? It seems to me that there’s been some heated exchanges, but it has also been something of a disjointed debate as well.  Some exchanges went on too long, and others not long enough.  I don’t know whether I blame Wolf for this.  I think Mitt has continued the strategy he unveiled on Monday, which is to attack Newt on every issue as frequently as possible, in an effort keep Newt on the defensive and to hammer home the idea that Gingrich is erratic, with a record that simply won’t sell in the general election.  I don’t think Newt has responded all that well, and in a state that is already predisposed to Mitt, this is not going to help the cause.  That’s my early read.

Mitt has demonstrated in his asides tonight that he continues to be tone deaf on personal interaction – notice the inadvertent dismissing of Ron’s ode to his wife.

Ok, I suppose this question tells us something.  (Although I think I agree with Jeff that there probably was a more useful way to fill this time.)  Rick’s answer struck a nice balance, emotionally, I think.  Just when he was in danger of bringing everyone down he lightened it up.

Mitt misses an opportunity to take Gingrich to task for his claims to be channeling Reagan – but maybe he thinks Newt is on solid ground here?   Newt evidently thinks so –  and he doesn’t miss a chance to blame the “Romney attack machine” for casting doubt on this claim.

I was wondering when this Cuban issue would come up.  Paul has already made it clear by his comments regarding trade with Cuba that he’s basically ignoring Florida.  My assumption of course is support for keeping trade sanctions on a Castro-controlled Cuba is popular in Florida, but I confess I don’t know how widespread that view is there.  But I’m guessing Rick and Mitt’s views regarding Cuba having wider support here than does Paul’s.

Finally, Newt find his old mojo on this answer on Cuba.

This question from Abraham is going to elicit an interesting response.  I don’t think he’s going to be very happy with Mitt’s response. Nor with Newt’s.  Both answers are indicators of the size of the Palestinian vote.  Again, Newt has an applause line. Where has he been hiding?

How would your religious beliefs affect your behavior in office?  Paul: it wouldn’t.  Mitt: I’m a Christian!  (Who speaks to ….uh….Providence).  America the Missionary.

Newt has a chance here to play up his conversion.  Instead, proving he’s smarter than me, he uses it to point out the secular elite’s “war on religion”.    Third strong response in a row.  Newt finishing stronger than he started – will it be enough?

Strong answer from Rick.  He’s having a great debate.  Were the pundits (including me) too quick to write him off?  Remember, most of his gains will be Newt’s losses.


Tough to score this one.  After the disjointed start, I think everyone has picked it up.  Mitt’s been generally strong, with the exception of his typical tone-deaf slips that periodically reveal a different Mitt, and again raise questions about his authenticity.

Final question: prove your electability against Obama.

Paul, not surprisingly, bases his candidacy on the libertarian principles that have guided him so far.

Romney:  I’m an outsider who will bring real change.  I have the right experience.  Boilerplate for him, but it is also a solid response.

Newt:  Ah, finally – the grandkid reference I said Newt needed!  He needs to step it up with this final answer.   Did he do enough?  He seems not quite as energetic as I’ve seen him in previous debates.

Rick understands that in his position, his answer has to be as much about what’s wrong with Newt and Mitt as it is what’s right with him.

And that’s it.  The final debate before Florida votes on Tuesday.  Mitt’s new debate coach clearly told him to step up the energy, and to focus more on attacking Newt.  I think it unsettled Newt a bit early and although Newt came back, this might not have been enough to change the polling trend in Florida.  Romney may have turned a few voters  off, but it probably was worth it if it prevented Newt from scoring points.  On the whole, then, I don’t think this did enough for Newt, which means Mitt is the default winner.

The other wildcard, of course, is whether Rick’s strong performance will give him a boost, and if so, does that also blunt any potential gains by Newt?   Finally, we need to remember that although Paul is not going to compete in Florida, his debate performance is being watched by caucus goers in Nevada and Maine.  I think he did well by those who are likely to have an affinity with his views.

Let’s see how the Talking Heads respond.   Never mind.  The first segment on CNN is about themselves – how Wolf didn’t back down to Newt.  Sigh.  I guess that’s the signal to wrap this up.

Thanks again for all your comments.  I’ll be on tomorrow with the post-debate spin.

Now, go pour a scotch – you’ve all earned it.

Wait, before you go!  It’s probably interesting to guess what the media will choose as the representative segment that will be replayed endlessly in the next few days.  I have to think it will be the Newt-Mitt exchange on the Freddie Mac investments, and the following one on immigration.  The third possibility will be Rick dumping on both of them.  Finally, a few of Paul’s jokes will be sprinkled in.  But in contrast to previous debates I don’t think there are any made for YouTube moments that Newt will be using against Mitt.

Bottom line:  assuming there’s not a backlash against Mitt’s sometimes harsh demeanor, and his often patronizing tones, I think he probably helped himself the most.  With five days left and no more debates, I think it may be enough to prevent any reversal in the most recent polling trends.




Mitt Gains, Newt Complains: Previewing Tonight’s Florida Debate

As we get ready for tonight’s critical Republican debate, the polls in Florida are volatile, but the overall picture suggests Romney is gaining support while Gingrich stays flat.

On Monday, an Insider Advantage poll had Gingrich up 34.4-25.6% over Romney.  Today, the latest InsiderAdvantage poll (taken yesterday) has the positions reversed, with Romney beating Gingrich 40.3-32.3% – a net gain for Romney of almost 17% in about four days.  In looking at the crosstabs, I don’t see any major demographic differences in the two polls except for an increase in the number of younger Hispanics who responded to the most recent poll.

Meanwhile, a Rasmussen poll also from yesterday shows a similar dynamic with Romney gaining 8% in four days to lead Gingrich 39-31%.  Santorum is at 12% and Paul at 9%.  It appears, then, that Gingrich is holding steady in Florida, but that the undecideds are breaking for Romney – the mirror image of what we saw happen in South Carolina.  It is tempting to attribute some of Romney’s gain to Tuesday’s debate performance, but although I thought Mitt did slightly better than Newt, particularly in the exchange over Fannie Mae, I can’t be sure that particular moment, or the debate more generally, is the primary factor driving the Mittster’s rise.

It may instead simply be the case that as voters begin paying attention to the race in these last days, they are moving toward that candidate who is closest to their political leanings. As I’ve noted before, Florida is a more diverse state, ideologically, than is South Carolina, and one that, on paper, looked more favorable to Romney because of the greater number of moderates and transplants from the North.  Fully half the Florida respondents in this earlier PPP poll said they would not describe themselves “as Southerners”, compared to 48% who said they would.  Romney led Gingrich among the non-Southerners by 37-33%, but trailed badly among southerners to Gingrich by 43-28%.  Similarly, Newt has a positive favorable/unfavorable ratio among Southerners, but not among non-Southerners; the ratios are reversed for Mitt, who is viewed unfavorably more by Southerners.

Remember, Romney did relatively well in Florida in 2008, winning 31% of the vote compared to McCain’s 37%, and that was with Rudy Giuliani, who presumably might have competed with Romney for some votes, pulling down 15%.  He did particularly well in the northeast portion of the state surrounding Jacksonville, as well as along the southern Gulf coast. On the other hand, Mike Huckabee, the conservative in the field, only pulled in 14% in 2008.  Based on his earlier performance, and the state’s demographics, one would expect Romney to be the favorite coming into Tuesday’s primary. The big question was how much of a boost Gingrich might get coming out of South Carolina.

All this sets the stage for tonight’s crucial debate, the final one before the primary on Tuesday. (Yes, I’ll be live blogging the event.)  Although Romney is gaining, the situation remains fluid, with both polls indicating that about 6-8% of respondents are still undecided, and about a fifth say they could still change their mind.  One issue Gingrich should worry about is a pronounced gender gap among Florida voters; all three recent polls show him doing substantially better among men than women. I think he’ll need to have his “grandfather” credentials on full display tonight, with many references to his grandkids, daughters, and new found maturity.  (Motto: I put the “New” in Newt.)

But I think he also needs a new response to Romney’s attacks on his lobbying for Freddie Mac/Fannie Mae.  The “I was just a historian” response just doesn’t cut it.  For starters, few historians get paid that much (to say nothing of political science professors, who often work for free – but don’t get me started).  Perhaps the best defense is a strong offense, along the lines of “My work for Fannie Mae was similar to your work for Bain.”

Of course, Newt’s team complained bitterly that the “no applause” rule in effect on Monday’s debate prevented their candidate from building momentum based on the crowd reaction to the Newtism’s that played so well in previous debates.  The lack of audible crowd noise was the equivalent of clapping with Mitts on.  We’ll see if that policy is changed for tonight.

The debate is on CNN, starting at 8 p.m.  As always, I invite you to join in the excitement. So warm your keyboards, locate the remote, and leave your mittens off.  I’ll be on at about 7:50. Hope to see you then.

Live Blogging the State of the Union Address

Fine.  I don’t mind doing this as long as I get some participation!  So join in!

I’m pouring the scotch now.

So, I previewed this a bit earlier today.  The one point I want to reiterate is that the substance of SOTU speeches varies according to when in the administration’s lifecyle it is given.  Since this is an election year, this is less about governing and more about campaigning.  So expect a bit more credit-claiming, a bit more laying down of legislative markers, and a bit more effort to spell out the differences between Republicans and Democrats.

A couple of interesting human interest stories as sidebars.  Gabby Giffords, of course, is one.  The missing Mark Kirk is another.  Giffords, by the way, got a huge welcome when she entered the chamber.

One thing to ignore is the incessant chatter from commentators regarding “What the President Must Accomplish Tonight”.  He’s actually not going to accomplish much.  As I noted earlier, it’s not likely that he’s going to get any positive approval bump from this speech.   It won’t help him get legislation through.  Think of it really as a very widely-watched campaign address. (He should get an audience of roughly 40-45 million.)  Most of the audience will be favorably disposed toward him (they self-select).

And here’s the man of the hour!

There is a real strategy for getting positioned properly to actually greet the President as he enters.  Some people are incredibly good at it – they even get autographs.

There’s a nice moment.  If that hug with Gabby doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, you are a Borg.

(BTW, what was that all about when Obama told SecDef Panetta that he did a “great job”?) [EDIT: It appears, by light of day, to be a successful rescue mission in Somalia].

Some of the best theater in these speeches is watching the byplay between the VP and the Speaker.  Tip O’Neil used to mock George H. W. Bush mercilessly during Reagan’s talk.  Reagan would list a legislative request, and O’Neill would whisper “Not going to happen George…”

Didn’t take him long to mention Bin Laden!  Good move.  The Armed Services are a bipartisan symbol. You can’t go wrong starting with praise for them.

Is it me, or does he seem really energized tonight?  Man on a mission.  I generally think he doesn’t do passion well – let’s see how it comes off tonight.  He’s certainly putting the “ooomph” into it.

Ah, here’s the campaign pitch – fairness.  Big theme tonight. Everybody plays by the same set of rules.  The reprise of the “we are Americans” made famous in his earlier speech is expected.

Second campaign tactic – remind the audience of how bad things were before he took office. 8 million jobs lost or on the brink.  In the last 22 months…… (note there’s a gap there in the chronology, but never mind…..)

This is really a campaign speech, and he gets the partisans on their feat with a pledge to fight obstructionism.

And then lead with a success story – the automakers’ recovery.  It’s a good example to use.  Note, by the way, where the cities he just cited are located – Ohio! Perhaps the most crucial battleground state.  Every word, every example, every nuance of this speech is chosen with an eye for electoral impact.

(What happened to Kerry? Fell off the windsurfer?)

Again, everyone is in favor of keeping jobs here, but one might argue that creating tax incentives in this fashion is in fact unfair.   But again, it is good politics.  Notice, however, that is in tension with the second part of his speech – he won’t stand by when other nation’s don’t play by the rules.  But if you are creating tax incentives to keep companies here, is that a form of protectionism?  You tell me.

Another commission?  Modeled after Bowles-Simpson?

Here’s the first human interest story.  Reagan began this practice of putting a face on a story, if I’m not mistaken, by inviting guests to the gallery and then referencing them.  Jackie looks nervous. (I forgot to give the over/under on standing applause lines. Anyone keeping track?)

I hope my students are thinking of me when he talks about teachers working tirelessly, with modest pay.  Substitute professors for teachers.  We matter!

This is actually a gutsy call on his part, because his push for merit pay (which he didn’t actually call it) is strongly opposed by teachers’ unions.  But it plays well with the middle class.

Can he make students stay in school? Isn’t that locally controlled?

(I wish I was sitting behind Al Franken and Bernie Sanders – can you imagine that conversation?)

Another gutsy rhetorical flourish here on immigration – he has not endeared himself to the Latino community with his stepped up enforcement of immigration laws.

(What’s in Joe’s glass?  It’s a clear liquid.)

Boehner is mouthing “keystone, keystone”….this call for an all out energy policy to reduce dependence on foreign oil has been voiced by every president since Nixon.

@Chris  – You are right. He’s mixing in enough initiatives here – drilling off-shore, energy production, etc. – designed to appeal to independents.  Hard to square with keystone however….

What is clean energy, by the way?  Is there such an animal?

Geithner seems puzzled by the mortgage program.  But then, he always looks quizzical.

Fewer regulations – another shout out to independents. You hit the nail on the head Chris – he’s working really hard here.  Wow, he finally gets the Republicans out of their seats!

Ah, finally  – he gets to the health mandate, and that brings out the first boos of the night (at least I think they are boos).

How is this playing out there?  He seems heavy on rhetoric, heavy on promises, but I’m just not sure he’s going to get much bang for the buck here.   Lots of vilifying the usual suspects.

Cordray gets boos too.

Has Boehner reacted to anything tonight?

I was waiting for the Buffett reference.  I think tax reform is one area in which the two parties can do business. But not if he stakes out a fixed rate – that’s not how to negotiate.

As I look at the chamber, they all seem resigned that nothing will happen – that almost none of these proposals is going anywhere.  The chamber seems lifeless, as if they are going through the applause motions.  It’s almost as if Obama has lost them.  But then, this speech isn’t directed at them – it’s to the broader audience.   I’m getting a sense that members of Congress feel they are being made scapegoats, and they don’t like it – they are set pieces, props, in his opening campaign speech.  Not a pleasant position to be in.

So, has this been an effective campaign speech?  What do  you think?

Looks like he’s going to pivot to foreign policy here.  (Don’t forget Syria!) Hillary doesn’t seem confident about Syria.

There’s the olive branch to the Jewish vote. ….

This is heavy – very heavy – on the symbolic language.  This is an old-fashioned stump speech.  It’s going to play incredibly well with his supporters, it will get yawns from Republicans and I think independents will be skeptical.

Boy, he is hitting every button tonight.  Can he wrap himself any tighter in his commander-in-chief mantle?  This is great politics.  Finishing with Bin Laden – a great touch.  Look at Biden – he’s sold.

Now bring it on home….

Great finish – wonderful rhetoric, soaring symbolism, ending on perhaps the high note of his presidency……killing Bin Laden.

Here’s the issue: is there a core to this speech?  If I’m a voter, what is the theme here?  I wonder if that got lost in the effort to hit so many rhetorical high notes.

I thought Chris touched on a key point – this was targeting that sweet spot:  an appeal to the independents, particularly those in key battleground states.He really tried to sprinkle in a mix of initiatives that both emphasized what government can do and what it can’t do.  Much of it was designed to show that government can be a partner with business, rather than usurping the private sector.  He did this on a variety of issues – education reform, energy exploration and research, reorganization of government, tax reform.  These are all, in theory, policies that can appeal to moderates.

He stayed away from some hot button issues – no mention of entitlement reform, for instance.  Not a whole lot here on deficit reduction.  These are two issues that can’t be resolved before 2012, so there’s really no incentive to address them.


Poor Mitch Daniel.  He’s been proposed as a potential Republican presidential candidate, with some party establishment members even suggesting he should step in during the current cycle to rescue the party.  That’s not going to happen.  His appeal, however, comes from his budget expertise and moderate credentials – not his speechifying. It’s always hard to go from the pageantry of a State of the Union speech in Congress to a low-key rebuttal in some lobby area.  Bobby Jindal has never recovered from his SOTU response a few years back.

If you listen to Daniels, he has laid out some potential areas of bipartisan agreement, but you have to listen closely. One is clearly tax reform.

Jeff – this is a hundred times better than Jindal.  Poor Bobbie looked like he was giving his speech while taking out the trash at his house.  It was a disaster.  This one is actually pretty good, if you stay awake.  He even has a light bulb joke!  Plus, I’m guessing it will be short.  That was one weakness of Obama’s speech – it was Clintonian in length.  That’s been an unfortunate trend in the SOTUs recently.

And he finishes with the old Reagan “City On A Hill” allusion.  I thought this was actually a very good speech but delivered in his midwestern understated way.  Did he impress any of you as presidential timber?   Did he spark a draft Daniels movement?

Summary: Look, these SOTU speeches are always overhyped.  They can’t possible live up to the drama imposed on the event by the punditocracy, one reinforced by the pageantry and the continuity of a tradition dating back in some form to the first president.   In that sense, they are doomed to disappoint.  But if you lower your expectations, and instead view the speech as it really is – a campaign speech that benefits by having a built-in audience, then you can begin to assess it on its merits.   On those terms, I thought this was partly effective.  I thought Obama’s decision to begin and end with reference to the military mission that culminated in Bin Laden’s death was a brilliant choice – and one that reminds us how much the office changes the man.  If you simply read those words, they sounded positively Bush-like – a Mission Accomplished moment where the mission really was accomplished.  By wrapping himself in the flag, and in his duties as commander in chief, Obama was able to rise above partisanship – at least in that portion of the speech.  I thought that was perhaps the best aspect of his address.

The second element that I thought worked was his willingness to reach out to independents in a number of issue areas – educational reform, government reorganization, offshore drilling and especially tax reform with an eye toward fairness,  that many middle-class independents would embrace. As Chris noted, this was both politically strategic, but also laid down some potential points of agreement with Republicans that possibly could serve as legislative starting points in a second term.

The weakness, I thought, is that Obama tried to do too much, and as a result his olive branch to independents was in danger of getting lost in the rhetoric that both demonized Congress and sought to portray himself as somehow above politics.  When he launched into strident attacks on the usual bogeymen – oil companies, rich people, Wall St. – he may have appealed to his base, but he also undercut his attempt to reach out to the moderate middle.  And the speech was too long – if he cut it in half, it would have been twice as effective.

In the end, I think this speech illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of the Obama presidency.  He is able, at times, to capture an audience with some very moving language.  But too often he loses his voice in an effort to craft a poll-driven speech that on paper tries to split the difference between competing philosophies, but in practice rings hollow because there’s no underlying theme, or core set of principles that ties everything together.  I thought tonight he might hang everything on the issue of fairness, but it didn’t quite cohere.  And that is the enduring issue with this guy, I think – what is he about?  In the end, this was a speech crafted primarily with an eye toward helping him win reelection.  And it reflected the strengths, and the weakness, of that strategic objective.  He tried to appeal to both his base and to independents.   My guess is that the base will be happier than will the independents – if so, the speech missed the mark, because it is the independents that he must win back if he is to win reelection.

Great participation tonight.  I’m glad I caved and decided to live blog the speech – it was much more interesting with everyone else involved.

I’ll  be on tomorrow with some follow up comments.

Thanks again to everyone….






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

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.